The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Recently IFIMES has analysed current events in Serbia with an emphasis on Serbian-Albanian relations and the position of North Macedonia regarding the EU's policy on its accession. The most interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “Current events in the region 2019: Who wants to destabilise Serbia?” are published below.
The situation in Western Balkans has reached the highest tension since the end of the last war in this region. Despite the fact that the West Balkan states were promised a European perspective, i.e. European Union membership, the EU is still hesitant when it comes to its enlargement to those countries.
The states in the region have made progress in many aspects although their economic situation is still not satisfactory. Responsibility for that is only partly borne by national political structures, and the question arises as to whether the West really wants those countries to progress economically or it would be ready to sacrifice democracy at the cost of peace and stability? In most of those countries the economic indicators are worse than they were before the disintegration of their former common state of SFR Yugoslavia.
Seven months ago the Pristina authorities imposed taxes on goods imported to Kosovo from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which represented a blatant violation of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). Yet the EU took no serious measure. That was not the only case when EU showed lack of decisiveness and credibility. For example, in 2013 the governments of Serbia and Kosovo signed the so called Brussels Agreement under the EU's patronage. Despite the complete failure to implement the Agreement, the EU is still hesitating to take any action. This comes as no surprise, bearing in mind that the EU was also the “patron” of the Arbitration Agreement between the Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Croatia on resolving the border dispute. Later, when the complications arose regarding its implementation, the EU did not want to interfere although it was the guarantor of that Agreement. Even after the Arbitration Tribunal issued its ruling on resolving the Slovenia-Croatia border dispute, the EU acted as if it had not sponsored the Arbitration Agreement and did not want to interfere in its implementation despite the fact that it concerned two EU member states. Croatia does not recognise the Arbitration Tribunal's decision and resolutely rejects its implementation. A similar situation can be observed in relation to the Pelješac Bridge for the construction of which the EU granted dubious funds to the Republic of Croatia and thus deprived Bosnia and Herzegovina of the right to access international waters. All this has put EU's credibility under question.
Although EU has been leading a neglectful policy towards all West Balkan states, Serbia and North Macedonia have recently suffered most damages. The indifference towards the Kosovo issue keeps the whole region in uncertainty and latent instability. Imposition of taxes on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina has further complicated the already complex relations in the region. North Macedonia has made historical progress under the leadership of its Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and deserves to be given a date to open official negotiations for EU accession – but here too, the EU is still hesitating. However, Brussels' feeble action may have "boomerang" repercussions for the EU. Without a clear policy towards Western Balkans and enlargement to those countries it may lose this region forever. The West Balkan states may change their geopolitical orientation, especially as the EU faces a deep crisis with uncertain future.
Brussels' administration is widely perceived as quite corrupt. Analysts and investigators often point to the corruption-related case of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama who managed to achieve some shady and illegal deals in Brussels.
Kosovo Specialist Chambers were established in 2015, but only started to operate in July 2017 after the Rules of Procedure and Evidence entered into forcefor the conduct of proceedings before the Specialist Chambers. The Chambers still do not operate at full capacity, although it is vital to find out the truth about events in Kosovo during the last war through fair and transparent court trials – that would release political tensions and eventually lead to reconciliation.
Analysts believe that by carrying out its tasks Kosovo Specialist Chambers would resolve many issues and initiate the so called Belgrade-Pristina talks. The fact is that the EU has lost control over this process. It needs a new approach and a new idea on how to lead that dialogue. The question is whether certain international circles are so corrupt that they are blocking the work of the Specialist Chambers which are to trial some of Kosovo's leading politicians including Kosovo's incumbent President Hashim Thaçi.
Analysts warn that by delaying the start of Chambers' work they are actually undermining the future of Kosovo and delaying the granting of EU visa-free regime for Kosovo citizens. Instead of initiating the proceedings before the Specialist Chambers in order to prove his innocence in a transparent court trial, Kosovo President Thaçi keeps Kosovo citizens his hostages and thus criminalises the whole nation. All this raises concern, especially bearing in mind that certain international officials are also involved in activities that are related to crime and corruption.
The Brussels Agreement signed by the Belgrade and Pristina authorities in 2013 has enabled, among other, the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) in Kosovo.
Analysts have investigated why ZSO was not formed despite the fact that it was provided for in the Brussels Agreement. Initially, the Kosovo side did not oppose the formation of ZSO, but it later changed its attitude following Milorad Dodik's political activities in Bosnian-Herzegovinian entity of Republika Srpska. Kosovo's officials understood that Dodik's modus operandi in the Republika Srpska entity could be copied in Kosovo through the formation of ZSO, so they wanted to prevent that. This proves once again that the whole region operates according to the "linked vessels" principle. Dodik's political activities have inflicted huge damages to Serbian national interests. Analysts have even estimated that in that respect Dodik is ranked second, immediately after Slobodan Milošević.
