With all of the negative fallout from Brexit over these past four years, you might be forgiven for thinking that the future of the European Union looks somewhat bleak. In truth, that is far from the case.
The leaders of the EU27 are in the middle of sorting out just how they will divvy up a proposed €750 billion (Dh3.1 trillion) coronavirus recovery fund, and they’ll all meet face-to-face in Brussels on Friday [July 17] for the first time since the world’s third-largest market went into economic hibernation.
With that type of economic clout, it’s small wonder then that the Balkan states want entry into the club sooner rather than later. But before that can happen, there’s the thorny problem of Serbia and Kosovo to sort out. For all of the negative ink that is written about the EU by Eurosceptics, one of the areas of Brussels that does indeed function well is its diplomatic arm — its ability to patiently work through complex nation-state disputes is impressive. It has patience, moves slowly, deliberately and loves details and more details. And all of those qualities are needed when it comes to Serbia and Kosovo.
Brussels believes its efforts are more realistic and credible [to sort out the problem of Serbia and Kosovo]. That’s the main reason while both Macron and Merkel are pushing for progress now.
For decades, the EU has been trying to broker a lasting peace deal between Serbia and Kosovo.
In late June, a tribunal in The Hague brought 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci. The indictment against Thaci and other senior administration officials allege they were responsible for nearly 100 murders, and were also behind the torture, enforced disappearance and persecution of Serb, Roma, Kosovo Albanians and members of other ethnicities and political opponents.
Thaci, however, is travelling to Brussels to meet the president of Serbia, Alexsandar Vucic this weekend in talks organised and endorsed at the highest levels of EU leadership. French President Emmanuel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were to videoconference on the issue on Friday, raising expectations that finally the deep divisions between Belgrade and Pristina might be on their way to a resolution. Some 20 years ago, the former Yugoslav territories fought a war that killed some 13,000 people and its effects still linger today.
Serbia considers Kosovo part of its territory, while Kosovo considers itself an independent state.
Kosovo through the eyes of history
Kosovo is a small, landlocked nation slightly larger than Cyprus — or about one-eighth the size of the UAE. Its population of almost two million is mostly ethnic Albanian and mostly Muslim. Historically, Serbia first lost Kosovo to the Ottoman Turks between 1455 and 1912. While a small number of ethnic Serbs live in the north and close to Serbia proper, Kosovo was an autonomous region of Serbia in the socialist federal Yugoslav state rule by Josep Tito after the Second World War.
The collapse of the Soviet bloc changed everything — with then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic bringing Kosovo directly under Belgrade’s control in 1989 as the break-up of Yugoslavia unleashed violence and old national, ethnic and religious divisions.
Slovenia and Croatia each declared independence, and Kosovo followed suit. Few members of the international community recognised it — and also ignored ethnic cleansing where Muslims were removed from their homes. The Kosovo Liberation Army began paramilitary activities in 1996 and the violence escalated to the point where the United Nations banned arm sales to Serbia, and Nato forces intervened to stop a series of atrocities. For 11 weeks, Nato airpower pounded Serbia and a tenuous deal carved out Kosovo but only after a million people were displaced, the UN recognised the new state’s authority and spent a decade trying to work out a lasting deal — which Serbia rejected.
Belgrade still doesn’t recognise Kosovo, but more than 100 other nations do.
Since 2011, the EU has led talks on resolving the dispute and, in fairness, has had some success over the past nine years in working out technical agreements — but there have been setbacks such as the 2018 assassination of an ethnic Serb politician in Kosovo, deemed an act of terror by Vucic.
Belgrade blocked Kosovo’s efforts to join Interpol, the Europe-wide policing agency. Pristina hit back by imposing a 100 per cent tariff on imports from both Serbia and Bosnia and upgraded its internal security force into a full-blown army. That in turn is viewed in Belgrade as a potential threat, with a military response not considered inappropriate.
Washington too is working to try and resolve matters but, given relations between the EU and the White House are not entirely open, Brussels believes its efforts are more realistic and credible. That’s the main reason while both Macron and Merkel are pushing for progress now.
But Vucic too will be only too aware that any concessions now when it comes to Kosovo could play into the right-wing violence that has shaken Belgrade in recent days. The protesters took to the streets when the government tried to re-introduce shutdown regulations after a new spike in COVID-19 cases. Vucic backed down: He won’t be as flexible with his principles when it comes to Kosovo.