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.
EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue resumed after two-year hiatus, and legal proceedings against President Thaçi over allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity continued. Following June cancellation of U.S.-sponsored talks in Washington, EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue 10 July resumed at Franco-German-hosted virtual summit, in first official round of dialogue between two entities since Nov 2018; Serbian President Vucic and PM Hoti held video meetings with French President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel and EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell with Hoti saying dialogue should lead to “mutual recognition” with Serbia as “only way to normalize relations and open the way for both countries in the EU integration process” and talks should be guided by principle of “non-negotiable” nature of Kosovo’s territorial integrity. EU-facilitated dialogue between both sides on normalisation of relations 12 July took place with Borrell and EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčak; parties agreed on main elements of dialogue process, while Borrell welcomed both parties’ commitment to talks. Hoti and Vucic 16 July met face-to-face in Brussels with Borrell and Lajčak to discuss economic issues and missing and displaced persons, reaching agreement on next steps in subsequent round of EU-led dialogue held 23 July. Following end June indictment of Thaçi by Special Prosecutor of The Hague Special Chambers on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo, Special Prosecutor 13 July questioned President for four days in The Hague; Thaçi 16 July stated to press that if prosecutor and judge evaluate testimonies professionally “they can easily conclude that I have not committed any war crimes.” Throughout July govt saw spike in new COVID-19 cases, causing PM Hoti 12 July to tighten measures such as ban on religious events and public gatherings, as well as making mask wearing mandatory. Govt 30 July signed agreement with EU Commission for €100mn in macro-financial assistance.
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