Although Greece does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, political, economic and cultural exchanges with Greece are greater than with the majority of EU members that have recognized it, Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi said in an interview to Euractiv, adding that Pristina knows what it will take for Athens to move forward with its recognition.

Kosovo’s deputy prime minister also spoke about the rise of the right in the EU and the US, saying that Kosovo is not worried as the country’s relations with its allies are stronger than politicians or changes brought about by elections.

Kosovo applied to join the EU in December 2022 and is hoping for progress during Belgium’s 2023 Presidency of the European Council, after the Presidency of Spain, another state that does not recognize it, ends on December 31.

Bislimi said there had not been “as much progress as we hoped under the Spanish presidency” but that “there are hopes” that the application will move from the Council to the Commission, under the Belgian presidency, which will start on January 1.

Asked if the Kosovo government had concerns about the Hungarian presidency because of its proximity to Serbia and Russia, both of which oppose Kosovo’s independence, he said flatly that there were none.

This is due to local and international diplomatic support and strong ties between the two countries in many fields.

As it stands, Kosovo’s EU membership will be blocked by the non-recognition of Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Greece and Romania, each with different reservations, mainly due to territorial or independence disputes.

However, in the last year, bilateral relations with Greece have become increasingly stronger. Greece has an UNMIK-accredited Liaison Office in Pristina (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo), while the Economic and Commercial Affairs Office of Kosovo operates in Athens. In 2021, it was upgraded to an Office of Interest, and while it cannot fly the Kosovo flag from outside, it can issue visas. Athens also recognizes passports issued by Kosovo, a step that other countries that do not recognize its independence have not yet taken.

In addition, this year in March, the then Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, visited Kosovo for the sixth time, meeting the Kosovar president Viosa Osmani.

Asked if Greece could be the first to cross the line in terms of recognition, Bislimi said: “We understand that the five EU countries that do not recognize us have five specific situations within them and that’s why they don’t we can use the same drug or the same approach for all of them.”

“The situation with Greece is special because we have more exchanges, political, economic and cultural with Greece than with most of the EU members who have recognized Kosovo,” said the deputy prime minister.

Bislimi noted that there is no foreign minister in Europe who has visited Kosovo more often than the one from Greece.

He also clarified that Kosovo knows very well what it will take for Greece to take the next step and recognize its independence.

The deputy prime minister also said that when the EU proposed the basic agreement to normalize relations in Pristina, it was done on the condition that it would resolve 99% of the outstanding issues and “the main result was supposed to be the removal of this obstacle, which comes from the five who do not recognize it.’

However, Bislimi stated that their recognition should not be an “outcome” of the normalization process with Serbia, but an “input”.

“If you maintain progress with the non-recognisers as a result of the process, you make progress impossible and it will be unreasonable for Serbia to be constructive in the dialogue if it knows that this will come at a high cost to it.”

Bislimi was clear that high-level diplomatic efforts are continuing between Kosovo, those that recognize it and those that do not, but that the least expected move is for Serbia to take that step, as outlined in various EU agreements.

“If Serbia recognizes Kosovo passports, Spain cannot say ‘no, we don’t want to recognize Kosovo passports.’ If Serbia says, I will sign an agreement where Kosovo and Serbia recognize each other as two equal parties, Slovakia cannot say no,” he said.

No worries about a possible Trump return

With the European elections in 2024, the rise of the right across the continent and a possible Trump victory in the US, Bislimi is not worried.

At the European level, he said that Kosovo would cooperate with the governments chosen by the citizens of each country and that any distinction between left and right would be “disastrous”.

Regarding US policy, Bislimi said the approach to Kosovo “is not necessarily a product of individual preferences, it is deeply rooted in US history and cannot be changed”.

In a recent TV interview, however, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he was waiting for Trump’s return to create a favorable situation in the Western Balkans and for Serbia. He said Azerbaijan had “waited 27 years” for such a situation to take back Nagorno-Karabakh, adding that Serbia must “survive” until the 2024 elections.

Believing that politicians come and go but the basic approach remains the same, he conceded that some individuals, such as former Trump-era US envoy to Kosovo Richard Grenell, can cause damage.

Grenell, who recently came under fire for falsely accusing a Kosovo woman who was raped by Serbian troops as a child, has been ostracized in diplomatic circles and accused of colonialism. However, he continues to be highly critical of Kosovo and its government, leading to perceptions that he is a Serbian lobbyist or that he favors Belgrade.

But despite the damage these people can cause, “it does not affect the long-term alliance between Kosovo and the US.”

“The US remains the strongest partner we have internationally and that will not change with the next election,” Bislimi concluded.