In Kosovo, Ethnic Conflict Lingers

Stratfor Global Intelligence, 28.10.2015

Kosovo has reached a symbolic juncture in its short history. On Oct. 27, the young country signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union,  formally starting the long process of joining the Continental bloc. But tense relations between Kosovo and neighboring Serbia, from which Kosovo declared independence in 2008, may slow or complicate the process of joining the European Union.

Because Serbia has its own EU aspirations, pressure from the union has brought about a certain degree of stability to the two countries' relationship. Still, some sticking points remain. Chief among these is the issue of ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo. The European Union is pushing Serbia to transfer control of the police and judiciary in northern Kosovo to Kosovar authorities, but the process has been slow. In addition, local Serbs often block roads in northern Kosovo, stirring local resentment. Early elections in both countries in 2014 also slowed down the process of normalizing bilateral relations. More recently, tension heightened again following Kosovo's announcement that it plans to create its own army.

Kosovo's rapprochement with Serbia also carries a domestic political price. For weeks, Kosovar opposition parties have been protesting recent agreements to grant more autonomy to the Serbian minority in the north. The opposition has also criticized a recent border agreement with Montenegro that, it argues, cedes territory. Opponents of these agreements have clashed with police during protests in front of the parliament building in Pristina.

These ethnic rivalries emphasize the importance of EU influence in this unstable region. Countries such as Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania still see EU membership as an important foreign policy goal. This gives the European Union a tool to keep these conflicts from escalating into violence. But the union itself is currently in existential crisis and loathe to incorporate new members, which could create a power vacuum in the Western Balkans. The more countries in the region feel that they have little prospect of economic development and institutional integration with a larger political entity, the more likely they are to resort to centuries-old nationalism and ethnic hatred.

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