The Balkans was best known for minority problems. Today, the most bitter conflicts are between parties that appeal to majority ethnic communities. As recent turbulence in Macedonia shows, Eastern Europe could face new dangers if majority populism ends the current stigma against separatism for oppressed small groups.
Vetevendosje (“Self-Determination”) party won 6 Oct snap parliamentary elections with preliminary results giving it 25.9% of vote; Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) came second with 24.9%, and Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK, in govt for twelve years) third with 21.3%; voter turnout some 44%. Vetevendosje and LDK started coalition talks 10 Oct. EU Observation Mission said elections “well-administered and transparent”, but criticised “uneven playing field” and reports of intimidation in Serb-majority areas. Election commission 6 Oct suspended vote counting after officials reported health problems after opening ballot boxes containing votes cast in Serbia; Belgrade claimed allegations were attempt to ban ethnic Serb Srpska Lista party. During his confirmation hearing at European Parliament, new EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated that development of an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia will be priority for new European Commission, and announced that his first official visit will be to Pristina.
Serbia and Kosovo must build on a recent breakthrough in negotiations and extend dialogue to sensitive issues, especially northern Kosovo’s institutions, in order to keep their fragile relationship moving forward.
Kosovo deserves to celebrate today as the international community converts the “supervised independence” it achieved four years ago to full independence, but it must also do more to guarantee full protection of minority rights, especially those of the country’s Serb population.
The dispute about Kosovo’s sovereignty continues to fuel tensions and violent clashes in northern Kosovo, halting Kosovo’s and Serbia’s fragile dialogue and putting at risk Serbia’s EU candidacy.
The dispute between Kosovo and Serbia, which keeps the Western Balkans divided and insecure, is most acute in Kosovo’s northern municipalities.
The development of more realistic, if not yet fully public, attitudes in Kosovo and Serbia suggest a win-win resolution of their dispute is feasible if both sides promptly open talks with the aim of reaching a comprehensive compromise.
Kosovo must bolster its failing justice system and establish rule of law throughout the country if it is to achieve prosperity and greater international recognition.
Political instability keeps growing in the Western Balkans amid geopolitical contests and increased tensions with Russia. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to engage intensively to ensure the political space for avoiding more serious crisis does nto entirely vanish in the Western Balkans.
Originally published in Today's Zaman