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By Ditmir Bushati/ Frozen Order

2023-10-11 11:54:00, Editorial Ditmir Bushati

By Ditmir Bushati/ Frozen Order

When a heavily armed group attacked police in northern Kosovo on September 24, killing one policeman and injuring two others, it should not have come as a surprise to many. Nor the announcement of September 27 as a day of mourning by Serbia in honor of the perpetrators of the attack, as a legitimization of the policy of aggression against the neighbors. Serbia's actions are troubling, but not surprising, given its role as a disruptor of regional stability, the continued glorification of war criminals, and the policy of historical revisionism pursued by the Serbian president.

The September 24 attack is the most sophisticated of a series of similar violent acts by Serbian armed criminal gangs, which have gradually grown in number. A few months ago, three Kosovo policemen were kidnapped by Serbian forces. At the same time, KFOR troops, journalists and Kosovo police were attacked by Serbian criminal gangs. The tense situation in the north of Kosovo has its origin in the short-sighted decision inspired by Belgrade, for the abandonment of the institutions of Kosovo by the Serbs, including the security forces of Kosovo. It must be said that Serbia has continuously incited acts of violence to challenge the functionality of the Kosovo state, especially in the north, in order to impose the autonomy of the four municipalities, which would allow Serbia to interfere in the internal affairs of Kosovo through representatives hers.

The reaction of the West has mostly been reprimanding the actions of the government and institutions of Kosovo, which basically aimed to implement the law throughout its territory. While the Brussels Agreement and the Ohrid Annex, mediated by the EU between Kosovo and Serbia, documents that have not been signed by Serbia, seem to have been reduced to the establishment and mode of operation of the Community of Municipalities with a Serbian majority, eclipsing issues other fundamental for building healthy relations between two neighbors.

Therefore, the President of Serbia continued with the same alibi, describing the September 24 attack as a legitimate act of resistance by the local Serbs, which would not have happened if the Community of Municipalities with a Serbian majority had been created. But the type and quantity of weapons seized suggest that this was a large and coordinated operation aimed at destabilizing Kosovo and with inevitable implications for the security of the region. In other words, this operation had more to do with Belgrade and its goals than with the Kosovo Serbs.

In the current political and security circumstances in Europe, the latest episode is a strong alarm bell. Unlike the other two major conflicts in Europe, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Serbia's aggression against Kosovo can also be read as an attack by a candidate state for EU membership, against a state that has applied for EU membership. Viewed in this context, the end of the conflict that is taking the form of a frozen order is no longer a political issue, but a serious security issue for the region and the future of Europe. For the US and the EU, the choice is no longer just between the failure and success of dialogue, but between stability and a further escalation of violence. The latter is most likely to happen if Serbia's role is tolerated,

Serbia, the instigator of wars in the former Yugoslavia, does not accept the post-war reality, opposing in every way the citizenship of Kosovo, the functionality of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Although more than two decades have passed since the end of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Serbia still has not learned lessons and taken responsibility for the crimes committed during the war. Today's Serbia has nothing to do with post-World War II Germany, where Chancellor Konrad Adenauer embraced the so-called "strategy of humility," which consisted of four elements: accepting the consequences of losing the war; regaining confidence in relation to the winners; building a democratic society; and the creation of a European Federation that would transcend the historical divisions of Europe.

The policies of the President of Serbia for more than a decade are in the opposite direction with all the constituent elements of the above German example, as the only path towards regional reconciliation, Euro-Atlantic integration and acceptance of the regional security architecture, which is based on multi-ethnic coexistence and the non-change of borders.

On the domestic level, Serbia is a typical case of an illiberal and undemocratic government, of the concentration of all powers in the hands of one man, which does not allow a real and critical debate about the crimes of the past, the feeling towards the neighbors and the will to walked the European road.

On the international level, Serbia follows the opportunistic path with all the main international actors, exploiting the cracks of the West and the latter's need for calming the Western Balkans, in the conditions when it has to face the consequences of Russian aggression in the east of the continent. The strategic objective of the West through the exercise of creative diplomacy with Serbia with the aim of removing it from the Russian orbit and including it in the European flows has clearly not been fulfilled. On the contrary, despite being a candidate country for EU membership and the most connected country in the region with the European economy, Serbia has not joined the EU sanctions against Russia. The last speech of the Serbian President at the United Nations Assembly was full of accusations against the West.

