Unraveling the Blame Game: The Real Culprit Behind Kosovo’s Condemnation

03 qershor 2023 10:43

Few people seem interested in understanding the reasons behind the Kosovo Serb’s boycott of the local elections in April 2023. The boycott was organized by the Serb List, a political party controlled from Belgrade, and was condemned by the Quint (France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US). It is important to note that the Serb List exercises significant control over the Kosovo Serb population in the north of Kosovo and is supported by criminal gangs; a local Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was murdered in 2018 for daring to defy the Serb List.

The dominance of the Serb List over the Kosovo Serb population is highlighted by the fact that the two Serbs who did stand in the elections received a combined total of seven votes. In response to the intimidation, the UK government noted, “pressure and threats to not participate are concerning”.

While it is evident that the Albanian mayors elected, do not truly represent the local majority-Serb communities, Kosovo’s constitution does not require an electoral quorum. Thus, despite the disappointingly low turn-out, the elections were deemed valid, and the elected mayors were legally entitled to assume their positions. However, protesters blocked the main entrances in front of municipal buildings. Therefore, the presence of the police was necessary to ensure their safety.

Many Serbs in northern Kosovo would have protested peacefully - as they are legally entitled to do - but the idea that the criminal gangs would not have attacked the mayors is implausible given their recent history of violence.

If the Kosovo government had instructed the mayors not to assume their positions it would have been an admission that it is unable and unwilling to effectively govern the northern part of the country, due to uncontested control exerted by violent mobs. This would have been an admission that Kosovo is not in fact a sovereign state, and a victory for mob rule over democracy.

Ultimately, the violence was not caused by the deployment of the Kosovo police; this was simply a pretext. The Serbian government, the Serb List, and the violent gangs, look for any opportunity to incite violence, promote sectarianism and sow disorder, because they fundamentally reject Prishtina’s authority and will go to any lengths to undermine it.

The attacks represent a continuation of their agenda to reclaim Kosovo, which is part of a larger ambition to establish a "Greater Serbia." This resurgence of aggressive Serbian nationalism poses the most significant threat to peace and stability in the region; an independent Kosovo poses no threat to anyone.

Appeasing Vucic: A dangerous gamble in the Western Balkans

Framing the Kosovo government as the aggressor is a deliberate misrepresentation that suggests the abandonment of democratic principles in favor of crude realpolitik. Such actions undermine the efforts to uphold democratic values and principles, and hinder progress towards a prosperous and peaceful region.

The clamor to condemn Kosovo derives from the fact that since at least 2008 the power of the US – and the West more generally – has gone into decline. This has prompted a reassessment of foreign policy priorities; in the case of the Balkans, a decision was clearly made in Washington to prioritize improving relations with Serbia. The aim appears to be to prevent Russia from gaining influence in the region by drawing Serbia closer to the West. The promotion of democratic reform and press freedom has thus been abandoned in favor of appeasing Vucic.

This policy has only emboldened Vucic; he has become more autocratic domestically and more willing to create instability in Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and especially Kosovo. That Western politicians continue to appease Vucic despite this is a damning indictment of their political acumen; worse still, it has ominous implications for peace and stability in the Balkans.

Navigating Kosovo’s Choices: Assessing US Support and its Consequences

The choice now facing Kosovo has been framed starkly; obey the US or plunge into the abyss. It goes without saying that the US’ support has been crucial in the past, but it would be foolish to imagine that past support demands perpetual supplication. It is not “anti-American” to disagree with US foreign policy; proud US citizens criticize US foreign policy every day. It is therefore essential that the people of Kosovo assess the US’ proposed trajectory for Kosovo on its merits rather than on gratitude for the past.

The US certainly used to support Kosovo’s independence and integration into the international community but for at least a decade it has essentially sought to lead Kosovo towards a dead-end. Their aim has been to embrace Serbia whilst letting Kosovo become a phantom state lacking a consolidated identity, where independence is reduced to platitudes, where the locals can live without external interference but with no prospect of true international integration; where there is low-level disaffection but rarely violence.

Creating this nowhere zone required local assent; political leaders in Kosovo were thus required maintain the fiction that Kosovo is making “progress” and that the West is their ally. In return for the West turning a blind eye to their corruption, Kosovo’s leaders dutifully obeyed instructions to implement policies favorable to Serbia, such as the ASM in 2013 and the Special Court in 2015. The result was no progress on visa liberalization or EU accession, mass unemployment, crippling levels of immigration, rampant corruption, and international stagnation.

The rise of Vetëvendosje was a direct result of the widespread disaffection fueled by these societal challenges. It represented an authentic expression of people’s agency and frustration. Naturally, Vetëvendosje’s more assertive stance did not align with the US’ plans, leading to attempts to discredit them. When the electorate refused to accept the US’ framing and voted Vetëvendosje into government in 2019, the US orchestrated the collapse of the Vetëvendosje-led government. Nonetheless, the people of Kosovo once again demonstrated their determination to resist by supporting Vetëvendosje’s overwhelming and historic election victory in 2021.

Since assuming office, Vetëvendosje has exhibited a strong commitment to democratic principles and Western integration. The Kosovo government has repeatedly expressed a desire to join the EU and NATO, accompanied by tangible progress in implementing progressive political and economic reforms.

International indexes showcase the notable progress Kosovo has been made in terms of democratic and liberal freedoms. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Kosovo has risen by twenty places in just two years. Reporters without Borders has also recognized Kosovo’s advancements, as it has climbed by twenty places since 2020 in the Press Freedom Index. Moreover, Freedom House has observed a significant year-on-year improvement in Kosovo’s “Freedom in the World” ranking since 2021. Finally, the World Bank has recently highlighted economic progress; per-capita income in Kosovo has increased by 50% compared to ten years ago, and there has been a 35% reduction in poverty rates.

Across the Western world political leaders are abandoning democratic principles, embracing divisive populism, and pursuing craven realpolitik internationally, but not Kosovo. The people of Kosovo cannot, of course, stem this murky tide, but they can choose not to be swept along with it. The wholly unfair attacks against the government of Kosovo degrade the West and serve as a victory for Serbia and Russia; the people of Kosovo, and everyone worldwide who supports democracy, freedom and peace, should hold fast against the shameful bullying of the democratically elected government of Kosovo and its principled stance against violent authoritarianism.

The way the international community – especially the US – has blamed Kosovo for the violence perpetrated by the Serbian mobs is obviously unfair, and source of great regret for many Americans who genuinely care about Kosovo. Ultimately, the people of Kosovo are currently being fed a lie; obeying the current officials representing the US will not bring peace, international integration, and prosperity. It will return Kosovo to the dark days of humiliation, stagnation, and depravation.

03 qershor 2023

Aidan Hehir