The CSS Blog Network

New Balkan Turbulence Challenges Europe

Courtesy of Renaud Camus/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by International Crisis Group on 28 April 2017.

The Balkans was best known for minority problems. Today, the most bitter conflicts are between parties that appeal to majority ethnic communities. As recent turbulence in Macedonia shows, Eastern Europe could face new dangers if majority populism ends the current stigma against separatism for oppressed small groups.

The trouble in the Balkans today is not Russian meddling, though there is some of that, but a special case of the malaise afflicting Eastern Europe: unchecked executive power, erosion of the rule of law, xenophobia directed at neighbours and migrants and pervasive economic insecurity. The pattern varies from country to country but is palpable from Szczecin on the Baltic to Istanbul on the Bosporus. The countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia – have long tended to follow patterns set by their larger, more powerful neighbours. They are doing it again.

The ability of the European Union (EU) to fix problems in the Balkans is hamstrung when the same troubles persist within its own borders, sometimes in more acute form. Take erosion of democratic norms: Hungary over the past decade has slid from 2.14 to 3.54 on Freedom House’s “Nations in Transit” democracy score (lower is better). Poland’s decline is more recent but equally steep. Croatia is also backsliding. Almost all the Western Balkan states are declining, too, but more slowly.
» More

Post-Big Bang Expansion, is EU Overcorrecting with the Western Balkans?

EU – Kosovo – wall painting outside Peje (Pec), Kosovo. Image: Adam Jones/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Friends of Europe on 25 November, 2014.

“Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door”

Bob Dylan

The perspective of joining the European family has proven to be the most effective mobilising factor to stabilise and reform the Balkans. It’s replaced the dark scenario of conflicts sparked by efforts to redraw borders along ethnic lines. It has undoubtedly been the EU’s most powerful geopolitical instrument, the latest illustration being the brokered Belgrade-Pristina agreement. Before the process reached the point of no return, however, the enlargement policy has been challenged, accession hopes dangerously watered down and the door slammed shut, for now. » More

Kosovo: Time for a Restart between Pristina and the North?

Young Kosovo. Source: Tony Bowden

It was hoped that the Brussels Agreement would lead to the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia and stabilize the situation in Northern Kosovo in the process. Yet, while it’s true that ties between Pristina and Belgrade have improved, the same cannot be said about the Kosovar capital’s relations with its restive northern territory. Indeed, Pristina still lacks a dialogue with the Serbian minority in the north. Will a change of government help to rectify this situation? » More

Mediation Perspectives: The Local Elections in Kosovo

Kosovo flag

Flag of Kosovo. Source: Cradel/Wikimedia Commons.

The local elections that took place in Kosovo towards the end of 2013 were celebrated by the international community as a historic event and a turning point in the conflict over the status of the former Yugoslav province. They were also hailed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a milestone for the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo and a clear sign that the Serb-dominated north of the disputed territory was finally prepared to become part of the Kosovar political system. Alongside the encouragement of ethnic Serbs to participate in the elections, Belgrade also committed to abolish its parallel political institutions. In return, Serb majority municipalities were granted the right to create a community with autonomy in areas such as economic development, health, education, urban and rural planning. Such initiatives helped to allay fears that the Serb minority would be dominated by an overwhelming Albanian majority.

Less than perfect conditions

However, the elections were far from being smooth, especially in the northern part of Kosovo. Voter turnout in Serb dominated municipalities was low and hovered between 15% and 20% of the electorate. The first round of elections had to be repeated in three polling stations after they were stormed by masked men. In the second round, ballots were transported to Kosovo Polje for no obvious reason instead of being counted at the polling station. In all rounds, employees of Serbian state-run enterprises were practically “ordered” to the polls. Whereas these circumstances would have warranted a critical assessment elsewhere, there seemed to be no appetite to engage in a prolonged discussion about the legitimacy of the elections – as long as they produced a result that everybody could live with. » More

US Congressman Engel Says Serbia, Kosovo Can Now ‘Look Forward To Future’

Image by US Department of Defense.

Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has long taken a close interest in Balkan affairs and offered strong praise for the agreement Serbia and Kosovo reached in April. RFE/RL Balkan Service’s Pristina bureau chief, Arbana Vidishiqi, spoke to Engel about the agreement and the prospects for reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo.

RFE/RL: Congressman Engel, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement on April 19 on the normalization of their relations but both parties have now missed the deadline in drafting the implementation plan. Do you think the process of normalization is at risk?

Eliot Engel: No, I don’t. I think when you have a process of normalization like this, there is always going to be things that get in the way, there is always going to be obstacles; but I think if both parties are determined to reach an agreement, which they have, and carry out the agreement, I think, things will be fine. This is obviously a serious situation. Both sides have a lot of trepidation or doubt about whether this is a good thing, but I think that this is a necessary step that has to be taken and I believe will work out. The EU, of course, is right there and the United States will always stand by the people of Kosovo every step of the way.

RFE/RL: The agreement seems to allow for the possibility for the establishment of a so-called mini-state — similar to Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina — in northern Kosovo. Does it?

Engel: No, it doesn’t. These are very difficult negotiations. There are a lot of opinions in so many different ways. There has been hostility for so many years. 1999, obviously, is still fresh in everybody’s mind — at least on Kosovo’s side — and I think that this agreement is a necessary agreement. I think that, in an agreement, no side gets everything they want. And an agreement is a compromise. And a compromise is one side gets some of what they want and the other side gets some of what they want. And as a result, neither side is totally satisfied, but both sides feel this is in the best interest because they can move on from here, they can put the past behind them or attempt to put the past behind them and look forward to the future. » More

Page 1 of 2