Serbian officials are meeting with a European Union mediator today after violence erupted along the border between Serbia and neighboring Kosovo last week.
Since Thursday, NATO forces have been in control of the Jarinje and Brnjak border checkpoints in northern Kosovo after last week’s violent flare-up. Early last week, the Kosovo government sent in police forces to take control of the two border crossings in order to enforce a ban on Serbian imports. The embargo was an effort to counter to Serbia’s own ban on Kosovo imports, which has been in effect since 2008. The move effectively blocked the flow of food and medicine from Serbia to northern Kosovo, an area dominated by ethnic Serbs that rely heavily on those imported goods. Kosovo Serbs retaliated by setting fire to one border post, and the ensuing clash resulted in the death of one Kosovo police officer. Kosovo Serbs also blockaded roads, preventing NATO trucks from reaching peacekeepers at the checkpoints.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has stated that the embargo was an effort to reign in control over northern Kosovo, whose ethnically Serbian residents largely do not respect the authority of Kosovo’s government. In an interview with the Associated Press Monday, Thaci declared that he would continue his campaign to exert control over the northern part of the country.
Serbian President Boris Tadić declared over the weekend that Serbia would not seek to wage a war with Kosovo over the matter. “We live in a region of the former Yugoslavia where wars have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives,” he said. “I join the majority in the western Balkans that believes peace has no alternative.” The Serbian parliament passed a resolution late Sunday that agreed with Tadic’s statements and called for a peaceful end to the situation. Although the atmosphere remains tense, early Monday NATO began to clear several roadblocks put up by Kosovo Serbs.
Deep-seated tensions continue to resonate deeply in Kosovo and Serbia since the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo War that embroiled the Balkans in the late 1990s. Serbia does not recognize the legality of Kosovo’s independence, declared in 2008, and Kosovo Serbs’ loyalties still lie with Belgrade. Last week’s incident is widely acknowledged as the worst crisis to erupt between the two countries since Kosovo officially declared its independence, and undoubtedly adds complications for both countries’ plans for accession into the European Union.
In a prescient analysis written just days before this latest flare-up with Kosovo, John Hooper of The Guardian detailed the challenges Serbia faces in its quest for EU membership:
Many worry that, having surrendered their war crimes suspects, the Serbs will be asked by Brussels to make unacceptable concessions to their neighbours. “Serbia has problems with Kosovo. It has problems with Montenegro, with Bosnia and Croatia”, said [analyst Goran] Nikolic, “and in all these cases the west’s perception of the issues is different from that of Serbia.”
A particular fear is that the EU will demand Serbia recognises Kosovo and, as with Cyprus for Turkey, it will become either an insuperable obstacle or a convenient excuse. “How can we recognise [Kosovo] when it goes against our constitution and all historical and legal logic?” asked [Serbian resident Milos] Tomsin.
Olaf Ihlau of Der Spiegel writes that the long-simmering unrest in the Balkans remains Europe’s weakness:
Twelve years after the NATO intervention during the Kosovo War, it is clear that it was an historical mistake on the part of the European Union not to have integrated all of Yugoslavia’s successor states in one fell swoop after the wars of succession. Until all the countries in the Balkans become EU member states, they will remain Europe’s Achilles’ heel.