Monday

20th May 2019

Opinion

Western Balkans: Nationalism is not the answer

  • Roadblocks on the Iber River are a symbol of ethnic division (Photo: morbin)

After a century of bloodshed and hatred, the independence of Kosovo in 2008 seemed like a sign that peace and stability is possible in the Western Balkans.

Relations between Albanians and Serbs in the recent years in particular entered a period of normalisation, spurred on by the international community.

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

One landmark moment was the EU-brokered Kosovo-Serb agreement of 19 April 2013.

Despite its flaws - its critics say the power it gives to Serb municipalities in the north is a challenge for Kosovo’s territorial integrity in the long run - the deal contributed to a more positive climate.

It led to the first Kosovo-wide elections, to the dismantling of Serb parallel structures, and to smaller, but no less important things, such as freedom of movement: Kosovars can now use their ID documents to pass through Serbia to other countries.

In August, German chancellor Angela Merkel brokered an invitation from Serb PM Aleksander Vucic for Albanian leader Edi Rama to visit Belgrade - the first such visit for decades.

Meanwhile, Kosovo foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj attended a multilateral meeting in Belgrade: it was informal, there were no country badges, but it’s another step in the right direction.

The president of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, has also been reportedly invited to Belgrade.

But if you want to look at the bigger picture, go to the town of Mitrovice in north Kosovo. You will see that a roadblock on the bridge over the Ibar River - separating the Kosovar Serb and Kosovar Albanian communities - is still in place in a symbol of ongoing ethnic division.

Last month’s footbal fiasco in Belgrade sows equally that nationalism still has the power to undo all the good work.

It took no more than a nationalist Albanian flag flown into the sports event to unleash a torrent of Serb hate chants and Serbian fans’ violent attacks on Albanian soccer players.

The flag was an unpleasant provocation. But the Serb reaction shows that politicians and civil society in Serbia still have a lot of work to do to de-radicalise anti-Albanian feeling in society.

Serbia has a border with Albanians, so unless one of them goes somewhere else, they will have to learn to live with each other and, even, to tolerate each other’s symbols and silly stunts.

The media on both sides - which fed the football furore - also has a role to play.

Everybody who lives in the Western Balkans must take responsibility for making it a shared home worth living in.

But zooming in on Serbia - a key nation in the region, which started three wars in the name of nationalist pride - the time has come to choose: do we take the European path of toleration and slow reform, or the Russian path of aggression and quick, but hollow victories?

Putin welcomed

The bombastic military welcome which Russia’s Vladimir Putin - stigmatised by sanctions in the civilized world - recently received in Belgrade sent out a strange message.

If Serbia really has embraced the European path, its commitment should be profound and unequivocal.

It is true that people in the Western Balkans share a very dark past.

Yet, we all share a common hope for a better future, which is why we must make sure that history can no longer be used to enflame ethnic differences

We cannot turn back.

The EU has a role to play in helping local politicians implement de-radicalisation.

First, it should condemn any incidents of violence and racism with strong, direct language.

Second, it should enhance its political presence. The downgrading of the enlargement portfolio in the new European Commission was a bad sign. EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has also shown little interest in the region, even as Russian diplomacy in the Western Balkans, not least bound to the building of the South Stream gas pipeline, has increased drastically.

Mogherini should consider appointing a special representative for the Western Balkans who would closely follow the Balkan agenda and keep up EU pressure for our leaders to stay on the road to Europe.

Jeton Sulfaj is a graduate from Lund University in Sweden, with a masters in European Affairs

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Europe's far-right - united in diversity?

Europe's far-right is set to rise in the next European Parliament election. This vote will not yet allow the populists to build a majority. But it may become another milestone in their process of changing European politics.

The ECB Song Contest?

One can't help feeling that the race to succeed Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Bank has taken on the flavor of the upcoming final round of the Eurovision Song Contest.

EU must hold Qatar to account for World Cup deaths

The EU has a unique opportunity to push its labour rights agenda in the Gulf state, with the tournament throwing the country's dismal record on migrant workers firmly into the spotlight.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden Democrat MEP ousted for revealing sex harassment
  2. 80% of Erasmus students find job within three months
  3. September elections in Austria after Strache scandal
  4. Swiss voters approve tighter gun controls in line with EU
  5. Report: May's fourth Brexit vote a 'retread' of old ideas
  6. Turkey insists on right to drill for oil off Cyprus coast
  7. Anti-Salvini banners become new trend in Italy
  8. EU flies rainbow flag on anti-homophobia day

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us