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 increased around early elections in Serb-majority municipalities in May, while attempt to relaunch stalled normalisation dialogue with Serbia failed. President Thaçi 8 April announced early local elections 19 May in four Serb-majority municipalities in north, where mayors resigned Nov 2018 in protest at govt’s introduction of 100% tariff on Serbian imports. Despite calling early polls a “provocation”, main Serb party Srpska Lista 10 April said it would participate in polls. Opposition Vetëvendosje party 23-24 April tried to block Central Election Commission (CEC)’s certification of Srpska Lista candidates, saying that three of them had resigned as mayors in Nov in breach of constitution, and were now running again in same municipalities. PM Haradinaj 9 April announced he had dismissed Kosovo Serb Minister of Local Govt Administration for using hate speech after he described ethnic Albanians as terrorists and accused them of fabricating crimes against them in 1998-99 war; govt 11 April moved to criminalise denial of crimes committed by Serbian forces during war. Western Balkans Summit in Berlin 29 April, aimed at relaunching stalled EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia normalisation dialogue, ended without agreement on restarting negotiations; next meeting planned for early July in Paris; President Thaçi called for U.S. to be included in dialogue. Media watchdog NGO Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index noted improvement in media freedom in country. Court ordered arrest of four out of 110 citizens (including 32 women and 74 children) returning from Syria 19 April suspected of involvement in terrorism, and placed ten women under house arrest.
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