Western Balkans and EU News

[Opinion] Kosovo should not give in to the EU and US pressure for a bad deal with Serbia


*The Europeans and Americans will be pressing Prishtina hard for an agreement with Belgrade in advance of Serbia’s April 2020 election.

* Milorad Dodik will continue to fulminate about independence, some Croats will continue to dream of a third entity, and the Bosniaks will try to ignore both and defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

* Delayed opening of negotiations should not delay implementation of the acquis. Most of the benefits of EU membership come well before accession, from the reforms you (Albania) undertake.

 By Daniel Serwer

Tirana, 29 October 2019, dtt-net.com - The world today is a disordered one. The unipolar moment that enabled so much of what the United States did to bring order to the Balkans in the 1990s ended with the attack on the WorldTradeCenter in 2001.

There ensued a war on terror that initially enlisted much of the world in response: NATO triggered Article 5 and supported the US invasion of Afghanistan, but unanimity was quickly lost with the invasion of Iraq and the Sunni insurgency there, led by Al Qaeda and Ba’athist diehards.

The 2008 financial crisis further frayed international consensus: European growth has still not recovered while China’s rise accelerated, and high oil and gas prices gave Russia opportunities to revive its military and reassert its great power status, which it has done with interventions in Ukraine and Syria.

The Greek financial crisis, Brexit, immigration, and the rise of the populist ethno-nationalist right within the EU and in the US have changed the basic parameters of our geopolitics.

Today we live in a world in which the liberal democratic consensus, based on free markets and the conviction that everyone is entitled to equal rights and opportunities, has frayed.

Russia, China, Turkey, and others are offering an alternative autocratic bargain: in exchange for unfettered long-term power, their leaders are offering state-sponsored economic growth and political stability, at least to those who identify with the majority ethnic group.

How does all this impact the Balkans?

First and foremost slow economic growth in Europe depresses the Balkan economies; the region can only thrive when the EU does.

Europessimism correlates closely with the business cycle. Only with a revival of growth will Europe show renewed interest in enlargement, which will provide the young labor Europe lacks and needs.

Second: Moscow’s trouble making, while not so evident in Albania, is plaguing Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia. Your neighbors are facing concerted efforts to slow or block NATO and EU accession. Even Montenegro and North Macedonia are still targeted.

Moscow has re-introduced into the Balkans assassination, state disinformation and propaganda, and rent-a-riot techniques we all hoped had disappeared with the Soviet Union.

Third: China, during the Cold War Enver Hoxha’s only friend in the world, is offering financing for much-needed infrastructure.

Unlike many Westerners, I see lots of potential benefit in Beijing’s Belt and Road projects, but caveat emptor: China isn’t giving aid, it is financing projects it regards as beneficial to China on terms that can be onerous if the expected returns fail to materialize.

Fourth: Turkey, as a former colonial power in much of the Balkans and a near neighbor, naturally plays an important role in the region. But President (Reccep) Erdogan has taken a turn in the autocratic and Islamist direction.

His example is no longer as positive as once it was, and his efforts to get Balkan countries to capture and render his enemies are undermining rule of law in young Balkan democracies.

Let me turn now to put the focus on the Balkans themselves.

My view is that there are only two remaining war and peace issues in the region. One is normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

The other is fixing the dysfunctional government we gave Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Dayton peace agreements.

Before anything can happen on normalization, Prishtina needs a new government. I imagine that means the LDK and Vetevendosje will share power in a post-electoral coalition, perhaps supported by some lesser parties, including some representing minorities.

As far apart as the LDK and VV are on some issues and in electoral constituencies, they both grew out of the nonviolent protest movement in Kosovo and will be replacing a KLA coalition whose partners grew out of the violent rebellion.

I hope that betokens a renewed commitment to Kosovo statehood, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, as well as a broader coalition for the dialogue with Belgrade, along the lines of the platform that the last parliament prepared but the constitutional court ruled was the responsibility of the government.

The Europeans and Americans will be pressing Prishtina hard for an agreement with Belgrade in advance of Serbia’s April 2020 election. I see no advantage to Kosovo in giving in to this pressure.

Prishtina will need to be ready to walk away from a bad deal in order to get a good one. A bad deal is one that in any way breaches the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; a good one will allow for ample decentralization and self-governance for minority communities.

Some of you will no doubt ask, but what does the appointment of two US envoys betoken about US policy on normalization?

The short answer is that I don’t know. I think it reflects more confusion than intention. But I won’t be surprised if the ethnic nationalist Ambassador ( Richard)  Grenell, who has done his best to offend the German government, tries to revive the land swap idea that failed so miserably the last time around.

Let me be clear: the permanence of borders—and specifically the refusal to move internal boundaries to accommodate ethnic differences when changing them to international borders—is fundamental to peace and security in the region, since it was established by the Badinter Commission in the early 1990s.

As for Bosnia and Herzegovina, I fear it will need to wait. The international community is simply incapable of dealing with two big issues at once.

