Future of Kosovo - Modern Affairs DOCUMENTARY
The Cold War has been over for more than thirty years but despite some rather dubious claims to the contrary, history has certainly not ended. The events of the present are rooted firmly in the past and so we wanted to take a look at some present hotspots to give an explanation of current events, how they came to be, and some possible outcomes going forward. And what better place to start than Kosovo. I’m your host David and today we are heading to the Balkans…the comments should be fun! This is…the Post-Cold War? Hi everybody, as you know, Turkey and Syria suffered a devastating earthquake on the 6th of February. The death toll is in the 10s of thousands, and many tens of thousands more
are wounded, and millions have been made homeless and will suffer in the aftermath. For obvious reasons, it is difficult to find a reliable way to support our brothers and sisters in Syria, but we can do our best to help Turkey. All money we make from this video will go towards the Turkiye Earthquake Relief Fund. You can join us in this endeavour. If you have the ability to do so, please press the donate button to the right of this video. The Turkish people are desperate for assistance, and every dollar helps. Thank you! As recently as August 2022, fears abounded of inflamed tensions along the border between Kosovo and Serbia over something as seemingly trivial as vehicle license plates. Many,
analyst’s, who knew nothing about the region by the way, rapidly began to compare the situation to the Russo-Ukrainian War and postulated that Serbian invasion of Kosovo was likely underway. As we know, these wild claims ended up being unfounded. But we did see tensions escalate again in November 2022 with demonstrations being held in the Serb-populated northern regions of Kosovo and the closing in December of 2022 of the road-passes on the Kosovo side of the border. Now, the history of Kosovo and Serbia and the future of the region, raise interesting questions about statehood and secession, as well as the Balkans in general. The internal politics Serbia and Kosovo are, as you would expect, unique but also run quite deep, well beyond the many stereotypical headlines. So, how did we get to the current status quo and what does the possible future between Kosovo and Serbia look like? So before we start, I’m going to give some disclaimers; this is not a Balkan meme channel. While many stereotypes persist about both Albanians and Serbians, the history of the
region is rife with conflict which has resulted in thousands of refugees and dead. This includes both Serbs and Albanians, so we will avoid getting into football-style arguments about who is right or wrong. We also want to avoid Orientalizing or Otherizing the Balkans as a mystical land of eternal conflict. That would be giving the ultranationalists too much historical credit,
credit which they just don’t deserve. We are also going be discussing the conflict on its own terms, avoiding comparisons with other parts of the world unless necessary and relevant. Whataboutism has no place. And finally, another myth to dispel is that this is an ancient conflict. In truth,
people have been living together in peace for centuries, with recent developments a combination of nationalist elites, the collapse of communism, and geopolitical interventions. So, the region of Kosovo is important to both the Serbian and Albanian national imaginations. For Serbs, there is the so-called Kosovo Myth, a legendary retelling of the Jugovici brothers and their last stand in the1386 Battle of Kosovo. The reality of the battle is expertly described in one of the very first Kings and Generals videos, well worth checking out if you haven’t already. The Kosovo Myth frames Kosovo as a Serbian Holy Land, but in reality, Kosovo was really formulated in its current form by 19th century nationalist intellectuals. Now, for Albanian Kosovars, Kosovo is where Albanian nationalism was born and where initial forms to codify northern Albanian dialects into one language took place. Now,
more practically, Kosovo has A LOT of mineral resources, notably lignite but also zinc, lead, silver and chrome, and whoever has control of the region stands to gain a great deal financially. The region is majority Albanian with Serb, Montenegrin, Romani and Gorani minorities. After the end of the First World War, Kosovo was made part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but with parts of the region being given to Montenegro. After the Second World War, there were plans to merge Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria into a proto-Balkan Federation, but the Tito-Stalin split made these plans untenable, and Kosovo became an autonomous province of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, itself a part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Its largely agrarian economy meant the region was economically impoverished, but Kosovo slowly gained more autonomy over time, to the extent of almost being a quasi-republic under the 1974 constitutional reform implemented by Tito. In 1981, martial law was declared after protests broke out demanding full Republic status for Kosovo. After the rise of Slobodan Milosevic, and as Yugoslavia began to collapse,
