OpEd

The dinar as the next challenge to normality

Normalization, more than historical agreements, is being done with solutions offered from one "crisis" to another

1.

A few weeks ago, a well-known name of the civil society, a member of the Kosovo Serb community, explained on a Serbian television (with critical affinity to the current government in Serbia) how the Kosovo government is taking action after action to exert pressure on the Serbian community in Kosovo. The long list of complaints against the Kosovo government ended with: "now, from the new year, the Serbs of the north of Kosovo must pay for the electricity".

I didn't mention the other things in the list of complaints; that all have their own justifications as complaints and that all have counter-responses that could lead to a debate. Illustration: complaints about the large presence of Albanian policemen in the northern part of Kosovo, where not so many Albanians live. The complaint is valid, as is the answer that there are more Albanians in the northern part, because in November 2022, by political order, Kosovo policemen of Serbian nationality left their duties. Or the complaint that in the northern part of the country there are policemen of special units with long barrels. The complaint is valid, no one feels good when they see special forces police. But the reasoning is also appropriate: the policemen of the special units are there, because law and order has largely been dictated by paramilitary units, as was witnessed with Banjska in September of last year.

However, the connection of the payment of electricity as evidence of the pressure of the Government of Kosovo on the Serbian population of Kosovo does not qualify for the debate pro et contra. Closer to the truth is that if it reflects the collective feeling of a group (a part of the Serbs, a part of Kosovo), then this finding enters into the matter for a basic psycho-social meaning.

2.

It would be easier to say that understanding the obligation to pay electricity for northern Serbs like other citizens (including Serbs from the southern part of the country) is the reaction of a pampered collectivity, which for a quarter of a century all civic obligations have been forgiven, from paying taxes to spending electricity.

But it seems to me that although this would be one angle of seeing, the most complete understanding would be made from another angle, that of inertia. The Serbian community - like any life form in nature - adapts to the conditions. If the community is told that it has no obligation to pay its obligations to the state, it will not do so, and if it is told this year after year, then non-payment is a normal state, while the obligation to pay will turn into an abnormal state.

Thus, the finding that the northern Serbs feel threatened by the Kosovo government because they are forced to pay for electricity, has nothing to do with the Kosovo Serbs as a special species that wants more rights than others, nor with the Kosovo government. as a malicious group determined to harm the Serbs of Kosovo. It has to do with the quarter-century-old discourse in Serbia and in the official Serbian policy of Kosovo that has tried to justify its own actions as normal and to consider as destructive any attempt to impose rules and order other than the one dictated by Belgrade.

Thus, the payment of electricity is an instrument of pressure, while the request for the unification of license plates in circulation of cars registered in the Republic of Kosovo is an attempt to redeem the Serbian identity. And, consequently, the police action against the paramilitary group in Banjska as the murder of three young Serbs "who stood up against Kurti's terror".

3.

The next episode in challenging the official Serbian discourse concerns the Serbian dinar. Again it is about inertia: if it has been allowed for a quarter of a century - even because the official currency was the German mark and then the euro since the time of UNMIK - then it is normal for Kosovo Serbs to be paid in dinars and to pay in dinars. And, in this context of normality, it is abnormal to stop payment in dinars.

And that's not all, this matter is a bit more complicated. One dimension is the emotional-symbolic one. For a Kosovo Serb citizen who is used to receiving salary, social assistance or pension in dinars, the warning that from February 1 there will be no more payments in this currency represents a kind of uncertainty, even collective uncertainty.

Some of the comments in the Serbian discourse connected this emotional relationship with that of the connection with the state, Serbia and Serbianism. And these comments were the ones that reasoned that Serbs cannot give up KM, UR and similar license plates because of the emotional connection with the past, Serbian symbolism and others. But, as seen in November and December of this year, registration with RKS license plates was not a special emotional struggle.

Therefore, and it seems to me that when the symbolic dimension is excluded as not very relevant, the second dimension enters here, that of practical effects. The "normality" so far has created a situation where, according to the declarations of the Serbian authorities, Serbia sends dinars for 87 thousand salaries, pensions and social assistance. The organizational and legal challenge is how to continue the practice of receiving these funds, but no longer in illegal channels (carrying cash, distribution outside bank financial flows). Namely, how to legalize a legitimate action, the right of the Republic of Serbia to help Serbian citizens in the Republic of Kosovo?

4.

The transition from one normality to another seems traumatic. But, in fact, it is not. Registration of license plates was done properly within two months, once the political decision was made to do so. Self-adhesive letters on license plates seem like a relic from the distant past, but here are license plates circulating with state symbols on one side and the other of the border without any problems. Twenty thousand electricity bills have been handed out, and it's not like this doesn't even make news anymore, let alone epic speeches about protecting the Serbian being from electricity bills.

The normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, more than with a draft agreement, signed or not, is being realized from one crisis cycle to another. The "dinar crisis" has the same dimension, the transition from the normality of a quarter-century of inertia to a completely different normality for the Serbian citizens of Kosovo. And this challenge will require the good will of the governments of the two countries, Kosovo and Serbia, to find a solution that will ensure the well-being of these citizens.