[Opinion]: Appeasement is as appeasement does

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


“The Western Balkans have fallen off the priority list in Washington. It is hard to get any attention for the region. Secretary Antony J. Blinken is not interested in doing any heavy lifting on Balkan issues while war rages in Ukraine as well as Israel and Gaza.”

By Daniel Serwer,  @DanielSerwer ,

Washington, 05 October 2023, / – It is difficult to write about the Western Balkans when something far more serious is happening in the Middle East, not to mention Ukraine. But Kosovo as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina still merit some attention. The European Union and the US have de facto reversed their positions and now are favoring de facto ethnic partition of both entities.

Clearer in Kosovo

This is clearer in Kosovo. The EU is insisting that Kosovo reduce its overwhelmingly Albanian police presence in the north, which on September 24 responded professionally and effectively to a terrorist attack. The threat of a repeat performance is clear and present. The EU is explicitly ignoring the attempted insurrection on September 24:

This insistence on ignoring the September 24 terrorist insurrection is difficult to fathom. But it jibes with EU insistence on the immediate formation of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities, which Belgrade explicitly proposes be a vehicle for separate governance of Serbs in Kosovo. Hungary and the five member states that have not recognized Kosovo have become the bottom line of Europe’s position on Kosovo: no recognition and ethnic partition.

Same story in Bosnia and Herzegovina

In Bosnia, the situation is almost as bad. The West is supporting governments at both the state and entity levels that are under the control of ethnic separatists. Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik and Croat nationalist Dragan Covic are busy plotting the takeover of the Central Electoral Commission as well as the Constitutional Court. While they generally oppose the authority of the High Representative, they naturally supported his post-electoral decisions that favored ethnic nationalists.

Dodik and Covic of course oppose implementation of several European Court of Human Rights decisions that would reverse the ethnic nationalist stranglehold on governance in Bosnia. The EU is ignoring those decisions and proceeding as if they don’t exist. The US has done nothing for years to encourage their implementation.

No priority has consequences

Why are the US and EU supporting, or at least not opposing, efforts to ethnically segregate populations in Bosnia and Kosovo? In part, the explanation is lack of horsepower. The Western Balkans have fallen off the priority list in Washington. It is hard to get any attention for the region. Secretary Antony J. Blinken is not interested in doing any heavy lifting on Balkan issues while war rages in Ukraine as well as Israel and Gaza.

In Brussels, the main responsible officials come from Spain, Slovakia, and Hungary. Madrid and Bratislava have not recognized Kosovo. Budapest has, but its current leadership is explicitly ethnic nationalist. Prime Minister Orban is besties with Dodik and Serbian President Vucic, who can rely on his support. The EU higher ups are leaving the Balkans to people who have their own interests.

Appeasement is the policy

But there is more to it than that. Key officials in both Washington and Brussels have deluded themselves that they can attract Serbia into the West. President Aleksandar Vucic, they allege, is only concerned with getting a good deal for Serbs in neighboring countries. He is not serious about partitioning Kosovo or Bosnia. Buttering him up is easier and will work better than the alternative, tough love.

Labeling their current approach “appeasement” offends my colleagues at the State Department. But the US has done nothing more than a few talking points in response to Vucic’s sponsorship of the September 24 terrorist insurrection. The EU has done likewise. They are hoping the incident will give them leverage on Vucic in private but all blow over in public.

Of course that is not possible for Kosovo Albanians or for supporters to liberal democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the former lack an international backer willing to press the case for serious sanctions against Vucic. The latter lack not only international backing but also political traction in their own country.

The West has abandoned its friends. It is supporting opponents of liberal democracy in both Kosovo and Bosnia. Appeasement is as appeasement does.


Daniel Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.   

This opinion was first published at website.                 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of  

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