Monday

12th Nov 2018

Serbia-Kosovo talks back on track

  • Prospect of renewed conflict between Serbs and ethnic Albanians started to look real for first time since 1999 (Photo: morbin)

Delegations from Belgrade and Pristina will meet on Tuesday (24 January) in Brussels for another round of talks sponsored by EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini.

This time, the two sides are sending their top people: Serbia will be represented by prime minister Aleksandar Vucic and president Tomislav Nikolic, while Kosovo is sending its counterparts Isa Mustafa and Hashim Thaci.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Mogherini said train incident could have "escalated" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Mogherini called the meeting ahead of schedule after a series of incidents which brought Serbia and Kosovo to the brink of armed confrontation.

The crisis jeopardised the normalisation process that has been going on for four years and that has yielded some results, but which has failed to remove the deep mistrust between the Balkan neighbours.

“I don’t trust the Albanians any more,” Vucic told journalists on Monday before departing for the EU capital.

He also accused political leaders from Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority of planning a crackdown against Serbian communities in northern Kosovo.

Tensions flared last week when the opening of a new railway line between Belgrade and Kosovo’s northern town of Mitrovica, an ethnic Serb enclave, saw Serbia send a passenger train painted with nationalist symbols and with the slogan “Kosovo is Serbia” in 21 different languages.

In Pristina, this was seen not only as a provocation aimed at reiterating Serbia’s claim over Kosovo, but as an act of aggression. It deployed Rosu, a heavily armed police unit, to stop the train from crossing the border.

Vucic claimed that Kosovars were planning to blow up the train on its maiden voyage and to massacre the passengers, some of which were members of his cabinet.

Thaci responded by accusing Serbia of trying to annex the majority-Serb north the same way that Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. In return, Serbian president Nikolic threatened to send troops to protect Kosovar Serbs.

Even though calm has prevailed, at least for the moment, the prospect of a renewed conflict between Serbs and ethnic Albanians started to look real for the first time since 1999.

“I was extremely worried about the situation, which could have easily escalated,” Mogherini said in the aftermath of the train incident last week.

She said she had followed the events closely and had personally stayed in touch with leaders from both sides.

Some believe that the whole affair was never that serious and that it was deliberately blown out of proportion by politicians in Belgrade and Pristina, however.

’Cheap ploys’

“Both Belgrade’s provocation and Pristina’s overreaction were nothing but cheap ploys,” Milos Vasic, a Belgrade-based political analyst, told EUobserver.

He said neither side was ready to start a new war or to challenge Nato, which guarantees Kosovo’s security and which still has troops in the area.

Serbia was facing presidential and possibly early parliamentary elections this spring, with a bit of patriotic chest-banging helpful in winning votes, Vasic added.

He said Thaci also needed to repair his patriotic credentials after finding himself under pressure for ceding too much ground to Serbia in previous rounds of the Brussels dialogue.

At the same time, both sides feel neglected by the EU and the US, who are too busy trying to cope with Brexit and with the election of Donald Trump to pay attention to the Western Balkans.

Selling peace

“Balkan politicians have become very apt in creating tensions and then selling themselves as peacemakers,” Vasic said.

Real or not, the crisis seems to be over for now, and Tuesday’s meeting in Brussels is a chance to turn over a new leaf.

Thaci has said he expects the Brussels dialogue to end with Serbia’s full recognition of Kosovo, while Serbia is pushing for autonomy for northern Kosovo.

It is unrealistic to think there might be a breakthrough on Tuesday but, unlike the painted train, the process is back on track.

Balkan leaders pledge to keep out migrants

Balkan leaders said in New York there would be no repetition of last year's mass influx of refugees, as the EU prepares to launch a new border force to keep people out.

Serb minister love-bombs EU

The EU and Serbia have moved a step closer despite regional tensions, with a Serb minister calling the EU "the best place in the world".

Analysis

Serbia's Vucic stronger than ever

After winning the presidency by a landslide, Alexander Vucic will be seen as even more crucial for the stability of the Western Balkans, despite concerns over the handling of his powers and closeness with Russia.

News in Brief

  1. UK seeks swift use of new EU chemical weapons blacklist
  2. Barnier briefs EU ministers: intense negotiations continue
  3. Romanian minister preparing EU presidency steps down
  4. Finland says Russia possibly behind GPS jamming
  5. German AfD leader under fire for Swiss campaign funding
  6. Seehofer announces he will step down as CSU party leader
  7. EU condemns elections in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine
  8. German Greens pick two top candidates for EU election

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Romanian leaders trade jibes over upcoming EU presidency
  2. EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press
  3. EU 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name
  4. Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials
  5. Liberals ally with Macron for election, but no candidate yet
  6. Revealed: Link between MEPs CO2 votes and domestic car jobs
  7. All Quiet on the Eastern Front?
  8. Merkel and Brexit in spotlight This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us