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.
Despite initial steps by new coalition govt toward restarting Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, broader efforts stalled following indictment of President Thaçi for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Parliament 3 June confirmed new govt led by former Deputy PM Avdullah Hoti; 61 voted in favour out of 86 MPs present in 120-seat chamber, while MPs from largest party Vetëvendosje (LVV) did not attend session in protest; EU and U.S. welcomed govt’s formation. Govt same day announced readiness to restart EU-led dialogue with Serbia on normalising relations that stalled in 2018, without “allowing the border to be changed or territories to be exchanged”; 6 June lifted new trade restrictions against Serbia introduced by outgoing PM Kurti late-May. U.S. Special Envoy Richard Grenell 15 June announced Kosovo-Serbia meeting 27 June at White House to resume talks, with focus on Kosovo pausing its applications to international organisations and Serbia committing to “temporarily pause the derecognition campaign”. PM Hoti 17 June invited opposition parties LVV and Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) to discuss upcoming dialogue with Serbia; both parties however rejected invitation on grounds that govt lacked legitimacy. Special Prosecutor of The Hague Special Chamber on alleged crimes by Kosovo Liberation Army 24 June publicised indictment (filed under seal in April) of President Thaçi on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges relating to 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo; Thaçi’s office same day cancelled upcoming U.S. trip for talks with Serbia and Thaçi 29 June denied charges, stating he will resign immediately as president if indictment is confirmed. Hoti 27 June reaffirmed govt was “committed to the process” of talks and new date would be set.
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