At the end of July, new severe tensions were reported in Kosovo’s north, and in August, a critical round of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina crumbled once more. Do you believe Serbia and Kosovo will ever reach an agreement? And how could the international community advocate for it?
We need to recognise that the fundamental barrier to normalisation between Serbia and Kosovo is that Belgrade, and Serbian society more broadly, have yet to accept the historical and political facts of the Yugoslav dissolution. Unfortunately, the mainstream opinion among both Serbian leaders and most of the Serbian public remains categorically revisionist as to the origins of Yugoslavia’s implosion, and the chief architects of those events and the conflicts which followed as a result. Until these facts change, it is difficult to imagine any kind of permanent solution to the current impasse. What the political West can do, in the interim, is to ensure full recognition for Kosovo among the entirety of the EU and NATO membership, which is frustratingly still not the case, while ensuring that the possibilities for a resumption of armed conflict in the region remain categorically unavailable.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will hold general elections soon. Several factors are upsetting in a country that has fallen behind in the EU integration process, including the destabilising role of secessionist and pro-Russian Dodik and HR Schmidt’s contentious proposal for electoral reform. Last but not least, the HDZ’s increasingly nationalistic posture in BiH, which dreams of a third Croat entity. How would you assess the country’s current situation and what to expect after the elections?
Bosnia is in a protracted political crisis in which the secessionist aspirations of the SNSD regime in Banja Luka and the increasingly insurrectionary antics of the HDZ are, really, part of one joint assault on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this state, and not only because both enjoy the patronage of Moscow. After October 2, the HDZ will seek to prevent government formation at both the Federation entity – where it has been doing the same since 2018 – and at the state level. The SNSD will support them in these efforts. The aim will be to force the international community and leaders in the “pro-Bosnian” camp to accept and implement the party’s preferred “reforms” of Bosnia’s electoral laws, by making them still more sectarian, discriminatory, and unrepresentative than the existing regime. Whether they succeed depends on the degree of political capacity within the pro-Bosnian camp, and the views within key Western capitals.
Moscow has an influence in some Balkan countries and regions, including the entity of Republika Srpska in BiH and, Serbia, an EU candidate country. How dangerous is the relationship between Moscow, Banja Luka, and Belgrade right now?
Banja Luka is Russia’s most militant and dangerous regional partner. Belgrade is the locus of the Kremlin’s activities in the region, but Serbia’s leadership is comparatively moderate in their positions – notwithstanding an evident uptick in their overall foreign policy posture since 2014, especially regarding Kosovo, Bosnia, and Montenegro. Dodik was prepared to launch his own secessionist bid both during the 2014 Crimean annexation crisis and had prepared the ground for a similar gambit following Moscow’s anticipating (but ultimately failed) capture of Kyiv. While Dodik functionally depends on both Belgrade and Moscow’s patronage in his secessionist aspirations, he has increasingly sought to pivot more towards Russia than Serbia, in part as a rear-guard action to prevent Vucic from ever seeking to engineer his ouster – a manoeuvre Belgrade has executed in decades prior.
You wrote ‘Hunger and Fury: The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans.’ The same link could be the leitmotif in the Balkans this winter, exacerbated by the energy crisis and inflation. What are your forecasts for the months to come?
As noted, the most immediate prospects for a major crisis are in Bosnia following the October elections, and the anticipated obstructionist activities of the HDZ. However, the ongoing instability within Montenegro, and the growing tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, especially with respect to Kosovo’s north, may also produce their own crises, including the increasingly likely prospects for security incidents, of one sort or another. Belgrade, and by extension Moscow, are implicated in these scenarios to one extent or another, but in Bosnia we must also account for the malign interference of Zagreb.
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the Thessaloniki summit. And the Western Balkans are still a long way from joining the EU. Do you believe the enlargement process was a complete failure? If so, who is to blame?
Insomuch as Slovenia and Croatia managed to join the EU, the process was a partial success or, more specifically, only 25% successful, as the region’s six remaining states have still not joined the bloc, nor do they have any credible pathway to doing so in a relevant time frame (i.e., in the next 10 to 15 years). The reasons for that failure are both in the corrupt and incompetent governance of much of the regional political class, but also the failure of Brussels and the member states to develop a policy towards the region that reflected the socio-political realities which have been evident there for decades. Brussels chose to ignore the scale of the problems, but also chose not to develop a credible policy framework to address them, and then suddenly reneged on its erstwhile open-door policy in the worst, most damaging fashion possible. Leaving both the bloc and the region, in political terms, in the worst of all worlds.