Warning signs from Kosovo

2 min read

The end of May saw a few tense days in Kosovo.

Kosovo’s prime minister has blamed violence on “fascist mobs” controlled by Serbia (it was on the urges of Belgrade that the Serbs in Kosovo boycotted the elections) and claimed that the West was biased towards Belgrade and “tolerated” Serbia’s “authoritarian regime”.

Serbian politicians accused their Kosovar counterparts of abusing their powers and had put their country’s army on high combat alert.

During the mutual mudslinging, more than 30 KFOR soldiers got injured while trying to prevent further escalation.

The tension might have diminished since, but it has not disappeared.

The underlying problems hadn’t been solved and won’t be solved by the presence of another 700 NATO soldiers.

Though the events were triggered by the Albanian mayors taking office in Serb-majority areas that was just the symptom and not the cause of the problem.

Of the very same issue to which Kosovo can thank its existence. Its independence it gained in 2008, after the uprising of its Albanian population against Serbian rule and with the strong support of various Western countries.

Of the problem of ethnic minorities and their rights on the Balkans and all through Europe.

Now the very same government in Pristina, once enjoying the unwavering support of the West, came under pressure from the very same countries that helped to create it; not to install those mayors.

Even the U.S., usually trying to spare its allies from harsh criticism, has declared that the decision had “sharply and unnecessarily escalated tensions”. Furthermore, the U.S. ambassador to Kosovo announced that his country would cancel the joint Defender 2023 military drills with Kosovo. Gabriel Escobar, U.S. envoy to the Western Balkans worded similar concerns, stating that Kosovo must give greater autonomy to the Serb-majority municipalities if it wants to move closer to joining NATO and the EU.

Brussels, on the other hand, has asked Kosovo to withdraw police forces from its northern parts and urged Pristina to hold new elections. (EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell also called on Belgrade to do everything to de-escalate tensions and meet urgently for further talks.)

Tensions had been building up for a while, prompting the EU to mediate an agreement with Belgrade and Pristina, that should have granted rights to Serb municipalities in the north of Kosovo. In fact, the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities should have been already created, as agreed in 2013.

Both Serbian and Kosovar authorities cite various reasons for the slow process of reconciliation, while both the U.S. and the EU are determined to keep (or pull) both Pristina and Belgrade in(to) their orbit, trying to maneuver their way around the myriad tangled problems of ethnic minorities living in a present stained by the past.

Russia and China, neither recognizing the independence of Kosovo, have immediately joined the party, expressing their support for Serbia’s efforts to “safeguard its sovereignty” and blaming Western policies for the escalation. Moscow also told the West to “stop its deceitful propaganda” and to “stop blaming the Kosovo incidents on desperate Serbs who are trying to defend their legitimate rights and freedom”.

There are many ethnic minorities in Europe.

Though nowhere is the situation as tense as on the Balkans, except for maybe in Catalonia, the existence of those groups cannot be ignored.

In most cases, tension has been building up for decades, grievance had been piled upon grievance, often swept under the rug due to international pressure, without real solutions. The region is mired in multiple inter-linked conflicts.

In a situation like the one in Kosovo now, it will be almost as futile to argue about who started it or who encourage one party to escalate the conflict, as it is to argue about the primacy of the chicken or the egg.

And, just like after the statement of Josep Borrell, EU spokesperson Peter Stano had to defend him from Kosovar criticism by claiming that “High representative Josep Borrell is the representative for foreign policy and security and he is not there to find out who attacked whom”, blaming only one side in a future conflict won’t help, either.

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