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.
EU 6 Feb launched new enlargement strategy for Western Balkans, calling on countries to “urgently redouble their efforts, address vital reforms and complete their political, economic and social transformation”. Said normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia “urgent and crucial” for both countries to progress on European path. EU-mediated normalisation talks between Kosovo and Serbia resumed late Feb. Kosovo and Montenegro 16 Feb announced agreement on process for resolving disputes over 2015 border demarcation agreement, which Kosovo still needs to ratify to gain visa-free travel to EU; announcement welcomed by EU, however parliament again postponed vote on ratifying deal 22 and 28 Feb. Kosovo celebrated ten years since declaration of independence 17 Feb; previous day, Barbados became 116th country to recognise Kosovo, while Serbian President Vučić said his country unlikely to support full recognition despite it being a condition for Serbia to join EU. President Thaci 1 Feb said law establishing new special court at The Hague to prosecute alleged war crimes by members of Kosovo Liberation Army during 1998-1999 war cannot be stopped, even though he is against it.
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