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.
Govt faced growing pressure from U.S. and EU to withdraw its 100% tariff on Serbian imports that has amplified tensions with Serbia. Senior U.S. State Department officials 12 Feb sent letter to govt warning that its position was putting bilateral relations at risk, and confirmed cancellation of planned visit by U.S. National Guard commander; PM Haradinaj reiterated that Kosovo would only scrap tariff once Serbia recognises Kosovo’s independence. U.S. also criticised govt for hiring newly-released convicted war criminal as adviser to Haradinaj. President Thaçi continued to discuss “correction” of border with Serbia in context of ongoing normalisation dialogue with Serbia, and in 14 Feb interview said he saw “good momentum” in dialogue. Kosovo’s new negotiating team for dialogue 15 Feb presented its negotiating platform to parliamentary speaker to be put to vote, including demand that Belgrade pledges to recognise Kosovo and agree on new tribunal for wartime crimes, and principle that Kosovo’s territory will not be altered. Kosovo marked eleven year anniversary of its declaration of independence 17 Feb with parade by its new Kosovo Security Force.
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