The current escalation of tensions between Serbs and Albanians at the EU border in Kosovo does not exist in isolation. Likewise, a resolution to this conflict will almost certainly not create any sort of bridge across the ethnic fault lines that run through the former Yugoslavia.
Kosovo is a majority-Albanian country, but there is a Serb-majority region in the far north, where there is a Serb majority, and where street violence has led to an increase in NATO presence. It has also raised the risk of further conflict on Europe̵7;s borders.
The problem is ethnic. However, it has deep roots in the West’s record of building states and imposing limits on population regardless of residents’ feelings or identity.
In this case, it was the formation of Yugoslavia in 1918, the genocidal war in the late nineties and the 2008 declaration of independence of Kosovo that marked its disintegration. This left thousands of ethnic Serbs within an independent state that is still not recognized by many living within its borders in Belgrade, Serbia, as its capital.
While the current controversy is likely to escalate into a recapitulation of the armed violence that tore through the first pages of the late nineties, the stakes, for those concerned, often as the memory of a past war, are painfully personal.
German journalist Mirko Kielbarth, who covered the war for various television channels. Prior to the final cessation of hostilities in 1999, Keilberth witnessed firsthand the Serbian military’s efforts to ethnically cleanse the area of Albanians, barring them from hospitals or schools, while militias, such as Behind youWaged a genocidal war against most of the Albanian population.
“The Serb army officers I met hated the paramilitaries,” Kelberth told me. “These people were criminals, many Russians too, they killed everyone, including two friends and colleagues, (by the Serbian army) while retreating.”
Any conflict that cuts so deeply will inevitably leave scars. In northern Kosovo, in particular, these appear in the settlement that conflicts between the capitals of Belgrade and Pristina.
This latest crisis involves the election of Albanian mayors in a vote boycotted by the region’s Serbs. In a move some will label as cynical, the government in Pristina waited for Serb municipal workers to leave northern Kosovo Join protests in neighboring SerbiaBefore the mayors were installed in their offices, both the US and the European Union condemned, in which both states have applied to join,
Before the latest hike there was a clash over registration of cars, when the last intervention by the European Union Kosovo finally convinced Belgrade to stop issuing number plates with city registration.
For the EU, which is considering the two states’ accession bids while waging a second war against Serbia’s ally Russia, the challenge is formidable. “If the EU and NATO cannot ensure peace in Kosovo, it really calls into question their legitimacy elsewhere,” said Florian Bieber, professor at the University of Graz in Austria and coordinator for the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG). Told me through whatsapp.
Both countries see EU membership as a significant economic and political opportunity. Failure to ensure peace would have serious financial and diplomatic consequences for both – and for – the bloc.
Although the presence of NATO forces on the ground provided some protection against a return to war, benefits could be derived from brinkmanship for both states as well as for Russia.
“Such incidents bring international attention to the region, as well as allowing both states to enter crisis mode and seek support,” Professor Bieber said. “Belgrade, in particular, is acting as both firefighter and pyrotechnics in this, seizing on issues that could be exaggerating and working to their own advantage.”
Tensions between EU member states are nothing new. However, ethnic tensions between states with a recent history of warfare must be handled with extreme caution.