Welcome news this week of an improvement in the bitterest hostilities on European soil since World War II, as two enemies from the Balkan wars of the 1990s agree a range of measures for co-operation that will improve the lives of communities.
On 25 August the prime ministers of Kosovo and Serbia agreed deals covering a range of local issues such as use of the disputed Mitrovica Bridge, energy supply – and the hugely symbolic creation of a country dialling code for Kosovar telephones.
The move reflects tentative steps taken by both sides towards a settlement following Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. Kosovo, whose independence is not recognised by Serbia or five EU countries, has resorted to using the dialling codes for either Slovenia or Monaco for its mobile phones. Having a code of its own appears to be a step towards official statehood.
The agreements come two days before a major summit of western Balkan nations and the EU, amid concerns over the huge flow of migrants and lingering Russian influence in the region. They are seen as central to both sides’ European integration hopes. Serbia aims to begin its membership talks with the EU by the end of the year, while Kosovo is in ongoing talks with the European Commission over a possible Schengen visa agreement.
The deal was brokered in a marathon nine-hour final session by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who said that the outcome represents ‘landmark achievements’ in the normalisation process between the two former enemies.
Grassroots issues such as phone lines and bridge usage may not seem the stuff of post-war peacebuilding, but they are often the local indicators of identity and hostility that can create friction – or promote reconciliation. 40 per cent of wars restart within ten years of an official peace treaty, often because such grassroots issues are never resolved. Now we must wait to see what the international summit can achieve.