The European Union (EU) has been taking various steps towards the normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relations for some time. Recently, these moves seem to have gained momentum. In this case, the desire to prevent Russia from taking advantage of a potential tension between two actors that do not officially recognize each other by finding room for maneuver is effective.
As a matter of fact, European countries are taking steps to ensure peace and stability in the region due to security concerns. At this point, it is clear that the EU, whose influence in the region is growing, intends to have the last word. However, regional developments show that the balances in the global system are not shaped around a single actor and are dynamic.
The Balkans are of global importance both geopolitically and diplomatically. The region has stood out as an arena of struggle during critical periods of history, especially as the global system evolved. Although the EU wants to keep the region under its control, there are several factors that prevent it from doing so comfortably.
In addition to the EU, the United States of America (USA) has also recently increased its influence in the region. Especially in today’s world, where the global system is evolving and new powers are being discussed, the US statements on the Balkans draw attention along with the power struggle debates.
The US, knowing that the historical legacy between the Serbs and the Russians is quite strong, has recently made various statements in order to weaken this historical legacy and win the sympathy of the Serbs in order for the course of the Serbia-Kosovo meetings to work in favor of the West. In this context, US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill stated that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) bombing of Serbia in the past was a diplomatic failure and emphasized that this incident should not be forgotten.
Today, new dynamics are emerging in many regions. There are rising regional and global actors. In this transitional period, when the old dominant actors cannot easily rule and the new order is not clear, the Balkans are also becoming a diplomatic competition. In particular, the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia occupies the international public opinion.
Serbia has not recognized Kosovo since its establishment and considers it a part of itself. Since the demographics of the Balkan states are quite heterogeneous, some states that do not want minorities to have any demands also do not recognize Kosovo. However, with the EU’s efforts to resolve the tension between the two actors, there is an approach that Kosovo’s recognition problem will be solved through the EU. Albin Kurti, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, stated that his country could be recognized by Belgrade thanks to increased pressure from the West.
At the suggestion of the EU, meetings have started between Kosovo and Serbia. The EU has provided various incentives and economic pressures to the parties. At the meeting of the two actors in Ohrid, no agreement was signed, especially at the request of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. However, this attitude of Vucic does not mean that the talks will end. Because the two leaders continued their talks in Brussels on April 4, 2023.
This initiative of the EU is not the only step taken to ensure peace in the region. The European states, which turned against the Moscow regime in the wake of the Russo-Ukrainian war, want to include Serbia in this effort.
The demographic situation in the region affects many states in the event of any unrest, and various attempts are being made to establish peace. It can be said that the steps taken in this context are basically aimed at weakening the relationship between Serbs and Russians, ensuring that Serbia becomes a part of Europe and breaking the influence of the far right.
In addition to Europeanization efforts, some moves are also being made towards regional integration. The Memorandum of Understanding signed between North Macedonia and Serbia on the facilitation and acceleration of the movement of people and commercial flows and the integration of an electronic toll collection system is indicative of this.
On the other hand, Russia’s recent moves have caused great security concerns in the region. Therefore, it is possible to state that these initiatives aim to break the Russian influence in the region. This is evidenced by the statement of Ragmi Mustafa, President of the Albanian National Council, that the mission of the American Ambassador Christopher Hill is to separate Serbia from Russian influence.
Attempts by the US, the EU, and states in the region are strengthening hopes for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. In particular, the economic pressure on Serbia seems to be crucial for Belgrade to clarify its position towards Russia. On this issue, although Vucic has tried to pursue a policy of balance, the right-wing opposition in the country has organized many protests against the plan to normalize relations.
Although these pressures have accelerated Serbia’s EU integration and tried to make the country an important actor for the EU, it is not possible to say that all Serbs see themselves as part of the EU. In fact, in a survey conducted by the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA), one third of respondents expressed a negative view about the EU. Therefore, this attitude of the Serbs also finds its place in politics. In fact, 28 representatives of the Serbian opposition filed a criminal complaint against Vucic for accepting the plan on Kosovo.
From this point of perspective, it can be said that Serbian nationalism has come to the fore in many periods in the historical process. It can be stated that this situation also affected Vucic. Despite all the pressures, Vucic could not turn his back on the opposition and expressed that he thought his decision not to impose sanctions on Russia was the right one.
In sum, the demographic structure of the Balkans causes the negative effects of nationalism to be felt quite strongly. This gives many actors in the global system room for maneuver in regional politics. Peacemaking activities are also shaped in this context.
As a result, it can be said that the recent EU initiatives have increased expectations for the normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relations. The West’s goal here is to break the Russian influence. However, it is obvious that the opposition of nationalist Serbs complicates the process.
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