What was supposed to be an historical moment of reconciliation between Serbs in Belgrade and those trapped in Mitrovica, in the disputed territory of Kosovo, has been disrupted by a show of force from Kosovar Albanians.
A train from Belgrade bound for Mitrovica was stopped by ethnic Albanians currently in charge of Kosovo, a legal part of Serbia which unilaterally declared independence in 2008. Kosovo currently has limited recognition as a state.
The proximate cause of the disruption was a slogan written on the side of the train reading ‘Kosovo is Serbia’.
Under normal circumstances this would be a harmless slogan analogous to ‘Boston Is America’. But in the context of the Balkans, the slogan was understood as a provocation of Albanians who – like the US and EU – see Kosovo as a state rather than as a province of Serbia, and an historically important one at that.
The incident prompted Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic to say that the Serbian military would intervene if any harm was to come to Serbs living in Kosovo.
This conflict of course is something of a ghost of Clinton’s past. Under Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, NATO illegally bombed what was left of Yugoslavia in attempts to break apart the state. Kosovo’s status as a province to some and at state to others, has not resolved the lingering conflict, it has only made things worse. Serbs in Kosovo now face discrimination, poverty and violence.
Kosovo was granted special status in Tito’s 1974 Yugoslav constitution. Because Kosovo had an Albanian majority in spite of being part of the Yugoslav Republic of Serbia, autonomous provisions were enshrined into law. By contrast, Serbs living in Serbian majority provinces of Bosnia and Croatia, received no such special status.
In spite of this, as a result of an insurrection which became increasingly funded by external forces ranging from America and Germany to Saudi Arabia, the KLA (“Kosovo Liberation Army”), a group which even the US recognised as a terrorist organisation throughout much of the 1990s, waged brutal assaults on Serbs beginning in the late 1980s.
Rather than mediating in the conflict, NATO bombed a country that had been an ally in both world wars.
There is a very real danger that bloodshed could return to Europe’s forgotten conflict zone.
Hopefully due to Donald Trump’s apparent distaste for intervention, the US will not add fuel to the flames as it did in 1999.