NOTThe negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, which resumed in Brussels on Tuesday under the auspices of the European Union, hold the key to stability in the Western Balkans.
Without an agreement on mutual recognition as independent states, the escalating dispute will disrupt borders, hamper economic development and prevent European integration. For the talks to be successful, the Biden administration must take a more active role in the process. While the EU is seen in the region as divided and unreliable, the US retains its credibility due to its leadership role in resolving previous conflicts in the Balkans.
The Biden administration has confirmed that inter-state mutual recognition between Serbia and Kosovo is the only viable solution. Accepting permanent borders would allow economic development in both states and prevent corrupt regional incursions by the Kremlin. Without a bilateral agreement, the region could again sink into a conflict propelled by Serbian and Albanian nationalist ambitions. Since Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and was recognized by the United States and all but five of the EU members, the Serbian government has devoted its foreign policy to blocking the new country’s entry into international institutions. . He worked closely with Vladimir Putin’s Russia in an attempt to delegitimize Kosovo’s statehood and promote an expansionist agenda.
Within the framework of the “Serbian world” agenda of President Aleksandr Vucic, who imitates the “Russia WorldâAgendaâ, Serbia intends to dominate several neighboring states and possibly integrate territories with a large Serbian population. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro are at the forefront of defending their sovereignty but feel they are receiving insufficient political support from the EU. Meanwhile, Serbian irredentism is directly supported by Moscow to disrupt the region and create a stronger Balkan ally.
Belgrade’s objectives towards Kosovo are to indefinitely delay a bilateral settlement, to maintain uncertainty about its future and potentially to absorb part of its territory. In the case of Montenegro, Vucic’s policy aims to subjugate his sovereignty and subordinate his foreign policy to that of Serbia. Belgrade passes through Serbian nationalists included in the new government coalition who want to reverse the western orientation of the country, even if Montenegro is already a member of NATO.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is the third major target of the panserbe. The country remains dysfunctional mainly because of the blockade policies of the autonomous Republika Srpska. Its leader, Milorad Dodik, periodically threatens separatism to create a new Serbian state and merge with Serbia. Although Vucic has avoided openly campaigning for the partition of Bosnia, he believes that a broader regional crisis, combined with conflicts within Bosnia itself, will provide opportunities for secession and unification with Serbia when the West will be distracted.
Pan-Albanian aspirations will be driven by the lack of realistic prospects for EU membership for Albania and Kosovo and for countries with a strong Albanian community like North Macedonia and Montenegro. Resentment over EU policies is compounded by what is widely seen as Western tolerance of the Greater Serbia project and a reluctance to firmly confront Russian interference throughout the region.
Ambitious politicians can exploit many grievances while promising national unification beyond existing borders. There is widespread anger against corrupt politicians and institutions that contribute to economic stagnation, rising unemployment and the out-migration of young and educated people. Elections change little because the state is dominated by interest groups who take advantage of their tenure to enrich themselves and stay in power. In from serbia case, the government has also become increasingly authoritarian.
Frustration with Brussels has been compounded by the painfully slow progress in delivering coronavirus vaccines to much of the Balkans and the denial of visa liberalization for citizens of Kosovo – the only country in Europe that does not have of such an agreement with the EU. For the Albanians, the paralysis of the Pristina-Belgrade talks, the non-recognition of Kosovo’s statehood by five EU members (Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia) and the inability of Kosovo to enter large multinational institutions such as the United Nations have aggravated public resentment. .
In these difficult conditions, the idea of âânational unification in a single state structure can hold promise for progress and historic justice. The unification of Kosovo with Albania would obviously ensure its protection under NATO auspices and provide Pristina with greater global access. For the Serbs, an enlarged Serbia would finally bring the whole nation together in one state. But moves towards state expansion would inevitably trigger conflicts with neighbors and spur demands for border changes among other ethnic groups. Although political leaders repeat the formula that nationalist aspirations will be neutralized by pan-European unification, they must also calculate how to benefit from nationalist sentiments if the path to the EU is indefinitely blocked.