Meeting with Besnik Osmani, Kosovo Minister of Local Government Administration

Yesterday I had a meeting with Besnik Osmani, Kosovo Minister of Local Government Administration, organised by the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP). It was a superb opportunity to talk to Mr. Osmani about the recent developments in the Kosovo negotiations with the European Commission on the governance of Kosovo. Mr. Osmani is a key figure in these ongoing negotiations (three years and counting) and had some fascinating insights that resonate for the politics of the region and reflect a particular geopolitical moment for Europe.

First, he spoke of the potential  threat posed by the establishment of a community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo, a situation he equated with the creation of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). He saw this as an unnecessary layer of government, a distortion of the political system and a potential barrier to the integration of Kosovo as a state. Reflecting on the last twenty years in BiH, it seems that the creation of such an sub-state ‘entity’ (or quasi-entity) in Kosovo could lead to political stagnation and, potentially, a future secession of Serb-aligned parts of Kosovo in Serbia itself.

Second, he reflected on the current desire amongst European institutions and leaders of European countries to build close allegiances with political leaders in Belgrade driven, in Mr. Osmani’s eyes, by a fear of closer integration between Serbia and Russia. This is an intriguing Geopolitical plot line where the potential stabilisation of Kosovo is being undermined in the name of a fear of destabilisation of South East Europe through greater Russian influence. Certainly the potential for Russia to influence internal political events in the region are well known, perhaps most farcically illustrated through the arrival of Cossack dancers on a cultural visit to Banja Luka around the time of the 2014 Bosnian Elections. But, of course, it must also be recognised that Russia is not the only state that has sought to influence the political systems of post-Yugoslav states.

Finally, and in connection, Mr. Osmani discussed the need to stabilise the northern border of Kosovo with Serbia, he saw the open and unregulated border as a “key distortion” that allowed the unhindered movement of goods and services between Serbia and Kosovo. This has significant fiscal implications since 70% of trade with Kosovo comes from Serbia (indeed a recent tightening of the border improved the balance of trade by 4%). It was telling that Mr. Osmani spoke of the lack of political will by international agencies to change the status quo, to unsettle relations with Serbia. Again, a regional geopolitical calculation shapes the possibility of enacting state sovereignty.

It was a fascinating discussion and I am grateful to both Mr. Osmani for taking time out of a very busy schedule to talk and to CSap, and particularly Nick Gray and Rob Doubleday for setting up the meeting.

Alex Jeffrey, May 2015

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