EU MEP Laurentiu Rebega on: ‘Balkanizing Borders’
Guest post by Laurentiu Rebega, EU MEP from Romania
Following the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, former Yugoslavia did not witness other armed conflicts. In the “Western Balkans”, peace, defended by UN forces, was frail. Everybody knows that, given how things were left, if the international forces were to withdraw, violence would burst out immediately!
On the other hand, poverty and disappointments increased. Isolated, devastated, and deprived of major economic resources, the state entities in discussion became targets for smuggling of dangerous substances, weapons, and even people. The only solution, in a situation like this, is development.
But development in the “Western Balkans” can only happen through bonding, one way or another, to NATO and the larger European project. The problem is that, to effectively adhere to the two organizations, each state must not have problems with its neighbors. Kosovo proclaimed its independence and Serbia categorically denied it. Serbia declared that Kosovo’s action was illegal and breached both the UN Charter and the agreements signed after the 1999 NATO intervention. Each party maintained its position relentlessly, until recently.
The wars in former Yugoslavia had an propagandistic character: the Western mass media only noticed exclusive Serbian aggression, Serbia being vilified, while the other belligerents benefited of a more willing attitude.
The reason why this happened is not only the fact that the Serbian president of that time, Slobodan Milošević, was a dictator, but his 100% orientation towards Russia was something Westerners could not easily accept. Removing Milošević from power as well as the passing of time attenuated diplomatic reserves and the public perception.
The Brussels Agreement represented a step forward toward unblocking the relations between Belgrade and Pristina in 2013 (concluded but not ratified by all parties) under the European Union’s mediation. The agreement involved a certain autonomy for the Serbian minority in Kosovo and, most importantly, it prevented both parties from blocking each other in their steps towards EU accession. Here, Serbia gained a small victory because its position in the EU race is by far the best compared to other “Western Balkans” states.
The current Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, seems to have understood that rigidity, by its own, cannot bring good results and only leads to isolation. Serbia began an aggressive diplomatic project both by rebooting its relations with the “old” neighbors that are already EU Member States – Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Greece – but also through maneuvers between the power poles with interests in the region: USA, Germany, and Russia. Moreover, there seem to be constant informal contacts between Belgrade and Pristina.
Essentially, Vučić’s position is: if we must reach a compromise in the Kosovo dispute, then Serbia must gain something out of it.
What at a first sight seems like a small detail actually adds a new dimension to the current relations in the Balkans. Not a long time ago, independently from one another, the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and the president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, evoked some potential border changes between the two parts. Of course, each of them maintained to have had referred to something else, but ultimately none of them rejected the idea of a border review. The coincidence is too obvious to not gain attention and suggests that a lasting peace must be based on a system of compromises to which all parties involved should adhere.
In order to keep the political game moving, it seems that somebody thought to “Balkan the borders”. The reactions were prompt.
Chancellor Angela Merkel clearly and firmly opposed border changes. The German Chancellor knows that such a precedent would not only fire up the “Western Balkans”, but many other places in “old” Europe. More so, this kind of bilateral agreement would undermine a type of European order that is implicitly guaranteed by Germany itself. Merkel made this declaration soon after the rather non-transparent meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
Shortly after that, the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, who was in Kiev, stated that the United States would not have anything against a Serbia-Kosovo agreement regarding the new borders. Bolton, Trumps man, is too experienced to not know that if the US said, “we don’t have anything against it”, in the Balkans it is translated into “we encourage it”.
Considering the increasingly tense relations with Turkey, the United States needs stable regimes and trustworthy partners in the Balkans.
For this to happen: it should invest more: diplomatically, politically, and economically. The countries in the region are fed up with promises, regardless of who makes them. Russia is far away and poor, the European Union has internal problems, and the United States is still hesitant.
Hence, sharing a pasture between two forgotten villages in the Balkans reflects, in fact, the power relations between Washington D.C. and Berlin. The Balkans situation can be solved — or at least moved in a positive direction.
Laurentiu Rebega is a Romanian politician and since 2014, a member of the European Parliament (MEP). In the European Parliament, Laurentiu Rebega is a full member of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (COMAGRI) and the Committee on Petitions (PETI) and a substitute in the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET). Rebega is a member of the Romanian Conservative Party.