From: Die Morina van Uijtregt
Albanians in Serbia Demand Their Rights Be Central to Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Shaip Kamberi, an Albanian political representative in the Serbian parliament, says that it is very important that the Presevo Valley and the rights of its Albanian residents be one of Kosovo’s main priorities in the upcoming Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue.

Around 50,000-70,000 ethnic Albanians live in Serbian territory, most of them in the Presevo Valley, located at the border between Serbia and Kosovo. The valley comprises the Municipalities of Presevo and Bujanoc where the majority of the population is Albanian.

Residents in the area suffer deep levels of poverty which was leveraged by the Serbian government to force Albanian residents to leave their homes, and move to Kosovo, North Macedonia, or elsewhere.

In an interview for Exit News, Kamberi says that the rights of the residents of the Presevo Valley should be an important point of discussion during talks with Serbia, and the issue to be included in an eventual agreement.

“In this regard, our expectation is that Prishtina should demand mutual respect for the rights of [Albanian] communities in Serbia, as Serbia does for Serbs in Kosovo,” Kamberi said.

“Only the establishment of unique standards for mutual and equal respect for the rights of communities is a guarantee of long-term stability not only for bilateral relations, but also for the stability of the Western Balkans [as a whole],” he emphasized.

He adds that Serbia is always ready to talk about the status of Serbs in Kosovo, but does not want to address similar issues within its own territory.

“The Albanians of the Presevo Valley have been in a political dialogue with Serbia since 2001, a dialogue without serious results, therefore the position of the Albanians remains difficult as a result of the state discrimination that is being exercised [against them],” Kamberi says.

He proceeded to mention that the Albanian community in Serbia see the Brussels talks as an opportunity to compel Serbia to provide additional guarantees that the Presevo Valley’s position will improve.

However, Kamberi adds that the physical presence of their representative in the Belgrade-Prishtina talks can be a complex issue and should not damage the essence of their request – an agreement where the rights of ethnic Albanians in Serbia are in line with the rights enjoyed by Serbs in Kosovo.

According to Kamberi, it is very clear that Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo will not come after a change in the country’s political will. Rather, an agreement can only be reached with the direct and serious commitment of the international community, the European Union, and “especially” the United States of America.

“The greater the pressure on Serbia, the more likely it is that a final agreement will be reached,” he said.

However, Kamberi does not expect that Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vučić, will sign off on Kosovo’s recognition, especially given that Serbia will be holding its presidential elections at the beginning of 2022.

“Vučić has put all his foreign and domestic policy in the function of the elections,” Kamberi said.

Talking about a possible land-swap as part of a final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, Kamberi warned that the domino effect of such a decision might have negative consequences in the region.

“Recent non-papers have expressed a tendency to bring the idea back to the negotiation agenda, but [US] President [Joe] Biden’s latest order seems to eventually close that chapter,” Kamberi said.

Tensions are high in the Presevo Valley after the latest move by Serbian authorities to encourage the depopulation of Albanian-majority areas by de-registering them from their addresses. The European Parliament has called for an independent investigation into these allegations.

Kamberi, alongside with five Albanian and Bosniaks colleagues, are the only opposition MPs in Serbia’s 250-seat assembly.

In February, Kamberi addressed the Assembly for the first time in Albanian language, following the decision of a court in Belgrade in favor of the internal minister who used the offensive term “shiptari” for Albanians.

Kamberi was interrupted by the speaker of Parliament, Ivica Dacic. However, he continued reading his speech in Albanian.

Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti and Vučić will meet on June 15 in Brussels to proceed with the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. This will be the first meeting between Kurti and Vučić and will be mediated by the top EU diplomat Josep Borrell and the EU Special Envoy for the Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue Miroslav Lajčák.