This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.
Amid war in Ukraine, regional tensions ran high as authorities warned of Russian and Serbian threats in Western Balkans, and blamed series of small-scale attacks on Belgrade. President Osmani 5 April accused Russia of having interest “in attacking Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina”, while stating Serbia may feel “emboldened by what is happening in the continent of Europe right now”; Osmani also stated that NATO membership is “becoming indispensable, especially in light of events in Ukraine” and EU’s “active appeasement policy” toward Serbian President Vučić is “big mistake”. Following Serbian elections, PM Kurti 12 April claimed that removal of Albanian voters in Serbia’s south from election lists equated to “silent ethnic cleansing” and called polls “neither free nor democratic”. Interior minister 15 April announced four attacks, including one with use of rifles and grenades, on police officers in previous three days in Zubin Potok, Serb-majority municipality in north; PM Kurti same day alleged attacks were “coming from Serbia”, prompting EU and U.S. same day to caution against “speculation”. Temporary agreement with Serbia forged in Sept 2021 that resolved license plate dispute expired 21 April as EU-facilitated talks failed to produce new permanent deal, while reports indicated temporary measures would remain in place; EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák same day warned against actions that “jeopardise the security on the ground”. Meanwhile, at UN Security Council briefing on UN Mission in Kosovo, govt and Serbia exchanged barbs: FM Gervalla-Schwarz 22 April accused Serbian FM Selaković of trying to “manipulate facts” and said Vučić “propagated genocide as something heroic”; Serbian counterpart claimed Gervalla-Schwarz ignored past “crimes committed by the Kosovo Albanians”.
Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.
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.
Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.
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.
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.
Originally published in Today's Zaman