“There is, in reality, no rationale for the establishment of the ASM beyond a desire to appease (Aleksandar) Vucic; he wants the ASM, not because he cares about the Kosovo Serbs, but because it is the most expedient means by which he can undermine both the authority of the government of Kosovo and the territorial integrity of Kosovo itself.”
By Aidan Hehir @FarCanals ,
20 October 2023, dtt-net.com – The Association of Serb Majority Municipalities (ASM) was a terrible idea when it was conceived; it has aged badly. Today, only the most naïve and/or stupid could believe that it poses no threat to the Kosovo’s territorial integrity.
For years, many warned that the Serbian government were sponsoring criminal gangs, arming militias, and directing the local “Serbian List” party in the north of Kosovo with a view to stoking an insurrection. The international community ignored these warnings and chose to appease Aleksandar Vucic.
They remained silent while he described Milosevic as “a great Serbian leader who undoubtedly had the best intentions,”, denied that massacres occurred in Kosovo, labeled Prime Minister Albin Kurti as “terrorist scum”, and routinely claimed that the Kosovo government were engaged in “ethnic cleansing against the Serbian people”. Instead of challenging this torrent of sectarian lies emanating from a leader whose authoritarian tendencies grew year on year, they shamefully acted as his enforcer, demanding – in increasingly shrill tones – that Kosovo establish the ASM “now!” By contrast, for seeking only to be treated as an equal party in the negotiations and exercising its authority inside its own territory, the government of Kosovo was bullied, criticized, and eventually sanctioned.
The ASM Obsession
What explains the international’s obsession with the ASM? Why did it become the primary – if not in fact the exclusive – focus of the “Belgrade-Prishtina” dialogue?
The claim that the ASM should be established because agreements must be honored simply does not stand up to scrutiny; over the past twelve months when the internationals have aggressively amplified their pressure on the government of Kosovo to implement the ASM, they have conveniently ignored all the agreements which Serbia signed but violated. The 2013 “Brussels Agreement”, for example, included a stipulation in Article 14 that ‘neither side will block, or encourage others to block, the other side’s progress in their respective EU path’. This has, however, been repeatedly and openly violated by Serbia which has campaigned to encourage states to revoke their recognition of Kosovo and persuade others to maintain their non-recognition.
There is, in reality, no rationale for the establishment of the ASM beyond a desire to appease Vucic; he wants the ASM, not because he cares about the Kosovo Serbs, but because it is the most expedient means by which he can undermine both the authority of the government of Kosovo and the territorial integrity of Kosovo itself.
While the Serbs in the north have long implacably rejected integration, most Serbs in Kosovo don’t live in the north; these Serbs have shown a willingness to work within Kosovo’s institutional structures. The ASM would destroy this progress by pulling these Serbs further out of Kosovo’s political and judicial institutions. The ASM would also provide a more direct and legal means by which Serbia could exercise influence inside Kosovo; does anyone seriously imagine that Vucic’s regime would not exploit this to steadily erode Kosovo’s very existence?
The terrorist attacks in Banjska on the 24th September vividly exposed President Vucic’s violent intentions. This was clearly not the work of an independent local group; Vucic’s close ally Milan Radoičić was one of the attackers, himself the deputy head of the Belgrade-controlled Srpska Lista. Instead of expressing any contrition, Vucic called a day of mourning for the Serbs who died and immediately met with the Russian ambassador to blame the incident on Kurti’s “brutal ethnic cleansing”.
At the last round of EU-brokered negotiations on the 14th September, Kosovo was presented with a proposal which would have compelled it to establish the ASM before the other issues stipulated at Ohrid were implemented. This was patently unacceptable then; after Banjska it would be an act of pure madness for Kosovo to agree to this and an insult if it was asked to.
Demanding that Kosovo establish the ASM after the Banjska attacks would be the ultimate betrayal of the people of Kosovo and the most glaring example of the appeasement of Vucic to date. It would additionally be a monumental strategic mistake; now that Serbia’s violent plans have been exposed, what message would the continued bullying of Kosovo and appeasement of Serbia send? It would embolden Vucic and all the other authoritarian leaders worldwide who seek to capitalise on the West’s faltering resolve and evident willingness to abandon its own principles. Kosovo is certainly not the most strategically important or resource rich country in the world, but it has huge symbolic importance; the West has invested much more than just money and time in Kosovo since 1999. Kosovo’s fate has major implications for the West’s credibility as a progressive force for change and status as a global power. Abandoning Kosovo – whose people and government are arguably more pro-EU/NATO than anyone else – in favor of a violent authoritarian relic of the most sectarian strain of Serbian nationalism, would be conclusive proof that the West as an ideal is dead.
It may be the case that some further constitutional provisions could be granted to the Serbs which do not – like the original ASM – fundamentally threaten Kosovo’s existence. But these can only be considered after Serbia formally renounces its claim on Kosovo and commits to disband – under international supervision – the armed militias it has established inside Kosovo.
Aidan Hehir is a Reader in International Relations at the University of Westminster. His research interests include transitional justice, humanitarian intervention and statebuilding in Kosovo. He is the author/editor of eleven books and has published over fifty academic book chapters and journal articles. He is co-editor of the Routledge Studies in Intervention and Statebuilding book series.
This opinion of his is written exclusively for dtt-net.com .
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