Due to their reckless appeasement of an expansionist Belgrade, the US and the EU have recently escalated the situation in Kosovo.
In late May, stone-throwing Serb militant nationalists attacked NATO peacekeepers in the northern Kosovo town of Zvecan, drawing renewed attention to the Balkan nation. After Kosovo police accompanied newly elected mayors to their places of employment following local elections that ethnic Serb people had boycotted, violence broke out in the country’s Serb-dominated north.
Many people who were unaware with the situation in the Balkans wondered if another violent conflict was about to erupt in Europe after learning that Serbia had concurrently placed its military on high alert.
The truth is that a new Balkan war is not imminent. However, that does not negate how concerning the situation in Kosovo is.
Aside from the bloodshed, what is causing worry in the area is the part that the US and the EU have played in encouraging a risky new phase of Serb nationalist militancy in Kosovo and throughout the Western Balkans.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy—collectively known as the Quint—supported Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.
It was established following nearly ten years of global oversight by the UN Interim Administration, which was established following the Kosovo War. During this transitional period, Kosovo continued to be formally recognized as a “autonomous province” of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but Belgrade had little actual control over the administration of the territory outside of a few municipalities in the north with a Serb majority.
The US and EU have worked to broker a normalization agreement between Pristina and Belgrade for the past 15 years. The incidents in Zvecan clearly show how far apart the two sides are on a settlement after numerous rounds of high-level negotiations.
But in this case, there is no issue of comparative guilt. The Serbian side is still largely responsible for the issue.
Kosovo’s sovereignty is categorically rejected by the Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic’s increasingly dictatorial government. Vucic declined to even sign the alleged agreement he had “agreed” to at the most recent round of negotiations in Ohrid, North Macedonia, in March, telling Serbian citizens in a subsequent address that he did not want “to make an international legal agreement with the Republic of Kosovo.”
But Kosovo is not the only place where Serbia is acting retaliatorily.
The Serbian leadership and significant portions of the populace, who have been subjected to more than 30 years of revisionist state propaganda, live in a separate reality. Belgrade and a sizable portion of the Serbian population do not agree that the Milosevic administration, in whose final cabinet Vucic was the minister of communications, was the primary architect of the breakup of Yugoslavia or the subsequent decade of conflict that enveloped the area.
They make the untrue claim that between 1991 and 1999, Serbia did not engage in any aggressive wars against Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Kosovo. Furthermore, they incorrectly claim that between 1992 and 1995, Serbia did not plan a systematic, genocidal campaign of extermination, terror, and expulsion against Bosnia’s non-Serb people, which disproportionately harmed the Bosniak minority.
In fact, Milosevic and his Bosnian Serb goons committed such horrific acts of genocidal murder against the Bosniaks that they accounted for 82 percent of all civilian deaths during the Bosnian War and roughly half of all losses during the Yugoslav Wars.
Because of the US-mediated Dayton Peace Accords and the extreme degree of autonomy granted to ethnic chauvinist elements under the nation’s new constitution, post-war Bosnia has remained riven by dysfunction and conflict. The secessionist regime of Milorad Dodik, with support from Russia and Serbia, undermines even the most modest reforms in the Republika Srpska entity, which Milosevic’s genocide-driven purge carved out as a Serb-majority region and which is loyal to Belgrade.
Similar to Kosovo, the US and EU appear uninterested in limiting Russian involvement in Bosnia and have instead worked to appease hardline nationalists who are supported by Moscow. Why? Considering the Western Balkans to be so distant from its interests, the West has come to the conclusion that it is not worth the time or effort to challenge individuals like Vucic, Dodik, or Covic.
Instead, the US and EU have adopted a sort of Kabuki strategy, maintaining a performative stance of opposition to extreme nationalists while investing political and diplomatic resources to further their objectives in the flimsy belief that doing so will appease them.
As a result, nationalist fanaticism in the Balkans—the majority of which is supported by the West—has only grown in strength.
Unfortunately, judging by their bizarre responses to the violence in Zvecan, the US and the EU both seem totally committed to this route. That will probably continue until domestic audiences, such as the Bosnian and Kosovar diasporas in the West, and their legislative allies, can persuasively argue that Western double-dealing in the Balkans is harmful to Europe’s peace and security.