Monday

23rd Jan 2017

Opinion

North Kosovo 'solution' threatens Bosnia and Macedonia

  • 'The Western approach to the region has been: 'So long as there are no Kalashnikovs on the streets, everything is OK'.' (Photo: morbin)

The European Union and the US have a crucial role to play in Bosnia and Macedonia amid new inter-ethnic tensions in the small but strategic Balkan countries.

There is widespread expectation that a future agreement on special status for Serbs in north Kosovo will end what some call a "frozen conflict" in the region, give extra political weight to pro-EU Serb President Boris Tadic and see Kosovo move closer to the EU with a quid-pro-quo deal on visa liberalisation and the right to sign legal treaties.

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But how should the EU and US handle the potential knock-on effects in neighbouring Macedonia?

Should they try to gently persuade Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the main Albanian political party in the country, not to ask for autonomy for his people?

Or should they use dirty tricks to force him out of government and to neuter his capacity to make trouble?

It is not long ago that Ahmeti in 2001 led his small guerrilla 'army' in resistance against Macedonian state forces to seek more rights for ethnic Albanians than they have under the current settlement.

The emerging Kosovo-Serbia deal also poses questions for Bosnia.

Should the EU and the US abolish the special status of Bosnian Serbs in the little federation and install a Macedonia-type constitution in a bid to stymie a new wave of Balkanisation?

Should they install a Kosovo-type power-sharing model in Bosnia? Or should they use the Serbian constitution as an example for minority rights in the whole region?

The Western Balkans is a mess in terms of the different rights given to different ethnic and sectarian groups, most of which go under the names of minorities, non-majorities and communities - names that help the majorities monopolise power on their turf.

The majorities - Bosniaks in Bosnia; Serbs in the state-within-a-state of Republika Srbska; Serbs in Serbia; Albanians in Kosovo; Macedonians in Macedonia; and even Croats in Croatia - are doing everything they can to push minorities into the corner.

Meanwhile, Western sponsors use magical formulas with Latin terms like "sui generis" to pretend that every country is hermetically unique and separate. In some cases, EU countries themselves set a bad example: just think of Roma rights in France or Italy's treatment of Tunisian refugees.

The time has come for the EU to change its discourse - to stop imposing mixed rights for so-called minorities and majorities in the Balkans and look instead to the universal "rights of all citizens."

If Kosovo Serbs get special status in Kosovo, then nobody would have the moral right to make Ahmeti in Macedonia keep silent.

Nobody would have the right to say No to special status for Serbs in Bosnia; for Albanians, Bosniaks and Hungarians in Serbia or for Bosniaks in Montenegro. And for that matter, what about Albanians and Macedonians in Greece? What about Turks in Bulgaria or Russians in Latvia?

We instead propose the Brussels model for Balkan countries.

Not the Belgian model. Belgium is divided into three regions - Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels - which failed to form a government for over a year. But Belgium's capital - which is divided into 19 well-functioning municipalities with equal rights for all its inhabitants no matter where they come from - offers important lessons.

Islamist threat

Meanwhile, the EU and US must also address two other issues which threaten the Western Balkans' future - political Islam and economic failure.

It has not been widely reported, but radical Islamists are increasingly infiltrating moderate Muslim communities in Bosnia, in Serbia's Sandzak region, in Kosovo, Macedonia and in Albania.

These Wahabbist elements were not here before the Balkan wars. But now they are trying to create new tensions between non-Muslims and Muslim moderates - in Macedonia in January orthodox churches were set on fire.

At the same time as Arab money - both good and bad - is pouring into the region, the economic crisis in the EU is causing a drastic drop in remittance income.

With around 45 percent unemployment in Kosovo and 32 percent in Macedonia, vulnerable people in the Balkans are seeing their living conditions - already meagre by EU standards - erode further still.

These three problems - political fragmentation, poverty and nascent Wahhabism - are cause for serious alarm and for an overhaul of EU and US policy.

In the past 10 years since the Balkan wars ended, the Western approach to the region has been: "So long as there are no Kalashnikovs on the streets, everything is OK."

It is far from OK, however. And if taxpayers in France, Germany, the UK and the US do not want to see the billions in aid already pumped into the region go to waste, they should urge leaders to look beyond security issues in the Balkan 'project.'

Success in the Balkans, as inside the European Union itself, is not just putting an end to armed conflict. It comes when all Europeans enjoy the real fruits of democracy: political equality; freedom of movement; social welfare; a decent education; decent healthcare; and decent prospects of getting a job.

Abraham-Ibrahim Kelmendi and Edmond-Ekrem Krasniqi are independent journalists and analysts on the Balkans

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