Flights between Belgrade and Pristina to resume, in a US brokered deal agreed on Monday 20th January 2020, for the first time in 20 years. However, the plan is contingent on Kosovo lifting the 100% tax on Serbian goods.
Passenger and cargo flights between the two capitals are to be operated by the German carrier, Eurowings, who already have an established base in Pristina.
Richard Grenell, US ambassador to Germany (and named special envoy for Serbia-Kosovo relations by President Trump in 2019), agreed the deal on 20th January 2020 which was signed in the American embassy in Berlin. The agreement was signed by Milun Trivunac, state secretary of Serbia’s ministry of economy; Eset Berisha, Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Kosovo; and Michael Knitter, Chief Operating Officer of Eurowings.
This will mark the first direct air travel between Serbia and Kosovo since 1998. In an attempt to focus on economic ties in the region in a step towards normalisation or even reconciliation. Thus ignoring the political conflicts of the past.
In 1998 and 1999, Serbian forces brutally suppressed an uprising by ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, which was then part of Serbia, until a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, led by the United States, forced Serbia to give up on the war.
Kosovo gained autonomy after the war and in 2008 it formally declared independence, but the relationship with Serbia has remained tense. Serbia and Russia are among the nations that do not recognise Kosovo as independent. Whilst the United States and the majority of its Western allies have formally recognised Kosovo’s independence.
The U.S is not the only interested party in the future of the Balkans. The EU has also urged talks between the divided faction. As two nations born out of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Slovenia and Croatia, have already joined the EU, the rest are being considered for membership.
Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Montenegro endured previous negotiations with the EU before stalling in 2018. With respect to Kosovo, the Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and his government imposed 100% tariffs on imports from Serbia and passed legislation to form an army, quickly stalling the EU negotiations.
Ramush Haradinaj resigned in 2019 after he was summoned for questioning about crimes against ethnic Serbs and his role as an officer in the KLA during and after the war. Since his resignation Kosovo has been without a government and has prevented any progress with negotiations.
Monday 20th January 2020 was a busy day for Kosovo as the President, Mr. Thaci nominated Albin Kurti of the nationalist Self-Determination party (Vetevendosje) as prime minister, three months after the election failed to deliver a majority. Kurti now has 15 days to produce a coalition deal between them and the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK.
Kosovo’s two biggest parties are still struggling to reach a deal on forming a new government which, when formed, is widely expected to lift the tariffs.