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.
Tensions grew with Serbia over moves in legislature to transform Kosovo Security Force (KSF) into a national army. Parliament 18 Oct approved three draft laws on defence ministry and KSF, expanding latter’s size and competences by transforming it into an organisation to protect Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Kosovo Serb representatives boycotted vote. Earlier, NATO said “any initiatives regarding the mandate of the [KSF] should be fully consulted with all communities in Kosovo and with NATO Allies”. Belgrade said transformation of KSF into a regular army is a “threat to peace” that would make Serbia’s position “extremely difficult”, and said it would talk to NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. After outgoing U.S. ambassador to UN called for termination of United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Serbian President Vucic 17 Oct said combination of UNMIK departure and formation of Kosovo army would leave Serbia no choice but to “protect” Kosovo’s Serbs. Amid ongoing division within Pristina govt over President Thaci’s proposal for “border correction” as part of EU-facilitated dialogue with Serbia, Thaci 11 Oct claimed French President Macron expressed his support for his proposal.
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