During the last decade, the Republic of Serbia (Serbia) has gone through major political changes. In 2006 and 2008, Montenegro and Kosovo declared their independence from the Republic of Serbia while at the same time, Serbia started EU accession talks with Brussels. Besides many remaining political, economic, and social challenges, Serbia has made some progress in the areas of civil society and democratic governance. A number of important laws such as the Law on Local Self-Government and the Anti-Discrimination Law have been issued. While Serbia has adopted the bill of the autonomous province of Vojvodina which promotes the decentralization process, it has not accepted the declaration of independence by Kosovo, and the relations between these two states and their communities remain highly problematic. Additionally, the unsettled status of Kosovo is determining the political debate to the extent that other issues don’t receive the attention they need. In this regard, South Serbia can be named as a region that faces challenges in its multi-ethnic relations and its institutional consolidation.
CSSP has identified the relations among the various ethnic communities living in Serbia (primarily the Albanian community in South Serbia and the Roma community) as one of the major challenges of sustainable peace in Serbia. Currently, these communities constitute parallel societies, and discussions on the political level about a territorial exchange of South Serbia with Northern Kosovo are contributing to an insecure and disintegrative situation.
Additionally, even though a Coordination Body has been established for the municipalities of Bujanovac, Medvedja, and Presevo, decision-making processes concerning community issues between the South Serbian municipalities and all relevant ministries in Belgrade currently depend largely on a handful of political leaders with good will, who negotiate ad hoc decisions in meetings which are mostly not open to the public. The approach to policy-making between South Serbia and Belgrade can thus be described as ad hoc bargaining with limited output connected to individual politicians. This approach carries the risk that, after this election cycle, the negotiations between Belgrade and South Serbia may need to be completely revamped, thereby putting the achievements made in this legislative period at risk and constraining sustainable political processes.
CSSP’s approach to conflict resolution in Serbia is twofold. On the one hand. CSSP is concentrating on integrating the different communities in Bujanovac. On the other hand, CSSP is supporting the amelioration of communication between the local municipalities of South Serbia and the relevant ministries at a central level.
For this purpose, CSSP promotes political integration and inter-community coexistence through building professional capacity in negotiation, trust-building, and diversity management in the municipality of Bujanovac. This involves a series of interactive professional training courses, joint meetings, consultations, and confidence-building measures.
Additionally, CSSP is working on the development of sustainable and transparent communication channels between the central and local institutions relevant for the integration of the municipalities of Bujanovac, Presevo, and Medvedja. Here, CSSP focuses on the Working Group of Political and Social Integration of the Coordination Body at the local level and the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, and the Ministry of Local Self-Government at a central level. In order to achieve the aforementioned goal, CSSP developed an approach that is simultaneously bottom-up and top-down. At the local level, CSSP is building capacity in negotiation and strategic planning skills among the members of the Working Group in order to improve their cooperation and to strengthen their joint interest towards the central level. At the central level, CSSP is lobbying the state ministries to motivate them to establish long-term institutionalized meetings with the Working Groups of the Coordination Body.
CSSP’s activities in Serbia consist of intra-community as well as inter-community activities that aim at promoting communication and cooperation among the various entities.
At the local , intra-community activities took place in the form of bilateral and joint meetings with the leaders of the political parties represented in the municipal assembly in Bujanovac.
Inter-community activities took place at the local and central levels. During a facilitated joint meeting of the members of the Working Group, coordination among the municipalities of Bujanovac, Presevo, and Medvedja was strengthened. At a central level, CSSP had bilateral meetings with the representatives of the state ministries and conducted further lobbying among the international community such as the “Friends of South Serbia”, OSCE, and EU in order to expand on the necessity of pressuring the state institutions to improve coordination and institutionalized communication between the municipalities of South Serbia and the state level. All activities aimed at strengthening mediation, negotiation, and coordination capacities to improve cooperation across communities and thus enforce integration.