Kosovar Albanians found themselves living under extremely harsh and repressive conditions, similar in many ways to an apartheid regime. Peaceful protest movements were marginalized by the nationalistic and Hoxhaist Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës, the Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK. The UCK ended up starting a guerilla campaign that included targeting civilians, to which the Serbs responded with brutal repressions and mass graves. In 1999, in response to outcries from Kosovar Albanians over advancing Serb forces, and a rather stunning turn of the UCK towards the US and NATO, a NATO a massive NATO-led bombing campaign was initiated, targeting both civilian and military structures in Kosovo and Serbia controlled by the Milosevic regime. Serbian troops and civilians fled the region and were replaced with NATO troops. Negotiations between the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbians towards a settlement continued,
but the extensive autonomy offered by Belgrade was not accepted by the UCK, many of whose seasoned fighters were sidelined with young pro-NATO leaders. The UCK was seeking recognized independence. In 2004, anti-Serb riots took place in Kosovo’s northern regions where Serbs still lived. Eventually, in 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, and both sides have engaged in a diplomatic war for recognition with rounds of inconclusive negotiations carrying on to this day. Kosovo and Serbia today is effectively a frozen conflict with the status of Kosovo remaining uncertain. Kosovo saw a surge of international recognition in the late 2000s after its declaration of independence but not enough recognition to gain it a full membership of the UN. Serbia's use of Yugoslavia's legacy of Non-Alignment has allowed Belgrade to lobby
many in the Global South against recognizing Kosovo. Kosovo for its part has many of its backers in the US and the EU, and Pristina has tried to use that leverage to counter Serbia’s efforts in order to gain recognition. This process has stalled and the two sides have reached a diplomatic stalemate. But, the chances of an active conflict re-escalating is unlikely, as Kosovo has a three-tier system of engagement in response to potential escalations, starting from the local police, to international police, to KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. This doesn’t mean that possible outbreaks of violence can be discounted however, especially within Kosovo itself, and vigilance is required. Within Kosovo, there exists a sort of politically devolved, planned entity called the ‘Association of Serb Municipalities’, which encompasses the northern and eastern Kosovar municipalities which contain a Serb majority. This association came as a result of a 2013 Brussels agreement
between Kosovo and Serbia which allowed devolved powers for local Serbs. However, the deal has been indefinitely postponed due to a lack of ratification of the agreement by the National Assembly of Serbia, and the status of the Association is unknown. For many in Kosovo, particularly the ruling Self-Determination Party, these are seen as a Serb Trojan Horse, as Serbia pays for local healthcare and policing, giving Belgrade a degree of influence and control. Now, Kosovo and Serbia also have some intriguing internal politics which affect the conflict. Serbia after the overthrow of Milosevic in October, 2000, had an array of Presidents, but in 2014, Aleksandar Vucic came to power as Prime Minister. In 2017 he became the
President of Serbia, a post he occupies to this day. Vucic is a former member of the far-right Serbian Radical Party, similar to the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and with similar accusations of fascism and of controlling the opposition. He broke off from the party in 2008 to found his own more centre-right and pro-EU party, the Serbian Progressive Party. His profile as a responsible centre-right and pro-EU politician
initially made him a darling of EU circles, as he was a key figure in various talks with Kosovo. However, his rule has become increasingly authoritarian, relying on controlling parts of the state economy in order to leverage votes. He also has increased police violence against anti-lithium mining protestors and various youth movements arrayed against him.
In terms of his position towards Kosovo, he has increased his anti-Western rhetoric since talks froze between Belgrade and Pristina. However, we should dispel several myths regarding Serbia here. Serbia, while having a strong pro-Russian element in its society and although Russia does interfere in Serbian affairs, the country has equally as many pro-EU elements and Western involvement as the Russians do and Serbia has been slowly moving towards the West in the past few years. This is in no small part due to the geopolitical reality of being surrounded by NATO and pro-EU countries. So, Serbia's strong Non-Aligned status as well as its EU-favoured-President turned authoritarian-leader, are some of the reasons for the country’s current predicament.
In Kosovo itself, there has been a recent shift in politics. Kosovo does have a democratic political culture, but due to the presence of NATO, EU, and UN institutions, there are often deep tensions that run through. Those familiar with Turkish politics can make analogies to Turkey and Northern Cyprus; a protectorate with internal democratic dynamics. Various political forces exist in Kosovo, with many of the old-guard UCK members becoming increasingly sidelined, like Hashim Thaci, who was the previous President of Kosovo and who has been indicted on war crimes after his resignation in 2020. The current President of Kosovo is Albin Kurti,
a man who was a political prisoner under Milosevic and who threw tear gas in parliament in 2018. He and his party are purporting to be anti-corruption against the UCK establishment as well as promoting a developmental-state rhetoric in solidarity with the Global South. This includes rallying against many of the unelected institutions in Kosovo, those run by the UN and EU.