Dodik does not hide his inconsistent political action. He publicly attributed responsibility for the disintegration of Yugoslavia to the former Serbian political leaders and thus eliminated all other actors who took part in that project. At the same time he warns that Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina should not repeat the mistake made by the former Serbian political leaders during the disintegration of SFRY, thus blaming solely the Serbian side for the wars in former Yugoslavia. Dodik's political actions have thus made him ”redundant“ and unwanted as an associate let alone as a political ally, as it is obviously not good to be close to someone who is on the US blacklist.
Under the present constellation of political relations the politician who has found himself in the most difficult position is the incumbent President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, despite the fact that he is a factor of peace and stability in this unstable environment. Vučić is aware of the fact that Serbia's citizens need a secure future and that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue has to be implemented in order to enable Serbia to move forward, the most important tasks being economic revival, development and prevention of the emigration of Serbian citizens which has become even more intensive after German authorities decided to take further measures to enable the inflow of workforce from Western Balkans as of 1 January 2019.
Abolition of taxes imposed by Pristina on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina represents a test for the EU and its credibility in Western Balkans. The visa regime between Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina also reveals the EU's (un)trustworthy politics towards the region.
The called-off summit scheduled for 1 July 2019 in Paris reveals the inability of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron representing the leading EU states, and shows the future direction for the Western Balkans and the EU's real attitude towards it.
The EU's efforts to relax the tensions in the region may contribute to the abolition of Kosovo taxes on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Setting a date to start EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia may represent an encouragement for the states in the region and restore the undermined trust in the EU. The presence of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić at the inauguration the new President of the Republic of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski represents a positive sign of a thaw in relations between the two countries.
At the moment the situation is most worrying in the Republic of Albania. Political activities of its Prime Minister Edi Rama increasingly remind of an ”Albanian Milošević“. This country is on the verge of an armed conflict and there are indications of an emerging civil war. Albania was already on the brink of civil war in 1991 and 1997. The country has the strongest opposition of all the states in the region which vigorously fights the unpopular Edi Rama's regime.
Analysts note that the called-off summit on 1 July 2019 in Paris represents a turning point that shows even more uncertainty for the Western Balkans. In order to achieve any progress it is vital to abolish Kosovo taxes on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, enable the continuation of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and give clear guarantees for setting the date for the start of EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia.
Postponement of unlawful local elections in Albania scheduled for 30 June 2019 is inevitable. In order to stabilise the situation in this country a transitional government has to be formed which will prepare the grounds for fair and transparent elections, bearing in mind that Edi Rama is leading Albania into civil war. Last but not least, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina also needs to be regulated.
Analysts believe that Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić has the democratic legitimacy and political potential to resolve the most difficult state issues such as the Kosovo issue. According to some relevant public opinion polls Vučić and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) enjoy high voters’ support which is always above 50%. Therefore it is of international importance to reach final agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.
For more than six months Serbia has been rocked by protests. At the beginning they were a form of civil resistance, but subsequently the protests were misused or ”stolen“ by the opposition. Civil rebellion has had a long tradition in Serbia. In some cases civil protests were justified, but very often they were conducted by the opposition and certain centres of power from abroad.
The main requirement of the present protests is the resignation of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. The opposition has no clear political programme except for Vučić's resignation.
Analysts note that Serbian opposition is incompetent to deal with the current political situation and that Serbian citizens have to find non-compromised opposition leaders with a clear political programme. It is interesting that in 2018 Serbia had the largest inflow of direct foreign investment in the region and marked a 4.4% economic growth (4.1 million dollar). Therefore it is vital to ensure political and economic stability in order to maintain this positive trend.
Although Serbia has marked the largest growth of direct foreign investment in the region and showed readiness to open another five negotiation chapters with the EU before the end of Romanian EU presidency, it is still jeopardised by certain forces wishing to destabilise this country that represents an important stability factor in the Balkans. Their aim is to infect Serbia with current events in Albania and the instability in the region. The question is who benefits from creating chaos in the Balkans and what are their real intentions. It is no secret that national political forces in the Balkans are often controlled by and/or used to achieve foreign interests.
Analysts believe that it is vital to ensure peace and stability in the region. Any destabilisation of Serbia could endanger the whole region and push it in the spiral of violence. The called-off summit scheduled for 1 July 2019 in Paris is yet another proof that there have been no changes nor progress on the ground since the last summit in Berlin and that the EU is even more disoriented.
Analysts note that it would be methodologically incorrect to make any comparison between Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It is well known that Orbán's politics is based on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim ideology and strong confrontation with George Soros. Vučić's politics is completely different in those aspects. Despite not being a rich country, Serbia treats migrants very humanely according to its possibilities. Vučić's politics has not shown any anti-Muslim tendencies – during his government the Muslim community in Serbia has gained affirmation and developed excellent relations with the Islamic world. And as far as relations with George Soros are concerned, Vučić maintains regular communication and cooperation with him and his son Alexander Soros, Deputy Chair of Open Society Foundations.
Ljubljana, 26 June 2019