Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) March of this year seemed to represent a new chapter in relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Since the latter declared its independence in 2008, the former has unequivocally refused to recognize it as a sovereign nation. But a deal overlooked by the EU’s foreign affairs chief: Joseph Borrell was set to change this. It apparently achieved the seemingly impossible task of the “normalization of relations” between the Balkan states, a step towards Kosovo’s recognition by the Serbs.
The deal was underpinned by economic incentives. Stability in the region would allow the inclusion of the states in wider European economic activity. It also seemed quite balanced. Kosovo would allow Serb-dominated municipal institutions in majority Serbian regions, while Serbia would stop objecting to Kosovo’s involvement (as its own state) on the international stage. Even then, however, citizens of both countries doubted it would be successful.
Doubts were confirmed very soon. In April, Kosovo held its municipal elections. This was an apt test to see whether the terms of the deal could actually be applied. Serbs demanded autonomy in voting for majority-Serbian regions. Kosovars asked for full recognition, as per the agreement. In response, many Serbs refused to vote. Due to this boycott, ethnic Albanians won mayoral elections. This was seen as intolerable by the Serbs, and renewed tension resulted. People took to the streets and Kosovo police officers were injured. Serb organizers were then arrested. In apparent retaliation, Serbia arrested Kosovo police officers.
This failure is something of a humiliation after the unapologetic optimism of many EU officials. Sanctions were quickly raised against Kosovo in response to the threat of armed conflict. This included the suspension of official visits and financial investment.
But the sanctions are still yet to cool down tensions. Serbs in Kosovo seem to conclude the only way for their interests to be considered, is through more pronounced action. It is perhaps no surprise then that Serbian nationalist movements are becoming more popular. Such movements advocate for more independence and power in municipal elections, to counterbalance the powers of the central Kosovo government.
This move to more hardline movements is even less surprising when Serbs in Kosovo seem to think their allies in Belgrade are unable to protect them. Support has usually come through the “Serbian List” political party. This party was created to ensure Serbs have more influence in how Kosovo is run, achieved through the inclusion of ethnic Serbs within institutions. Dialogue between the List and the Kosovo government has, so far, not appeased tensions, and many believe the time for such mild-mannered diplomacy is over.
This is a time of great tension which could very well end in armed conflict and further tragedy in the Balkans region. This could also represent a further blow to world peace and stability in a period already rocked by war.