At the regional level, Serbia tries to keep the countries of the region under the clutches of domination, continuous pressure, and the building of cordial relations with Albania, aiming at the disruption of the Albanian factor in the region. Aware that the independence of Kosovo, sealed by the International Court of Justice after a series of processes led by international partners, is an irreversible process, the President of Serbia aims for an autonomous government for the Serbs in Kosovo, not recognizing the independence of Kosovo.

Meanwhile, any form of representation and governance of the Serbs in Kosovo must have as a starting point the recognition of the authority of the state of Kosovo. In this context, the EU and the US should support an institutional solution between Kosovo and the Kosovo Serbs, which starts with the acceptance of state authority and allows their proper cultural, educational and religious self-administration, without enabling interference of Belgrade in the internal affairs of Kosovo.

For the US and the EU, the choice is no longer just between the failure and success of dialogue, but between stability and a further escalation of violence. The latter is most likely to happen if they tolerate Belgrade's role in destabilizing Kosovo and if they do not embrace a forceful approach to countering it.

The sending of Serbian military troops to the border with Kosovo is part of a repeated strategy by the President of Serbia aimed at creating a bigger crisis to avoid responsibility for the previous one. So, the non-handover of those who organized the terrorist attacks in Kosovo and the non-acceptance of an international investigation. The swift reaction of the NATO allies was followed by the tactical withdrawal of forces by the President of Serbia, but not by the withdrawal of his intentions. They remain unchanged: the formation of the Community of Municipalities with a Serbian majority and the replacement of the Kosovo police force with KFOR, whose mission and area of ??responsibility is different from that of the Kosovo police.

The President of Serbia fears the catastrophic consequences of a possible confrontation of Serbian forces on the border with Kosovo. He may remember with nostalgia the popularity of Milosevic during the NATO bombing of Serbia, but never the end of his regime. However, the security threat posed by Serbia's escalation should not be underestimated. At the same time, Serbia's escalating tactics should not be allowed to shape the terms of a political settlement. So, to legitimize the permanent political intervention of Serbia in Kosovo through the institutional structures and mechanism, which in the long term, does not ensure peace and stability, but permanent destabilization.

Before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Russia had an interest in maintaining tensions in Kosovo, but not in instigating a war. Things have changed since then. Russia has a clear interest in creating as many conflicts as possible in the world, not only to weaken the West, but to internationalize its war with Ukraine, so that a final solution, when it comes, will be carried out through the renegotiation of the order. existing world.

Unlike Russia, the West does not need another conflict in Europe, while it is completely focused on supporting Ukraine to withstand Russian aggression. The unity, coherence and determination demonstrated by the EU in response to Russia's aggression against Ukraine should also be witnessed on key security issues in the Western Balkans, which are taking the form of a frozen order. The West must insist on the full investigation of the events of September 24, the handover by Serbia of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack in Kosovo and the urging of the structures of the Council of Europe to shed light on the event.

Although in completely new conditions in terms of the security environment in Europe, five EU member states, four of which are NATO members, still do not recognize Kosovo's independence. Their movement towards recognition would increase the credibility of the EU as a mediator, but also the chances of implementing European plans for the region. At the same time, it would increase the pressure on Serbia to recognize the post-war reality in the former Yugoslavia and to move towards the European path. The inclusion of Kosovo in the programs of the Partnership for Peace in NATO is now a necessity.

For the citizenship of Montenegro, the EU was united. She even played an important mediating role in preparing the conditions for the country's independence referendum. The current EU mediation format is exhausted, in the absence of a unified approach and concrete EU membership plan for Kosovo and Serbia. Embracing an active approach by the EU in the region would cement its role as an effective actor in overcoming disputes and addressing them in a broader European plan. At the same time, it would guarantee a membership process of the region's countries in the EU, based on merit and not eclipsed by the above disputes.

NATO and the EU must project vision, power, and will to materialize the citizenship of Kosovo and the Europeanization of Serbia, avoiding the realization of short-term transactional interests that do not produce sustainable solutions and long-term democratic stability. Europe's new geopolitical focus should make it possible to melt this frozen order in the Western Balkans and at the same time anchor the countries of the region in the EU.

*The analysis is a publication of the "Friedrich Ebert" Foundation

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