[Opinion] : Serbia should defeat Vucic, not Kosovo

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


 By Daniel Serwer,  @DanielSerwer ,

How can anyone expect any major US policy shift in the Western Balkans, if @USAmbSerbia says “there is nothing unique about [Banjska]”, when asked about this unprecedented attempt by a Belgrade-proxy Serb nationalist militia to destabilize (& possibly annex) the north of Kosovo.”  ( Jakub Bielamowicz October 28, 2023 )

He all but calls terrorists freedom fighters. Hamas should be pleased.

Jakub is correct. American acceptance without substantial protest of the terrorist act attempted on September 24 in northern Kosovo is incompatible with any serious shift in US policy in the Balkans. Appeasement knows few limits. The Belgrade-sponsored and -trained insurrectionists were not freedom fighters. They were proxies doing the Serbian state’s will against the Kosovo state, which the US recognizes and supposedly prizes as a partner.

This is nuts

Six weeks have passed without any apparent US or EU reaction, beyond mild scolding. In the meanwhile Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has snubbed the EU in favor of attending a Beijing-hosted Belt and Road Summit.

Not surprisingly, the latest EU-sponsored meeting between Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti failed to make progress. The EU and US want Kurti to institute an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities (ASMM) without any serious quid pro quo from Vucic. He is unwilling even to see Kosovo join the UN despite a supposedly “legally binding” February agreement not to block it from international organizations. I quote from Article 4: “Serbia will not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organisation.” Bilateral recognition, Vucic persistently says, is out of the question.

The fault lies mainly in Belgrade

Serbia is mainly at fault for the present stalemate. It has refused to abide by agreements the EU and US claim are legally binding. The backstory includes Belgrade urging Serbs not to use Kosovo license plates, to boycott Kosovo elections, and to attack Kosovo police and international peacekeepers. Belgrade does not abide even by the 2013 agreement that launched the idea of the ASMM, which provides for the Kosovo constitution to be applied in the north, with ample provisions for Serb participation.

Nevertheless the EU is sustaining its “consequences” on Kosovo. They were levied to get duly-elected but non-Serb mayors from using their offices in northern Kosovo municipal buildings and to force Kosovo to reduce its police presence there. Only one of the four mayors I am told is going to his municipal building. The Kosovo police presence has been reduced due to improved security conditions. But there is no sign of easing on the EU’s part.

The Association

The nub of the issue is the Association. The EU gave Vucic and Kurti drafts of its statutes at their last meeting. I hoped it would have leaked by now, but apparently it hasn’t. The key question is whether the proposal guarantees that the Association will operate in accordance with the Kosovo constitution and not constitute a new layer of governance like Republika Srpska in Bosnia. That has rendered Bosnia dysfunctional. Republika Srpska originated in six Serb Autonomous Regions, which united to form the larger entity. That is a precedent the US and EU should not allow.

I’ve seen no guarantee they won’t. The Americans have published an op/ed that says it won’t happen. But they aren’t willing to sign on the dotted line to prevent it. Nor are the Europeans prepared to commit. Without such a guarantee, an elaborate proposal like the one from the European Institute of Peace and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung runs the risk of laying the groundwork for partition of Kosovo and secession.

The right way forward

The Americans succeeded last week in forcing the resignation of Serbian Security Information Agency chief Aleksandar Vulin. He is a diehard advocate of the “Serbian world,” which is code for Greater Serbia and entails Kosovo partition. It would be hard to doubt that he backed the September 24 plot, providing material as well as political support. But his resignation is no substitute for a major shift in Belgrade policy, which can only come from from the mouth of President Vucic. He needs to acknowledge responsibility for the September 24 plot, apologize, and pledge nothing like it will happen again.

The odds of that are nil to zero. Vucic has called parliamentary and local elections for December 17, hoping they will shore up his flaging support. Or at least give him a renewed mandate. He won’t be apologizing to Kosovo for anything in the middle of an election campaign. Nor thereafter.

The best that can happen now is defeat of the present governing coalition. The opposition claims it has united as “Serbia Against Violence.” That is good news. Now they need to focus on getting their often young, left/liberal, environmentalist, and anti-violence voters to the polls. Serbia should defeat Vucic. Not Kosovo.


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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