New tensions erupted in the Balkans this month. Do you think the country is headed towards further destabilisation?
The helicoptered, riot-police-guarded enthronement of the new Metropolitan in Montenegro is not a scene that will be forgotten soon. A highly manipulated event, it has nevertheless affected the hearts and minds of most Montenegrins, including those who try to resist the increasing polarisation. Considering the circumstances, it is quite a feat that no one died during the event.
Montenegro is already unstable and is going to remain so for a while – instability has become the norm. The former ruling party, the DPS, is doing everything they can to return to power, after losing control over the executive at the August 2020 elections. Milo Djukanovic, who is still the President of Montenegro as well as the leader of the DPS, is afraid that he might end up in jail. He is most likely preparing an exit strategy in case things go south for him. In the meantime, a battle of narratives is playing out through the media. The intent is well-known: presenting Djukanovic and his party as the only beacon of pro-Western stability in Montenegro, sweeping under the carpet the warmongering and war waging role this same cohort of people had in the 1990s. Djukanovic needs destabilisation so he can come back on a white horse as the saviour, showing the existing government as being inadequate and anti-Western, while reasserting himself as the only person who can govern the country. Only, this time tensions are upped a gear. The Serbian government and its associates participate in this dangerous game of rising tensions.
What about Serbia and Kosovo? Protests were sparked in the North because of the issue of licence plates, the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is stalled. What can we expect on this front?
It will remain stalled. It is not in neither Vucic’s nor Kurti’s interest to resolve the issue. In the absence of a viable resolution that will give him the status of an historical peacemaker, Vucic wants the Kosovo issue to simmer so he can ‘activate’ it should he start having internal problems, using it as a way to distract people and change the mood music inside Serbia. Kurti, on his part, has stated at the beginning of his premiership that the dialogue with Serbia will be given a lower priority as opposed to making inroads into more urgent matters such as the fight against corruption, economic development and inequality. We are yet to see these substantial inroads. In the meantime, instead of decreasing the temperature, his government is also contributing to heating up the tension in the country. At the losing end, there are, once again – the citizens.
Albania and North Macedonia are still waiting for the final green light for opening accession negotiations with the EU. Do you think the Slovenian presidency will succeed in overcoming the Bulgarian veto? If not, could we expect some progress under the French presidency of the EU?
The Slovenian presidency of the EU runs until 31 December 2021. Bulgaria has elections on 14 November, both presidential and parliamentary. Until then, nothing can happen on unblocking the North Macedonia issue. After the elections there may be some movement, but it is unlikely to be significant, given it might take a long time to form a government in Sofia, where the polls are predicting a stalemate in Parliament at present. Nothing much is likely to be resolved by 31 December given the political uncertainty in Bulgaria. Overall, there is the understanding from the EU’s side that this situation is unacceptable, but there are no solutions at hand. Until the veto power is taken away from EU member states, by implementing qualified majority voting, arbitrary blocking due to bilateral issues – rather than on the merits of the accession process – will continue in one form or another.
Are you concerned about the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where Bosnian Serbs are still boycotting the work of central institutions over the law forbidding genocide denial? Could Bosnia become the next epicentre of a turmoil in the Balkans?
In the early summer, the outgoing High Representative, Valentin Inzko, sang his ‘swan song’ by using his powers to declare genocide denial a crime, punishable with up to 5 years of prison. The response by Milorad Dodik, Republika Srpska’s chieftain and Serb member of the tripartite presidency of BiH, was fast: he announced he would boycott the central institutions, and went even further by saying that the police of Republika Srpska will protect those who are indicted on the basis of this new law. In spite of some Bosnian politicians, Izetbegovic in primis, downplaying this move, in my view, the boycott itself is real: Dodik will not hold back from blocking BiH institutions for months or even longer to show his voters in the region that he will defend the Serbian ‘nation’. This has already happened in the past: the Bosnian federal government had to wait even up to a year and a half to be formed due to him blocking its formation. More importantly, Vucic might want to activate this issue for his own political interest. It is enough to look at the recently invented ‘Holiday of Serbian Unity’, and the Bosnian Serbs seem ready to play along at the drop of a hat, should they get a prod from Belgrade. But for them to do so they need outside support, either from Serbia or Russia, which, in my view, does not see this as a priority in any way. However, Bosnia and Herzegovina might be useful to Vucic at some point when things get difficult for him in Serbia. I think that any attempts to counter these tendencies of rising tensions should take a long-term view, especially by countering attempts to radicalise and indoctrinate the younger generations.