Kosovo Is No Precedent for Slovakia
Kosovo Is No Precedent for Slovakia
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Kosovo Is No Precedent for Slovakia

A central government brutally oppresses a minority ethnic group, suppressing their language, dominating their economy and even carrying out massacres against them. Members of the minority respond by taking up arms, trying to reclaim the province where they form the majority. Battles rage, the body count rises. Then, the central government acts to kick out every single member of the minority group, and hundreds of thousands of weary refugees flood across the borders.

The international community responds, first with sanctions and then forcefully: NATO planes bomb key military and government targets for two months. The government relents, pulls its troops out of the province, and the refugees begin to return to their shattered homeland, which is now a UN protectorate with international peacekeepers.

Sounds just like Slovakia and its Hungarian minority, right?

Well, actually, no it doesn’t. But some in the Slovak government would have its citizens believe that the situation between Belgrade and the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo described above is somehow a precedent for Bratislava’s relations with Slovakia’s Hungarian minority.

It is hard to comprehend why anyone would think this. The two situations have nothing in common. Is the Slovak government, especially the Slovak National Party, engaging in fear mongering to solidify votes on the far right? Or are different political forces trying to out do each other to claim the title of “defender of brother Serbs”?

Either way, the Slovak people now find their government openly backing Belgrade’s position on Kosovo both inside the EU and at the UN Security Council, where Slovakia has a temporary seat. Prime Minister Robert Fico’s insistence on changes to the UN plan for Kosovo and the Slovak Parliament’s recent resolution on Kosovo are both strongly supportive of Belgrade. These steps have done more than hand Foreign Minister Jan Kubis an unrealistic task. They threaten peace and stability in the Balkans.

The Kosovo issue is coming to a head today. After repeated attempts to bring Belgrade and Pristina together for meaningful talks, UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari presented the Security Council with a plan for Kosovo’s “supervised independence”. The delicately balanced arrangement would allow the province to move from its current international limbo under UN protection to a sovereign position, though still under an EU special representative who would retain veto powers over certain Kosovo government decisions.

Serbia naturally finds this difficult, but the reality is, Belgrade lost the moral right to govern Kosovo when it launched a massive ethnic cleansing campaign against the province’s Albanian population in 1999. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 that same year ended Serbia’s de facto control in the eyes of the international community.

The next step, proposed by Ahtisaari, is really just a confirmation of the inevitable. It may be a difficult to accept, but it is absolutely impossible to imagine the opposite scenario: how could Kosovo’s 90 per cent ethnic Albanian population ever tolerate a return to Serbian rule after Belgrade tried to exterminate and expel them all eight years ago? And Belgrade has done nothing in the past eight years to help reintegrate Kosovo Albanians into Serbia. The situation on the ground is tense, and it will only deteriorate if Kosovo’s people are not allowed to manage their own affairs free from interference by the state that tried to destroy them.

Of course, any solution for Kosovo needs to guarantee the rights of Serbs and people from other ethnic groups who will remain in Kosovo. Ahtisaari’s plan takes this into account. Among other things, it proposes 13,000 NATO troops and as many as 1,500 EU police and judicial officers to help maintain order.

But rather than support the UN’s difficult but necessary plan, Slovakia instead finds itself prolonging the agony of democratic forces in Serbia who are quietly hoping the EU will twist their arm over Kosovo so they can evade public censure on the issue.

Trying to justify this mis-step with fears about Kosovo turning into a precedent for Hungarians in Slovakia, as some in the governing Slovak coalition are doing, is disingenuous at the very least. The situation between Belgrade and the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo bears absolutely no resemblance to anything happening in Slovakia -- or anything even remotely imaginable anywhere within the EU.

Politics that put some 19th-century myth of Slavic solidarity above human rights and international security are similarly irresponsible for a modern state. Neo-Panslavism may or may not still win political points at home, but there is no doubt it risks reigniting violent conflict in the Balkan region.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

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.

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.

In this conversation, 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.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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