While President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, publicly promotes the idea of the so called ‘mini Schengen’ in the region of the Western Balkans together with Albania and North Macedonia, where freedom of movement of people, goods and services would be guaranteed (after the EU model), media started publishing lists of alleged war crimes perpetrators created in Banja Luka and Belgrade, containing around 3.500 members of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatian Defense Council. The lists contain highest political, police and military officials of the once Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina who participated in the defense of the country between 1992 and 1995. The country which was, as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia established beyond reasonable doubt, under the attacks from Serbia and Croatia.
Serbia has proven to be very serious with these allegations - as shown with recent arrest of BH citizen Osman Osmanović, for crimes committed in Brčko area. This is the third arrest of BH citizens in Serbia. Beside that, Ejup Ganić in London, Jovan Divjak in Vienna and Naser Orić in Geneva were all arrested on Serbian warrant. Not one of these countries agreed to extradite these persons to Serbia, and the court in London was adamant in the explanation that it is the case of political persecution because Serbia cannot guarantee professional and fair trial in this case, which was later confirmed by Austrian court (in Divjak case) almost to the full extent.
Serbia’s warrants of arrest have already being questions by INterpol, however, that did not prevent Serbia from continuing of this practice in the case of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These lists (and arrests) allow Serbia to keep thousands of citizens of BiH as hostages of its politics. At the same time, the justification of Serbia to implement universal jurisdiction that was accepted within the National Assembly by adopting the law which gives Serbia power to prosecute all war crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia has allowed Kosovo to compile similar lists of citizens of Serbia suspected for war crimes in 1998-1999.
While declaring itself a regional policeman for prosecution of war criminals, Serbia has became the safe heaven for them, which was mentioned several times in the ICTY Chief Prosecutor reports Serge Brammertz. In his most recent report, Brammertz have criticized Serbia and Croatia for not acting upon more than 50 indictments confirmed by Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the same time allowing suspected persons to remain in their territories using the advantages of dual citizenship. In addition to this, Brammertz has specifically accentuated Serbia as being the least cooperative in the region, mentioning this is the last chance to start prosecuting more complex cases and higher and mid-level perpetrators as the only way to avoid the collapse of regional cooperation.
It is hard to believe that Serbia will stop prosecuting members of Army of BiH and CDC because it is part of the wider political strategy since wars 1990s that is based on policy that Serbia did not participate in armed conflicts and it cannot be connected to the atrocities committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. If this was true, official policy of Belgrade would not have the need to deny crimes in BiH, including international courts judgments and continue to lead the process of regional revisionism (together with Croatia that began this policy after the ICTY established that Croatia’s leadership participated in attack on Bosnia and Herzegovina).
All the things that Banja Luka and Belgrade were not able to achieve in the ICTY are now being attempted through national judiciary and criminal prosecutions that need to prove that Bosnian international armed conflict was a civil war, waged among three sides that committee the same amount of atrocities. There are many judicially established facts and international reports confirming this, but let us look perhaps only at the decision of the English court acting upon request of Serbia to extradite Ejup Ganić: “Serbia began a lengthy investigation, a file was prepared and forwarded to the Republic of Srpska. Srpska in turn forwarded the case to the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and in 2002 and 2003, pursuant to the Rome Agreement of 1996, (which has become known as “Rules of the Road”), the ICTY carried out an investigation and a review of the evidence. Having reviewed all the evidence, the investigators found that there was no case against Dr Ganic.”
Beside these proceedings conducted in Belgrade, but also in Sarajevo, thankfully to some officials from the Bosnian judiciary close to Milorad Dodik, process of revisionism includes persons from academic community, politicians, historians, artists… All the time, this group enjoy great media support in Serbia that never ceased with distorted interpretation of facts, attacks on ICTY, lies and propaganda of any kind to deny crimes, celebrate perpetrators, distort of completely ignore the facts.
To illustrate this, we should take a glance at most recent media reports - two texts published in tabloid Kurir, close to the government: an open letter of the war commander from Foča, requesting from Serbia to acknowledge his war actions. The ICTY facts are clear - he was the commander of the military police that persecuted and killed Bosniaks, massively rape Bosniak woman and destroyed all the traces on existence of Bosniaks in that area. Precisely for these facts and actions, this ‘war commander’ has fled Bosnia after the end of war, escaped to Serbia where he lives until now.
Only three days after this text, Kurir exclusively published that Bosniaks are responsible for Markale. Anyone having a dilemma on this should look at the judgment of Radovan Karadžić where it is explained in great details. But who would read judgments when everything is interpreted by tabloid media to exclusively discover ‘the real truth’, same media that spent years writing how ICTY was created only to prosecute Serbs, while politicians confirming this often and gladly. No one has ever publicly questioned why is that and why has complete political, military and police leadership sentenced. And why has not the same being done with Sarajevo leadership. The answer is simple - because it has not being done on the same level - individual crimes were not part of wider plan as it was proven for plans of Belgrade and Banja Luka to commit atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Can we, considering all this, discuss the future relations without resolving these issues from the past? Hardly. Denial of committed atrocities, responsibility of Belgrade and now latest revisionists policies are still the main cause of regional instability. Beside declaratory positive messages on good neighborly relations and mutual respect that are sent occasionally by all regional politicians, among them Aleksandar Vučić, in which he claims that Serbia is not the key instability player in the region, no one believes anymore. No one in Bosnia and Herzegovina and no one in Kosovo either.
What a new poll reveals about Albania-Kosovo relations
On November 28, as is the custom every year, Albanians around the region will mark the 107th anniversary of Albania’s independence, also known as Flag Day. There will be no celebrations due to the heavy earthquake that hit Albania, but the streets in Tirana, Prishtina and other cities in the Balkans inhabited by Albanians will be filled with the red flag and the double-headed black eagle.
