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.
Authorities struck long-awaited energy deal with Serbia to support Serb municipalities, but restricted entry for Serbs entering country, sparking Belgrade’s condemnation. Following Nov 2021 announcement that Kosovo would cut energy supply to Serbian municipalities, Kosovo and Serbia 21 June signed agreement in EU-facilitated dialogue to implement previous energy deal signed in 2013; deal paves way for Belgrade-backed company to supply energy to Serbian municipalities, which have not paid for electricity since end of Kosovo-Serbia war in 1999. EU Special Representative Lajčák same day called deal “major step forward”. Govt 29 June announced that citizens with Serbian ID cards entering country would be given temporary Kosovo-issued documents; stipulated that cars with Serbian licence plates must re-register with Republic of Kosovo plates by 30 September. Belgrade accused Pristina of seeking to “expel Serbs” from territory and of launching “general attack on northern Kosovo”. During visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to capital Pristina, PM Kurti 10 June announced plan to submit EU membership application by end of 2022; Scholz reiterated that Kosovo and Serbia could only become EU members if they found “political solution” to dispute over Kosovo’s independence “with a comprehensive, sustainable agreement that also contributes to regional stability”. European Council President Charles Michel 15 June visited Pristina, calling for “rapid progress in implementing past agreements” within EU-led Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, which “is essential for advancing on the EU path”. At EU Western Balkan’s summit, President Osmani 24 June claimed she had received “strongest [support] so far” from EU leaders on Kosovo’s EU perspective and visa liberalisation.
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