[Opinion] : Washington goes full bore Belgrade

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


By Daniel Serwer,

Washington, 26 May 2023, / – US Secretary of State Blinken today tweeted: “We strongly condemn the actions by the Government of Kosovo that are escalating tensions in the north and increasing instability. We call on Prime Minister @albinkurti to immediately halt these violent measures and refocus on the EU-facilitated Dialogue” .

This condemnation was in response to the Kosovo government installing elected mayors in four Serbian majority municipalities in northern Kosovo. The Serb populations almost entirely boycotted the election, under pressure from Belgrade. The Americans had backed the elections without criticizing Belgrade but then opposed the (Albanian) mayors taking office. While Senator Murphy has claimed that Kurti’s move was unexpected, the Prime Minister announced it two days ago.

No US condemnation of Serbia‘s moves

Busloads of Serbs from Kosovo were being transported to Belgrade today, unobstructed, for President Vucic’s rent-a-crowd rally this evening. At the same time, Belgrade has put its armed forces on alert, in clear and unequivocal contradiction of the EU-sponsored normalization agreement it has supposedly accepted. It has also mobilized its thugs in northern Kosovo to physically obstruct the arrival of the elected mayors there.

There has been no US condemnation of Serbia’s moves, only Kosovo’s. Washington has essentially abandoned all pretense of neutrality and adopted several of Belgrade’s priorities as its own. This is not only true for the installation of the mayors, but also for the proposed Association of Serb Majority Municipalities inside Kosovo and the Open Balkans initiative Serbia is promoting to extend its control over Serbs in neighboring countries. Backing Belgrade’s “Serbian world” ethnonationalist goals has become Washington’s policy on the Balkans.

Kurti has the logic, but does he have the capability?

I am not privy to Prime Minister Kurti’s current thinking on the specific issue of the mayors. But he is a died-in-the-wool liberal democrat who believes in equal rights under the law. He is also what I would call a “sovereigntist.” Kurti believes Kosovo is, and should act like, a sovereign state. Those two characteristics make the installation of the mayors a logical move.

Logic alone cannot however cannot dictate policy. Capability also counts. It is limited in two ways: Kosovo has limited police forces available with which to deal with Serb violence against the mayors and it has obviously all too limited international support for their installation. A small country like Kosovo cannot afford to act unaware of its own limitations.

The Americans have capability but lack the logic

The Americans can make Kurti’s life difficult. But their position is lacking in logic. How do you back an election and not its legitimate results? How do you support equal rights but oppose installing elected officials because of their ethnicity? How do you condemn police action to protect elected mayors but not the rioters who attacked them? How do you claim the normalization agreement, which includes a pledge not to use military force, is legally binding but doesn’t prevent Serbian mobilization of its armed forces in response to a political conflict inside Kosovo?

The United States claims to stand for equal rights and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all the existing states in the Balkans. It needs to draw the logical conclusions.


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 of his was originally published at his website.        

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

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