The symbol with Byzantine origins, used is medieval times by Skanderbeg during the resistance against Ottoman invasion, was revived in the modern era by the Albanian national renaissance movement, which put Skanderbeg at the center of the national narrative. Together with the distinct Albanian language, the flag stands today as a central pillar of Albanian cultural and political identity.
But behind the strong symbolic unity that will be felt on Flag Day – and the persistent sense that Albanian national identity is something so deeply entrenched that other “state identities” can only run parallel and secondary to it – political relations between Albanians in the region are becoming increasingly more complex.
A new poll conducted jointly by the Open Society Foundations of Albania and Kosovo with the citizens of both countries, parts of which were leaked to the press, provides valuable insights. It also gives some clues on how these relations might evolve politically over the next decade.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has frequently toyed with the idea of national unification and provocatively imagined that Albania and Kosovo might within the next ten years have a joint President. Kosovo’s incoming Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, has had national unification with Albania as central to his agenda. The Tirana branch of his movement has even scheduled a March for Unity on this Flag Day.
Many dismiss pan-Albanian rhetoric as mere populism for domestic use, or as blackmail against the international community to secure faster EU integrations. While there is a lot of truth to the political expediency of this rhetoric and the fact that it serves elites to distract attention from other problems, the other side of the coin is that the rhetoric is used precisely because it speaks to widely shared and powerful sentiments.
In light of the recent geopolitical turmoil and the collapse of EU integrations, the idea of national unification has now also been implanted with a fresh sense of possibility.
The OSF polls suggest that national unification enjoys considerable majority support in both countries. If given the chance to vote in a referendum, 75% of Albanians in Albania and 64% of Kosovo Albanians would vote in favor of national unification.
But a deeper reading of the poll results shows that, while in essence the YES answer is very meaningful as an articulation of a political aspiration, it is also somewhat reflexive. The answers stumbles onto many BUT’s as it gets translated into political reality, including lack of clarity of what unification actually means and what it will cost to get it.
First of all, the fact that support for unification is higher in Albania than in Kosovo seems somewhat counterintuitive. Nationalist sentiment has been less expressed there than in Kosovo. But the data suggests that the unification narrative in Albania remains present and strong, but stays dormant because it has not been politicized enough.
Albanians in Albania broadly subscribe to the narrative of Kosovo having unjustly been separated from Albania when it declared independence. But over the past decades the country has had way too many troubles of its own to have been able to afford the luxury of pursuing national projects, beyond the support and solidarity it has provided to Kosovo’s freedom and independence bids.
This low “prioritization” of unification is also visible in the recent poll, in a question that might be taken as a proxy for the intensity of the desire for unification. When respondents were asked whether they are willing to pay the costs of the project (more specifically, “pay a tax”), support for unification in Albania drops to 29% while in Kosovo it drops less, at 44%, but still to less than a majority.
This rather surprisingly low “intensity of support” for unification in Kosovo leads to the second key insight, which is that the Kosovo-centric stream of thinking and pride in Kosovar identity has indeed solidified during first decade of statehood. While the Kosovo-centric outlook used to be largely limited to those segments of Kosovar Albanian society that had a higher degree of integration in Yugoslavia, it now seems to have been embraced also by parts of the new post-war middle class.
There are way too many reasons for why this has happened, and they require a whole new article to explain. But the most frequent reason cited by poll respondents who are positioned against unification is that “separate states would work better”.
On Kosovo’s side, there is undoubtedly an increasing unease with the asymmetry of power and the trauma of possibly being absorbed once again as a periphery. There is also a historically induced mistrust by parts of Kosovar society towards Tirana elites as not understanding Kosovo well enough and thus potentially neglecting it.
At core, both in Prishtina and Tirana, the key friction is about power sharing. This partly explains why in both countries support for unification is lowest in regions where the capital cities are.
During the last decade relations between the two countries have been stripped from the romanticism and the symbolisms of having a common identity, towards an understanding that this identity is shared by two different political realities.
Nothing illustrates this fact better than the poor state of trade relations. While exchanges between Albania and Kosovo have flourished in the fields of culture and media (where state barriers are inexistent) – to the point that it now almost feels as one cultural space – the same has not happened in terms of market integration. Vested economic interests in both countries have continuously created roadblocks for one another just as much as they have with other countries in the region.
Frequent joint-government meetings have been unable to deliver anything beyond empty rhetoric to overcome these obstacles. Politicians remain accountable to the constituencies and economic interests within their polity and this remains a more powerful force than abstract notions of identity.
The third most important insight from the poll is that while Albanians in principle want unification, a very small share (23 percent in Albania, 17 percent in Kosovo) believe that such a thing is possible. But the pessimism is not the product of people viewing internal differences as insurmountable – most consider the international community and regional countries as being the greatest obstacle.
It is unclear how relations will evolve in the next years. Much will depend on the structural forces that are pushing the countries apart and those pushing them closer. But one thing is for sure: economic and political currents have caused big tectonic shifts in the region over the past century, yet Albanian identity and its historical narrative has shown to be remarkably resilient as a basis for solidarity and political action.
In cooperation of two web portals, Remarker and Sbunker, a series of analysis will be published in the upcoming period in order to promote a critical debate on the current situation in the region of the Western Balkans.
After last messages received from one of the most influential members of the EU, France, the region has faced one of the greatest challenges in the last 30 years, when countries in the Western Balkans began their difficult path, first into conflicts and then in the process of democratization and european integration.
The goal of Remarker and Sbunker is to support better understanding of the current trends in the countries of the Western Balkans and raise the awareness on necessity of european integration process, straightening the process of democratization and the rule of law as necessary preconditions for permanent peace and stability in the region.
You may find the Albanian version here and the Serbian version here.