There were times when it was very difficult for citizens of Kosovo to go to Serbia. Today, this movement has been made easier, and it is a joyful feeling to be able to travel to Serbia by private car.
License plates agreement, achieved in 2011 between Kosovo and Serbia as a result of the Brussels technical dialogue on improvement of the lives of citizens between the two countries, is important for the establishment of a sustained long-lasting normalization of the relations among the two sides.
Lack of communication, stereotypes, and prejudices between Serbs and Albanians can be recognized as a legacy of the long history of conflicts and polarization between the two ethnicities, which culminated in the tragedies of the 90s. To learn from the past, improve the present and build our future, communication between people is very important. And this is already being enabled by a set of agreements facilitating the freedom of movement allowing the circulation of private cars between Kosovo and Serbia.
Free movement provides new opportunities for interaction, trade, cultural exchange, visits and learning thus multiplying the effects and positively impacting the overall development of both sides. This greatly impacts also the undoing of outdated beliefs centred on ideas of nationalism and politics.
And it all has an impact on our social life, too; I started to attend annually the Exit Music Festival in Novi Sad since 2015, which brings together youth from all over the region and the world. The festival in itself represents a splendid way to connect, share experiences and create new friendships. It was just last year that we decided to travel to Exit by car, which turned out to be much easier and faster. With this benefit of this agreement, we were able to visit the Srem region and the well-known Fruška Gora, properly named “jewel of Serbia” due to its picturesque landscape.
I think so fondly of the beautiful Petrovaradin fortress, the beautiful view of Novi Sad from it and the Danube flowing by it, all in all with the electrifying music and the nice friendships around you giving you hope and optimism about the future. The Exit Festival a large scale annual event has been founded based on freedom and democracy, noble ideals that is the signature of the festival since 2000.
It is the intrapersonal relationship, the meetings, the conversations with ordinary people that one can see how similar we are, that we are one, that divisions between us are nothing more than irrelevant past concepts. But they need to be dealt with. Travelling is a form to achieve this; even though a gradual process, its impact is long-lasting, not just in the personal sphere, but also socially and politically. And this can lead to prolonged and sustainable intra-country relationships.
The normalisation process is still being politicized, used by elites in both sides, and this is affecting the agreement on freedom of movement. An inconvenience and annoyance are caused if one has no KS plates, as with the RKS plates, one needs to switch to Proba paper plates, plus pay for the service and feel anxious driving through Serbia with paper-plates, attracting attention.
Building sustainable peace is a slow process; it takes time and it needs a healthy institutional, political and economic environment. The economy is an effective linkage in the long-lasting separation and polarization of the two communities. Removing all barriers for trade and incentivize economic interaction between the two countries and beyond, will help the normalisation of interethnic relations. Strong and multi-beneficial relation through trade, economic activity, exchange, might bring forth a symbiotically approach based on the freedom of movement and a free-market economy, as a basis for more long-lasting economic, cultural and democratic development. This is European integration.
Besfort Kosovo is a Researcher at the Balkan Green Foundation. He completed his bachelor studies at the University of Prishtina at the Faculty of Philosophy – Department of Sociology. He received his master’s degree in International Development Policy at Duke University, North Carolina, USA.
This article has been produced with the financial assistance of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kosovo and the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Kosovo-Serbia Policy Advocacy Group and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the Royal Norwegian Embassy or the European Union.