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.
New coalition govt collapsed as parliament passed no-confidence vote following divisions over response to COVID-19 outbreak and lifting of import tariff on goods from Serbia. COVID-19 response raised tensions after President Thaçi 17 March proposed state of emergency with “full and maximum mobilisation of the Kosovo Security Forces”; Serb minority party Lista Sprska objected, describing proposal as “silent occupation of Serb municipalities”. PM Kurti 18 March dismissed Internal Affairs Minister Agim Veliu (from coalition partner Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK) for creating “unnecessary cause of panic” on COVID-19 after Veliu insisted on state of emergency in TV interview. LDK leader Isa Mustafa 20 March said dismissal was unacceptable and that he had not been consulted, gave Kurti ultimatum to retract dismissal and remove import tariffs on Serbian goods by 25 March, or his party would file no-confidence motion against govt in parliament. LDK 25 March filed no-confidence motion, which passed 82 to 32; Thaçi to nominate new candidate for PM. Political tensions started to rise earlier in month over 100% tariff on imports from Serbia: Kurti 5 March sent letter to European Commission president announcing partial abolition of tariffs from 15 March. Thaçi 10 March urged Kurti to abolish tariffs to avoid jeopardising Kosovo-U.S. relations; U.S. 13 March announced suspension of $50mn aid program due to refusal to lift tariffs. PM Kurti 31 March said that govt would lift 100% tariff on all goods imported from Serbia as of 1 April.
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