The EU may just leave it to Serbia and Kosovo by sorting out their economic relations – opportunities exist for Serbia to play a significant role via the eventual settling of competing claims – and to Kosovo Serbs by somehow leavening Kosovo politics by working with moderate Albanians. Could this work?
By Gerard M. Gallucci
While not the most unstable region in the world, the non-EU Balkans is in pretty bad shape right now. Edward Joseph has just suggested that soon, the EU and US may be forced to account for “losing” the region. At the core of the problems are three factors: unsettled status issues, troubled economies mired in inefficiency and corruption and the utter bankruptcy of EU and US efforts since 1990 to help resolve these matters. Nowhere is this more true than in the tangled realities of Serbia and Kosovo.
US policy toward the looming break-up of the Balkans in 1990 was conflicted. Washington pursued three incompatible objectives: the continued territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, support for “democracy” in the form of urging Belgrade to allow increased republic autonomy and support for “human rights” of Kosovo Albanians. With the determined efforts of Slovenia (supported by the newly uniting Germany) towards independence, the end of the League of Communists as an integrating force, the rise of nationalist leaders in Croatia and Serbia, and Milosevic’ reckless efforts to beat reasonable Kosovo Albanians into nationalist separatists, this was doomed to failure. Thereafter, US policy was to leave the problems to the Europeans and locals as much as possible. (Thus the late rise to do anything preventive vis-a-vis the various Balkan conflicts of 1991-99.)
The EU’s policy was first to claim a certain form of leadership – led by Germany – in quickly recognizing Slovenia and Croatia – and eventually by gleefully accepting the handover of the UN’s rule of law mandate for Kosovo in 2008. To make a long story short, the EU proved feckless and left messes behind in Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo. (An interesting question might be to ask why Europe was quick to bring in the non-Ottoman parts of the former Yugoslavia while hanging the others out to dry.) The EU’s fallback approach was to muddle through.
In part to erase the stain left by letting the UN flounder in Bosnia, the US led NATO into the 1999 bombing of Serbia to end Milosevic’ effort to retain Kosovo. But few in the US government actually foresaw that the end of the process would leave behind an “independent” state with the UN and NATO left holding the bag. But the Kosovo Albanians were determined and ready to push the internationals when necessary. “Standards before status” went overboard after the clearly planned violence of March 2004.
By 2008, Washington was glad to leave Kosovo to the EU after leading the territory to “independence.” But the EU (and its Rule of Law Mission, EULEX) failed to settle the status issue with Serbia or to improve governance and economic sustainability. So the US assisted in NATO/EULEX efforts to attempt to subdue the northern Kosovo Serbs through force. This would have resolved “status” by delivering all of Kosovo to Pristina and appeased the Albanians. (Appeasing the Kosovo Albanians was long a US method of retaining enough influence to be able to “control” them.) By 2013, it was clear that would not work. The EU then went into gear by making it clear to Belgrade that it stood no chance of getting into the EU – a seeming economic necessity for a Serbia still emerging from the wreckage of the Yugoslav economy – unless it gave up Kosovo. The “Brussels dialogue” with Pristina would be the mechanism for easing Serbia toward that goal.
Now the end of that dialogue may be approaching. The current Serbian government – descended from Chetnik nationalists – has used the dialogue to channel its actions to turn over the Kosovo Serbs to Pristina in phases. The southern Kosovo Serbs had nowhere else to go and made their peace already. The northern Kosovo Serbs will be pushed into an Association of Kosovo Serb municipalities that has little real commitment from Pristina. (Belgrade appears to have little interest in negotiating the details of the Association. Some Kosovo Serbs also fear Belgrade plans to cut off their funding even though it would be allowed under the Ahtisaari Plan.) Nothing much has been said about the various economic issues such as what happens to Gazivoda or Trepca or about settling land and boundary issues.
By the end of this year, Serbia may have met all the EU’s requirements to “open chapters” in EU membership talks by cutting links to Kosovo. (The chapters are still “closed” as the EU keeps the pressure on.) But in truth, the EU will be in no hurry to bring Serbia forward (or Bosnia, Macedonia or Montenegro). Germany wants no more problems. This would be bad for Serbia not only economically but politically as well. All mainstream Serbian parties now support the EU option. Should that not materialize even after surrendering Kosovo, to where would the political center shift?
The ultimate irony may be that Serbs may be left with the responsibility of somehow making Kosovo work. Kosovo is not a self-sustaining entity. Left to itself, it will require continued economic assistance and political mentoring. Without, Kosovo will serve as an engine for exporting people, jihadists and regional violence (as recently in Macedonia). The US has lost major patience with the Kosovo Albanians. It will not tolerate any who seek to stir instability elsewhere and will continue to play a role in ensuring a moderate government in Pristina. But it will look to the EU to provide the economic assistance (and to absorb those who migrate). The EU may just leave it to Serbia and Kosovo by sorting out their economic relations – opportunities exist for Serbia to play a significant role via the eventual settling of competing claims – and to Kosovo Serbs by somehow leavening Kosovo politics by working with moderate Albanians. Could this work?
Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He has a PhD in political science, taught at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Arkansas, George Washington University and Drake University and now works as an independent consultant.