In reality, Kurti toned down the rhetoric from August 2022, under directions from the U.S. Embassy in Pristina, and he has done little to alleviate corruption in Kosovo. Private prisons for refugees from other European nations exist in Kosovo, and there are high levels of trafficking in the region. What Kurti has done is ramp up nationalist rhetoric against Serbs within Kosovo, though remaining short of instigating an active conflict. Kurti also stands against any compromises with Serbia, such as a potential land swap of northern Kosovo, where many Serbs live, and southern Serbia, where many Albanians live. This was something initially
discussed between Thaci and Vucic. Kurti has also mentioned the possibility of a union with Albania, but this is likely more of a bargaining chip rather than a serious consideration. As we can see, the dispute is currently at a standstill due to nationalist sentiment, a lack of civil society engagement, and the backing of various geopolitical actors. So, what is the future of Serbia and Kosovo? Well, barring some utopian solution of a Balkan Federation stretching from the Alps to Diyarbakir, nationalist intransigence may ensure that the conflict remains frozen for years to come. What
may change is Serbia’s slow move towards the West. The Serbian military has conducted many more drills with NATO than it has with Russia in recent years. However, much like in Turkey, this would require demonstrations that there are realistic chances of Serbia being treated as a respected partner. There are decades of prejudices on both side to overcome, after all.
Vucic, for his part, may end up abandoning the Russo-Serbian friendship in order to survive, but it doesn’t have to mean an alignment to the EU and the West. Serbia can also fall back to closer relations with China with whom they have been cultivating good relations and whose One China policy is close to Serbia’s official view of Kosovo. If he feels like he might lose power, Vucic can easily fall back on nationalism to survive, abandoning Western aspirations. In Kosovo, Kurti is popular for the time being, and his anti-establishment rhetoric combined with Greater Albanian nationalism has proven very useful for his political survival and even resurgence after being booted from his post in 2019. But he has very little leeway, with only nationalism as his outlet. However, should either side’s rhetoric get out of hand as the November 2022 demonstrations in Mitrovica have shown, the risk of accidentally stumbling into warfare significantly increases. Given the heavy militarization of the region,
supposedly a deterrent, this could light a fuse that can’t be stopped. So, what do possible scenarios look like going forward? Well, a return of Kosovo to Serbia is the most unlikely option. Given the physical presence of KFOR, as well as the presence of over two million Kosovar Albanians, such an event is highly unlikely outside of the results of open warfare and would be extremely brutal for all involved, no matter the outcome. This is understood by most of the players involved, other than perhaps the ultranationalists from both the Albanian and the Serbian sides. These are the extremes who may yet get out of hand if a potential solution is presented that they dislike. Proposals for a Cyprus-style federation of Kosovar Serbs often falls on deaf ears, and Kurti’s party is strongly opposed to any such parallel social structures.
Kosovo itself will most likely stay under its NATO-UN-EU mandate due to the continuous perceived threat from Serbia, as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has created the perceptions of potential dangerous spillovers. These narratives are useful locally to maintain the legitimacy of both the Serb and Kosovar leadership, as well as that of NATO, EU, and Russian presence in the region as allies of factions within states. In terms of a possible land swap, this is a more likely scenario, should Serbia continue moving more overtly towards the West and Kosovar backers in the West continue to see it as beneficial. This would help to solve the disputes of ethnic minorities within Kosovo and Serbia, but there are still obstacles. Kurti is against any such deal, and can use a union with Albania as a bargaining
chip. There is also an issue in thise with the surrounding Balkan countries. North Macedonia has an Albanian minority, while Montenegro and Bosnia have large Serb minorities. Any sort of land swap in Kosovo runs the risk of jeopardizing their territorial integrity by creating precedents. This is something that will make things difficult in Serbia itself, as nationalist forces currently managed by Vucic might get out of control if they see some sort of betrayal. In terms of the fight over official recognition, this has also stalled and will likely remain so. Given Serbia’s status, and Kosovo’s backing by the West, the current number of states recognizing Kosovo may stay fixed for a long while. Serbia cannot
join the EU without the matter of Kosovo being settled, so neither Belgrade nor Pristina will have to talk to each other and sort things out; no outside alliance will help them, and may in fact benefit from continuing the conflict and supporting the nationalists. Another possible outcome lies with an Albania-Kosovo union. The threat of this is usually used by Kosovo as a bargaining tool against Serbia, but if resentment towards the current situation continues, some nationalist forces may utilise it to become officially recognized. Given that Albanian parties from all around the region have met in Tirana, and that a Greater Albania is a goal in Albanian nationalist circles around the region, this possibility should not be discounted. In addition, much like the independence of Kosovo is used by Russia when defending its own annexation of Crimea, so can Crimea and the annexation of Southeastern Ukraine be used by Albania in this endeavor. However, the devil is in the details. While polls in Kosovo do show support for a union with Albania, especially in terms of finally being recognized by the UN, when asked about the details, including whether it will be a federation or a unitary state run by Pristina, or the economic impact, the picture is far more complicated.
