One year ago on September 4, the world celebrated the signing of the Kosovo-Serbia Economic Normalization Agreement in the White House Oval Office. President Trump had brought President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and then-Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti of Kosovo together to take an enormous step towards resolving their historic conflict.
It was Donald Trump’s vision for Kosovo and Serbia to normalize their economic relations and help usher-in a complete Balkan-wide revitalization. President Trump believed that the perceived conflict was impacting job creation and economic development for everyone involved. He also believed that the strategy of constant political talking, led by the Europeans, was not working.
Unfortunately for the Balkans, the Biden Administration took the opposite position. President Joe Biden continues to ignore Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, and the entire region and has decided he just doesn’t want to get involved. He has no presidential envoy for negotiations and there are no discussions or plans for the region inside his White House. There are no high-level visits planned by U.S. officials and no dates for Balkan leaders to come to the U.S.
There is, however, a total acquiescence by Biden to the European Union (EU) process in Brussels, Belgium. The EU is in charge of Balkan redevelopment strategies and normalization talks now. And as we have seen from the pace of EU ascension discussions, the people of the Balkan region won’t have help anytime soon.
But President Trump still believes that each side should continue implementing the 2020 Economic Normalization Agreement despite the absence of Biden’s leadership. The Trump Administration believed that Kosovar and Serbian steps toward economic normalization would dilute the power and importance of the dispute’s hot-button and emotional political matters and were prerequisites for a permanent resolution of political disputes. And President Trump’s vision was working. Through hard-fought negotiations, the parties had agreed to construct a roadway and railway link, as well as establish a direct flight between their respective capitals, Belgrade and Pristina.
Under Trump, Serbia and Kosovo also agreed to open and operationalize the Merdare Common Crossing Point facility. This now-open border crossing should only be the beginning of the much-needed free and efficient flow of people and goods between Serbia and Kosovo. Trump still believes each side should recognize each other’s diplomas and professional certificates and join the “mini-Schengen zone” announced by Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia in October 2019.
The previous pledges to protect and promote freedom of religion, including renewed interfaith communication, protection of religious sites, and continued restitution of Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed Jewish property are worthy of implementation even if the Biden Administration isn’t paying attention. And so is the agreement to designate Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization, and fully implement measures to restrict Hizballah’s operations and financial activities in the parties’ jurisdictions. The Trump team hopes both sides will also continue with their commitments to help decriminalize homosexuality in the 69 countries where it is currently illegal and expand their diplomatic relations with Israel, too.
Perhaps most importantly — for the people on the ground, the parties involved in the negotiations, and for the history and future of the region — Trump believes the parties should also stick to their commitments to expedite efforts to locate and identify the remains of missing persons from the war which ended two decades ago.
But the historic opening created by the September 4, 2020 Trump agreement has one provision that has already been squandered by the Biden Administration. It has been infuriating to watch as Biden has ignored my warnings earlier this year that the pending end to one of the most hard-fought points of the agreement was upon us: the one-year moratorium on Kosovo’s search for new membership in international organizations and a one-year moratorium for Serbia’s de-recognition campaign against Kosovo.
Sadly, that one-year commitment is over and the parties are no longer obligated to keep to that vow. It is incredibly disappointing that Joe Biden failed to even try to extend their pledge. It’s as if Joe Biden has forgotten that the Balkans even exist.
President Trump’s belief from the start has been that trust is built first in the process of creating opportunities and futures for young people, rather than in the settlement of scores, symbolism, or the righting of historical wrongs. Sadly, the Trump team was mistaken that the petty score-settling between political opponents was only a problem in the Balkans; we now see that the Biden Administration has the same difficulty.