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.
Ahead of 7 Sept resumption of EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia on normalising relations, signals from Kosovo and Serbian leaderships that they may consider territorial swap as part of deal prompted strong reactions in Kosovo, Serbia and internationally. President Thaci 30 Aug said he would table proposal for border correction to allow for predominantly ethnic Albanian communities in southern Serbia to become part of Kosovo as part of deal, while also rejecting idea of partition of Kosovo; earlier in month, told press conference 6 Aug that deal with Serbia could include a “correction” of border. Serbian President Vučić 9 Aug referred to policy for delimitation with Albanians, and need for clarity on who administers territories. Participating in international forum in Austria 26 Aug, Thaci and Vučić both expressed commitment to reach a deal, and called for EU to support agreement that they reach. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton 24 Aug said U.S. would not oppose a territorial exchange if both sides agreed, while several European FMs voiced concerns about land swap, also expressed by local and international NGOs, and by three former high representatives for Bosnia, warning of potentially destabilising impact on Kosovo and region. Opposition in Kosovo called for resolution in parliament ahead of 7 Sept dialogue to prevent negotiations on Kosovo territory. Vučić mid-Aug announced he will visit Kosovo 9 Sept to present “guidelines and directions of state policy towards Kosovo”; also called for Serbs to show “much more tolerance” to potential deal with Kosovo. Tensions rose early Aug over allegations that Kosovo authorities were planning to seize control of Gazivode hydropower plant in Serb-run part of northern Kosovo; Vučić in open letter to Kosovo Serbs said Serbia would protect them and called on them to remain peaceful, also said Pristina would “not lift a finger” to fulfil its commitment to establish Association of Serb municipalities.
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