“If I didn’t get an agreement, I failed.”
Before Serbia could begin negotiations to join the European Union, it had to prove it could achieve a modus vivendi with the disputed territory of Kosovo. This gripping film follows negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, lead by Cooper, as they sought to reach a settlement on peaceful co-existence.
Ahead of tonight's screening of The Agreement Karen Poulsen & diplomat Robert Cooper were interviewed by the BBC http://t.co/g0TJ1EZAP2
— Frontline Club (@frontlineclub) June 16, 2014
When asked about the uniqueness of the film and how the idea for the project came about, Poulsen explained how the piece began its journey to reality:
“I was part of organising a conference . . . about democracy and fragile states and I was utterly bored. I didn’t like the conference at all, I thought it was just people talking about the word ‘democracy’ in 10,000 different ways . . . but I was kind of interested in the new European External Action Service. So I was waiting for Robert Cooper to come on stage and I could not have been more sceptical when he was about to speak.
“Then I thought, ‘Well here is actually something real. I am curious. When he’s talking I actually want to know what is behind this.’ And then I thought maybe . . . the film could be a way of meeting him and get behind what he is doing and also I thought it would be interesting to make a film about European Union policies from another perspective which you rarely see, from the inside.”
The question was then put to Cooper about the unusual nature of the request to film such negotiations so intimately and whether he needed much convincing. Cooper replied:
“The idea that someone might make a film about diplomacy seemed a reasonably good idea because there are lots of films about wars but not very much seen about diplomacy, which is an attempt not to have wars and so I thought it was worth a try. My general attitude was ‘Why not?’
“I had to get Borko [Stefanovic] and Edita [Tahiri] to agree but they were quite happy. Then I had a bit more trouble with the administration who didn’t think this was a very regular thing to do but eventually they also said, ‘Well, nobody minds.’ And I said, ‘Don’t worry, we have complete editorial control,’ which actually wasn’t true!”
Cooper was then challenged on the intricacies and difficulties of brokering such a sensitive agreement. When asked about the difficulty of remaining truly impartial, he said:
“As far as I was concerned, in a way it was very easy to remain impartial because my job was to get an agreement and if I didn’t get an agreement, I failed. If one or the other side thought that I was on the side of the other then that was going to be fatal.
“To begin with the Kosovars assumed that we were somehow not on their side because not all the EU member states had recognised Kosovo, and I was happy that at the first round of meetings we had, Edita realised that actually we were neutral.”
The whole film takes place against the backdrop of a short and intense time period with an absolute deadline, ahead of the start of Serbia’s accession negotiations. When asked about whether Cooper felt this deadline had forced negotiations onward, he replied:
“It wasn’t just about a deadline. . . . The Serbs had an objective as well as a deadline. They wanted to join the European Union – this is President Tadic’s policy – and bit by bit they came to understand that this wasn’t going to happen unless they seriously moved on Kosovo.
“In a way I feel that the film . . . well, it’s a bit hard on Borko, because Borko was in a tough position. Actually it’s the Serbs who are making the concessions, that’s why he was always in difficulty, that’s why he kept us waiting for six hours . . . but he was in a difficult position. The structure of the negotiations meant that the Serbs were destined to agree things which they did not want to agree. Now, did they implement them or not? Well, that’s another story.”
Poulsen also commented on the situation particularly in the north of Kosovo and how this agreement was only a small part in what is a wider and ongoing process to improve relations between the two countries:
“The north is mainly run by fear, and there was a lot of resistance against the dialogue in general. There was a resistance against Belgrade . . . and against Brussels, but at the same time it’s very controlled and I was very surprised. . . . Although it might seem out of law it has this controlling system and the important thing for the implementation to be successful is to have somebody there that they can trust, but leaving in this agreement, telling them, persuading them, that this is the way forward.”
Poulsen and Cooper both hope to screen The Agreement elsewhere in London soon. News about film screenings and other information relating to the film can be found on their Facebook page here.