Milorad Dodik will continue to fulminate about independence, some Croats will continue to dream of a third entity, and the Bosniaks will try to ignore both and defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

But until there is a concerted effort that gains the support of all three constituent peoples to enable the Sarajevo central government to negotiate and implement the acquis communautaire, I fear little will change.

Let me turn now to Albania. 

This country has made fantastic progress: you are now a member of NATO and a candidate for EU accession. 

Let’s remember: when I first came here just 22 years ago, the country was in chaos, in the aftermath of the collapse of the pyramid schemes.

Since then you’ve seen good if not spectacular economic growth, the construction of a post-Communist state and a market economy, and integration with the other Balkan countries as well as with the rest of Europe.

You have met the criteria for opening of EU accession negotiations. It is only internal political circumstances in two other European countries that have prevented it from happening.

France and the Netherlands should be ashamed of what they’ve done to both North Macedonia and Albania.

But they are not, because both are democratic countries with leaders responding to pressures from their own national constituencies. Albanians and Macedonians don’t get to vote in Paris or The Hague.

The question now is how to respond to this clearly unjustified and reprehensible delay in acknowledging achievements that both Skopje and Tirana are rightly proud of.

You are of course disappointed and angry. I share those sentiments. But they won’t get you far.

The right response I am afraid is renewed commitment to the reforms required for EU membership. NATO membership for Macedonia points in the right direction.

Delayed opening of negotiations should not delay implementation of the acquis. Most of the benefits of EU membership come well before accession, from the reforms you undertake.

Tirana has made remarkable progress getting to the verge of opening negotiations, but it can make still more during the current delay, however long it lasts.

Take a hint from the Montenegrins: they never stopped preparing for NATO membership, even when people in Washington thought it unlikely. They likewise press on with adopting the acquis, knowing full well that the French and Dutch may be no more favorable to Montenegro’s accession than they have been to opening negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.

I’m reminded of Zeno’s paradox: if you halve the distance between any two people every second, they should never touch mathematically. But they do in practice.

Make Albania an EU-compliant country in every aspect of the acquis, which will take a decade or more, and one day politics in France and the Netherlands will allow accession to happen. 

There are, it seems to me, two areas that require priority attention in Albania: one is rule of law; the other is political behavior.

You are tired I know of the Americans and Europeans who preach rule of law. So am I. But you need it, not for EU membership but for yourselves.

Your institutions are much better than once they were, but you still lack a “culture of lawfulness.” It is not easy to create, and I would readily admit that parts of the United States seem to me to lack it.

But that is what you need to ensure that the law doesn’t need to be enforced as much as it prevails because that is what citizens want.

I know it is difficult to accept, but in liberal democracies rights, privileges, and responsibilities adhere to the individual, not to families, clans, ethnic groups, or even political parties.

The day will come here, as it has in Chicago, when getting a job for your unqualified cousin is not a family obligation but a corrupt abuse of power.

The day will also come when you will not tolerate politicians who have sources of wealth they are unable to account for. Some of your judges have already been dismissed on these grounds.

Universities like this one are vital for the preparation of a new cadre of qualified individuals who will not rely on connections but on talents and merit for their careers and income.

Those qualified individuals will also moderate political behavior, which along with rule of law is particularly important in this highly conflictual country.

In real democracies, there is always the possibility of alternation in power. Serving in the opposition is frustrating but just as important to the system as serving in the majority.

Some of you will of course see the remarks I am about to make as suggesting that I am taking sides. That is not my intention.

I aim instead trying to convince you that participation is an obligation, even if you think the system is unfair.

But somehow in the Balkans people think they will gain more by boycotting than participating.

Sure there are political processes I might want to boycott, but the normal behavior should be participation.

Liberal democracies depend on separation of powers and institutional limits on executive power. Political participation and insistence on professionalization of government functions can help make that a reality.

People who don’t vote, parties that don’t run in elections, or don’t occupy the seats or jobs they have won are not doing their best to fulfill the responsibility to represent their constituencies.

Nor can a country hope to assume its proper role internationally if it is unable to be inclusive domestically.

A word about foreign policy. Every now and then, the Albanian question arises: will Albanians live in six different Balkan countries, or will they challenge the existing territorial arrangements?

Nothing could harm Albania’s ambitions to join Europe more than unsettling borders or enunciating irredentist ambitions, as politicians are sometimes tempted to do.

Washington and Brussels will remain unequivocal in rejecting Greater Albania, which would lead to catastrophic population movements and widespread instability.

The wise course for Albania and Kosovo is to cure their internal ills within their current borders, maintain good relations with all their neighbors, and enjoy close cultural ties with Albanians who live in other countries.

In the end, there is no Plan B. Democracy and free markets, unencumbered by corruption and regulated by law, are the best way to ensure fair competition and rational decisions by individuals, companies, and politicians.

Nothing the Dutch or French do can prevent you from creating that kind of Albania. You are free to choose: I hope you will do so wisely.

 (Daniel Serwer is professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and director of its Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs, as well as a Scholar at the Middle East Institute.  The text is his speech delivered today at a MediterraneanUniversity of Albania conference on “US policy in the Western Balkans” in Tirana)

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30.10.19 | Opinions