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12th Aug 2022

Ambivalent acronym highlights EU problems on north Kosovo

  • Posters thanking the EU for its help in an Albanian district in Serb-dominated north Kosovo (Photo: morbin)

Fudged language in a new agreement on north Kosovo shows how far the EU still has to go in its bid to normalise the most explosive place in the Balkans.

An EU press release over the weekend - entitled "EU facilitated dialogue: Agreement on IBM" - noted that Kosovo and Serbia have clinched a deal designed to get Kosovar Serbs to stop shooting Kosovar Albanian police and Nato soldiers at roadblocks in the disputed region. A related internal document - "IBM Agreed Conclusions" - set out some practical details.

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"IBM" usually stands for "Integrated Border Management" - the title of an official EU blueprint on how to handle customs and immigration in former Yugoslavia.

The two texts on north Kosovo mention "IBM" nine times but do not spell out the acronym at any point.

EUobserver understands the fudge is meant to let Kosovo and the 22 EU countries which recognise it read "IBM" in the usual sense. But it lets Serbia and the five non-recognising EU countries say it refers to "boundary management" because the word "border" implies statehood.

The distortion of the English language in the service of conflict management is again highlighted in the press release.

It says "parties reached an agreement on ... integrated management for crossing points (IBM)" - using "IBM" instead of "IMCP" to stand for the words "integrated management for crossing points."

The IBM Agreed Conclusions document also leaves room for confusion.

It says Kosovar and Serb police will have a "balanced presence" at checkpoints and that "exceptionally ... the parties will not display symbols of their respective jurisdictions." But details on implementation - which parts of north Kosovo it covers, how many police from each side, how to search cars - remain to be worked out by a "tri-partite implementation group, chaired by the EU" which will draft a "technical protocol" and "identify ... projects."

Serbia agreed the border deal to try to get EU candidate status at the EU summit this week.

Its chief negotiator on north Kosovo, Boris Stefanovic, on Sunday tried to sell the idea to people on the ground. "It does not imply a recognition of Kosovo and it would be good if the [Serb] citizens of northern Kosovo would stand behind their state [Serbia] at this moment ... From now on a great responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Serb leaders in north Kosovo," he told local media.

Germany - backed by Austria, Denmark, Finland and the UK - intends to put off the decision until the EU summit in March, however.

The three-month lag would test Serbia's will to implement changes. It would also let the EU give Serbia candidate status in time to boost Serb President Boris Tadic - the EU's top ally in Belgrade - in elections in May.

Serbia earlier this month tried to prove itself by arresting two men - NGO workers Momcilo Arlov and Vuk Mitrovic - in a car full of AK47s, anti-tank mines and plastic explosives bound for north Kosovo. The move backfired when the men told press they were smuggling the weapons on behalf of Serbian police, however.

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