If Serbia does not want to join the EU and prefers instead to nurture its relationship with Russia, the EU should not force it, said MEP and rapporteur to European Parliament for Kosovo, Viola von Cramon, in an interview with Euractiv, also addressing the erasing of Albanians from civil registries in southern Serbia.
In 2020, Exit. al, a partner of Euractiv, was the first media to publish the findings of researcher Flora Ferati Sachsenmeir, who found that ethnic Albanians were being systematically and illegally deleted from the Serbian civil registry.
The final report of her work, published recently, found that over 6,000 ethnic Albanians had their addresses passivised from southern Serbian regions, rendering them stateless and unable to buy or sell property, get access to education or healthcare, vote, or exercise other fundamental rights.
Ferati’s research found that the population of ethnic Albanians in some regions has decreased by over 70%.
Research finds 6,000 ethnic Albanians wiped from voting lists in Serbia
With just days to the Serbian presidential, parliamentary and partial local elections on Sunday (3 April), more than 6,020 citizens have found themselves removed from voter lists in a move activists and researchers say is because they are ethnic Albanians.
The matter has now found its way to Brussels, despite the Commission being aware of it for years, and is being pushed for inclusion in Serbia’s EU membership negotiations amid apparent declining interest in joining the bloc.
“If Serbia doesn’t want to join the EU, we should not force them to it is the way they have chosen. Maybe they want to stay outside and see how all the other Western Balkan states join the EU. It is their decision,” von Cramon said.
“Maybe they want to stay outside and see how all the other Western Balkan states join the EU. It is their decision. But to push into force and to make attractive offers, why Serbia actually have a bigger interest in working with Russia? I don’t know,” she said.
The MEP explained that while Serbia has supported Ukraine by delivering weapons and offering humanitarian support, its rhetoric on the Kosovo-Serbia issue suggests otherwise.
“But when it comes to Kosovo, I think it is time now to overcome this old very, very aggressive rhetoric, this terrible nationalistic approach. Me with this, we cannot work together in the European Union we can’t accept a country which still lives in the past and still lives with this old narratives,” she explained.
Von Cramon said that she previously thought Serbia had an interest in joining the EU and becoming an active player in the accession process, but recent events, including the deterioration of relations with Kosovo, have cast doubts on this.
“But we have to see, and we have to assess that the last month did not go in this direction. And after some time, maybe we should take a break,” she told Euractiv.
Regarding the ongoing dialogue process that was recently stalled over flaring tensions in north Kosovo, von Cramon said it is disappointing as there was a lot of hope over the recent agreements that would have taken the situation close to Kosovo’s ultimate goal-final recognition.
“A step before the final recognition that would have meant Kosovo is allowed to apply for all international institutions, the mutual recognition of ID cards and high school degrees…but this agreement has not been implemented,” she said.
“I don’t want to speak about failing, but it has not created any new momentum. It is hard to imagine we are close to finding recognition,” von Cramon added.
When asked about criticisms that the EU is not treating Kosovo fairly, particularly about recent EU sanctions against Pristina, von Cramon sees the situation as more nuanced.
“But what I hear is always a general feeling that we do not treat Serbia equally with Kosovo. And I think when it comes to the domestic questions, yes, I agree. I think we must be much tougher on non-delivering on reforms, domestic reforms; Serbia hasn’t done a thing,” she said.
Von Cramon said that how Serbia treats journalists, media, rule of law, and other matters needs more work, but insists the EU has not gone wrong in its approach to the complicated situation between Kosovo and Serbia.
“We have to be much more outspoken. But when it comes to the dialogue, in particular, and each and every single step…I don’t see that the EU has made any significant mistakes.”
She added that the EU has tried hard, but there is a lack of political will on both sides, and recent escalations did not help matters.
“But the last escalation, especially in the north, was really very predictable. And everyone warned the Prime Minister Kurti not to go ahead with it. And he has done that anyway.”
“If you do not want to cooperate, no matter what people and friends advise you, then yes, you face criticism. It is that simple,” she said.
But the MEP added that there should be more criticism of Serbia, particularly in terms of its EU accession path.
Administrative cleansing of Albanians
On the topic of recently concluded research on the ethnic administrative cleansing of Albanians in southern Serbian municipalities, von Cramon said it is too late to include this in the ongoing EU-backed Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, but it can be included in Belgrade’s EU negotiations.
“I think now is much too late…As far as I understood, it cannot be included in the dialogue, but it should be definitely put higher up on the agenda of accession talks,” she said.
According to Sachsenmeir’s research and the collected testimonies of residents, the authorities, under cover of the residence law, claimed to be sending people to verify residences.
These envoys would report that the residents could not be found at their address, and a notification would be sent to the Electoral Commission. Entire families are then wiped off the electoral lists. With no written decisions issued, there is no route for appeal.
“Now we can push the Commission on it. So far, we just had bits and pieces, some data here and there and anecdotal evidence from on-the-ground and international visits…Now we have very detailed information on how the Serbian government discriminated in a very systematical way, the Albanian minorities,” she said.
This, she said, shows it needs to be included in the next round of accession talks and included in the cluster on the rule of law.
“This is a classic case of rights of minorities, anti-discrimination, respecting all ethnic groups in the country and so on. This is what we and I guess some of my colleagues, will remind the Commission and the member states,” von Cramon explained.
As for her visits to the Presevo Valley, von Cramon explained there was no investment- either local or foreign, a stark contrast to the rest of Serbia which has been developed.
“You won’t find these kind of investments in the South,” she said, noting it seems deliberate that the region is being starved of development and opportunity.
The MEP also explained that while there was a very clear, broad Albanian majority in the past, “now, it is more and more difficult for Albanian minorities to keep people in the region.”
This, she said, is because of the passivisation process, which removes citizenship, significantly restricting rights.
“We see there are a lot of economic, social and political disparities. People feel rather disconnected from the centre; they feel rather disconnected from financial resources and job labour opportunities,” she said.
Commission ‘monitoring’ removal of Albanians from voter lists ahead of Serbian elections
The European Commission is aware of the reports of removing ethnic Albanians from the voter registration lists in the Presevo Valley in Serbia and is monitoring the situation in light of Belgrade’s commitments to the EU accession process.
Researcher and academic …
As for the root of the problem, von Cramon explained that after the breakup of Kosovo, the Serbs in the north of the country were part of the political deal but that there was no attention on Albanians in southern Serbia.
“The Serbs in the north of Kosovo is a group with a high political importance. We should do the same towards the Albanian minority in Serbia as well, but nobody did so,” she said.”
“It is up to us to put more pressure on the Serbian government,” the MEP concluded.
As for Serbia’s response to the situation, von Cramon explained the official line is that these individuals do not live here and this is a regular process undertaken by all citizens.
But the data shows otherwise, and this is something the MEP will “definitely pick up” with authorities when next in Belgrade.
(Alice Taylor | Euractiv.com)
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