This impacts Kosovo’s idea of independence, as well as the autonomous Serb minority that itself wants to join Serbia. Such a move would come as an act of desperation, or boldness, and would most certainly cause open conflict within Kosovo itself once again. The most likely scenario going forward is the status quo, with the conflict continuing to be frozen in place, and a low risk for violent escalation. There are no ongoing negotiations to work towards a solution, and civil society remains disengaged from the overall process, a factor which would increase the chances of success.
Occasional protests and demonstrations will continue as a form of cultural capital for political leaders. And this is where the danger lies. If one of the sides becomes too bold or too nationalistic, they may make a drastic move that results in the conflict re-escalating. Even an accidental on-the-ground event could spark conflict within or between both Kosovo and Serbia. However, both left-wing and anti-austerity movements within both Kosovo and Serbia, which are anti-nationalist, as well as small-scale initiatives between the ethnic groups, do provide some small hopes for alternatives. However, the nationalist fever dreams and perceived geopolitical alliances, even as Serbia slowly drifts closer to the West, are too good for anyone to let go of, for both Kosovo and Serbia, as well as Russia and the West. The events that took place in November and December of 2022 have shown how some of these processes have been exacerbated. The November protests largely concentrated towards Serb-areas,
with Albanian Kosovar rhetoric focusing on them being a Trojan Horse for Serbia. Serbia for its part used ultranationalist rhetoric as a guardian of Kosovar Serb interests. Things seemed to improve after a bizarrely-worded deal in early December, in which Serbia seemed to agree to revoke its various vetoes on Kosovar membership in organizations like UNESCO. This led to further protests breaking out however, resulting in Kosovo closing down its border crossings while Serbia backtracked and placed its forces on a higher level of combat readiness.
Serbia is more armed than it was in 2004 when anti-Serb riots occurred in Kosovo, however, the presence of NATO-led KFOR troops provides a degree of security and Kosovo is still not willing to negotiate on the autonomy of Serbs within Kosovo or even discuss land swaps. Consider that Kosovo’s security structures are still formed and managed at the police level, a local level, not at the KFOR-level. It’s likely that this is an attempt on both sides to maintain their nationalist credentials on minor topics like car signs; a petty squabble if there ever was one. While Kosovo has claimed that Russia is behind stoking these tensions, Moscow appears too preoccupied with the invasion of Ukraine to have initiated any major overtures. Moscow’s support has been of rhetoric rather than action. Serbia may see a particularly harsh crackdown as a provocation which could lead to an attack, but this will be a high bar and only a realistic one if there is a military vacuum in Kosovo; one that is unlikely to occur any time soon. It is more likely that Kosovo will continue to try
to slowly isolate the Kosovar Serb community, while Serbia will try to gain further influence in Kosovo via overtures or even an attempt at joining local security forces. This is further corroborated by a quick agreement to save face, which agreed to a resumption of talks. And of course, possible ‘non-sanctioned’ actions by either side may also inflame tensions.
As it stands, the risk remains if protests and subsequent crackdowns get out of hand. Both Kosovo and Serbia will use this situation to strengthen their positions in negotiations, and to deflect from their own crises of legitimacy. The increasingly militant rhetoric can, however, is a fine line to walk and if it was to get out of hand and extend beyond mere rhetoric, that is where the true danger lies, including a situation where more militant forces use that rhetoric to try and outmaneuver less hawkish forces on the same side.
The best summary of the current ceasefire with its stalled intransigence, as well as the utility of said conflict for various geopolitical players, is best summarized by American journalist Lily Lynch, who writes in the New Left Review, “You wouldn’t know any of this judging by media accounts from any side. The myth of eternal Serbian-Russian brotherhood is simply too useful to everyone: Russia, NATO, Kosovo, and Serbia. But it is also possible that if Cold Warriors continue with the reckless dissemination of rumours of war, they will get the violence they want.” We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and to make sure you don't miss our future work, please make sure you are subscribed to our channel and press the bell button, no matter what side of frozen conflict it may find itself on. Please consider supporting us on Patreon at www.patreon.com/thecoldwar or through YouTube membership. We can be reached via email
at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the Cold War Channel and as we think about the Cold War, please remember that history is shades of gray and rarely black and whiteI