Kosovo’s biggest problem: Balkans’ apathy

When I just about wondered if anything else coming from the Balkans could surprise me anymore, I got a bit of a slap on the face. A recent survey, conducted by the University of Belgrade’s Centre for Political Research, suggests that 48 percent of the Serbian population sees Kosovo as “lost territory,” while 57 percent believe Kosovo should be divided along the Serb-Albanian ethnic lines.

This study certainly had unfortunate timing for the Serbs since the U.S. State Department only recently spoke with reserve, if not skepticism, about deciding on the final status of Kosovo. It seems doubtful that this Serbian province has implemented internationally prescribed standards of civil society and institutional development, as the strong Albanian lobby on Capitol Hill has long desired. Meeting these standards would lead to an acceptable — however laughable — stage in development that would allow Kosovo to possibly enter the international scene as an independent actor. However, according to the State Department’s Richard Boucher, “more remains to be done in that regard.” A similar opinion was offered by Javier Solana, E.U. representative for foreign policy and security, who noted that “a lot remains to be done, particularly regarding protection of minorities and establishment of a multiethnic society.”

While the E.U. encourages Kosovo Serbs and Belgrade to work together more aggressively on the standards of security, freedom of movement, decentralization and return of refugees, the official Belgrade remains inert. Meanwhile, people seem to be cooling down on the issue and even giving up on a part of their own country. An innocent onlooker would suggest that all Serbs must be well on drugs, courtesy of the well-established Albanian smuggling chains. This might as well be true, but even though the Albanian drug lords supply the good ol’ weed (and more) to the Old Lady herself, the E.U. officials don’t seem to be high when they cautiously suggest that the Kosovo formula will grant a greater autonomy, but it’s unlikely to allow for an independence. Some Serbian officials, such as Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, communicated this idea to the public, saying that the “solution will result in more than autonomy, but less than independence.” This was probably one of the few times when the Kosovo issue was in the limelight of the Serbian political scene. It therefore doesn’t take me by surprise that an average Serb cares increasingly less about what will happen to the de facto occupied core part of his country. What is going on here?

Serbia seems to be facing one of the most significant political crises since the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003. Increasingly frequent strikes and abundant poverty result in a weak government now further compromised by political affairs surrounding the prime minister’s assassination and alleged responsibility of the Democratic Party of Serbia, whose majority government is currently in office. But perhaps the most important issue that the ever-incoherent political elite is now facing is that of the Serbian government’s role in the capture and extradition of alleged Bosnian war criminals to the International War Crimes Tribunal for former Yugoslavia at the Hague. According to the ICTY chief prosecutor, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic have been actively supported and harbored by right-wing networks closely associated with a faction of the Serbian military and the Serbian Orthodox Church. Amid the government’s outright denial that it has any knowledge or connection with those wanted by the Hague, the U.S. government withheld almost $40 million of assistance to Serbia, as a “direct result of the Serbian government’s continued lack of full and unconditional cooperation with the ICTY.”

Meanwhile, the socioeconomic climate in Serbia is increasingly worrisome. The majority of those bright and able Serbian youth still can’t afford higher education, unemployment rates are booming, brain drain is higher than ever and all this diverts the much-needed public attention away from the issue of Kosovo.

And while the Albanians are not wasting their lobbying time, Belgrade is still choked by the legacy of Milosevic. On the other hand, Washington and Brussels, though essentially supportive, are more concerned with the issue of clearing up the mess from the era behind us and capturing those responsible for the Bosnian crimes. What about the national consensus? Do people even care? Apparently not any more.

What does the future have in store for Serbia, then? A shortage of concern at home and an international community increasingly frustrated over the government’s apparent lack of cooperation in the field of war crimes will inevitably lead to deterioration of the Serb’s position in any subsequent negotiation on the future status of Kosovo. Unless there’s a quick and determined government action, which will be seen as positive in the eyes of the international community, combined with a public-affairs campaign at home to alert the public to this important issue, the Serb’s right to keep Kosovo might be a big and painful national issue for years to come.



Admir Duran is a junior in Trumbull College. He worked on projects of democratization and civil society development in the Balkans with the U.N., USAID and the British government.

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