In an interview published July 29, newly elected Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić engaged in a series of statements on Kosovo and former Yugoslavia that raised questions of a resurgent Serbian nationalism. In particular, Nikolić deliberately refused to call the Srebrenica massacre a genocide and surprised many by reversing the argument, mentioning the possibility of Serbians moving out of North Kosovo due to pressure from ethnic Albanians. In the space of a few hours, protests were on the rise as a result of Nikolić’s words.
The comments come as the issue of Kosovo makes a comeback in European media following the recent visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to the Balkans. Since its unilateral declaration of independence in 2008, Kosovo has been on a steep road to pacification strongly backed by the EU and the United States. Decisions made by Priština and the UNMIK peacekeeping force informally sidelining itself in favour of stronger NATO and EULEX involvement in the enforcement of the rule-of-law have arguably damaged the settling of the peace process, especially in the divided North Kosovo city of Mitrovica. Gerard Gallucci, former UN Representative to the region, notes that the lack of UN action under its 1244 Resolution mandate is among the reasons for uncertainty, particularly with reference to the North, where timid determination has been used by international forces to avoid clashes between ethnic Albanians and local ethnic Serbs.
Following Ban’s visit and Nikolić’s interview, both the EU and the US have called for renewed political dialogue between the two parties as Nikolić’s statements clearly underline rampant unrest within the Serbian population. Though attributable to the relatively irresolute approach taken by the UN, Serbian dissatisfaction should also be tied into its government’s aspirations to join the EU; its application, however, has sometimes struggled from a lack of unity between a majority of EU Member States and Serbia on recognition of Kosovar independence.
The EU appears to be the actor who will lose the most from this most recent unsettling of the peace process in Kosovo. The slow progress towards the EU made by the pro-EU Tadić administration and the sometimes erratic path which negotiations have followed can be considered to have played a part in his ousting, the election of former ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party member Nikolić as President of Serbia, and the appointment of a former Milosevic spokesperson, Ivica Dačić, as Prime Minister on 27 July.
The EU, struggling with economic distress, political indecisiveness and a lack of a proper foreign policy strategy in the region, will need to formulate a prompt, unbiased and satisfactory line of action towards the Balkans during the upcoming political dialogue, and will have to address the whole spectrum of the region’s stakeholders in order to avoid the Kosovo and Serbia issue becoming a double-edged sword. If there is a single issue which could still dissuade Serbs from an EU path then surely a poor handling of Kosovo would be it as tensions in the region are able to rise and fall very quickly with political developments on the ground.
Mattia Braida, Research Associate