The ongoing standoff between Serbia and Kosovo shows little realistic chance of rapprochement any time soon. Propped up by international aid, wracked by swingeing levels of youth unemployment and emigration, Kosovo, two decades on, is still in effect policed by American troops without whom the embryonic nation would at best feel uneasy, at worst under tangible threat from Serbia.
My initial thought that Kosovo would benefit less from self-determination than being harmonized into Albania – either as part of the country or as a Greater Albania – but while the mother country is pro-Pristina, the catastrophic and deeply ingrained systemic, societal and infrastructural problems of an area of the former Yugoslavia that was left a comparative Third World country by a succession of Belgrade’s leaders would be a financial burden too far for an already impoverished Tirana.
Nearly twenty years since NATO intervention and a decade on from declaring independence, a Moscow-backed Serbia is as far away as it ever has been from recognizing Kosovo as a sovereign state. Like several of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia unemployment and disaffection have precipitated a relatively sizeable interest from Kosovo’s youth in Islamic State’s activities. While Pristina continues to fail to address the underlying problems that are facilitating fertile recruitment ground for IS, Serbia (and Russia) can and will use this very plausible reason not to come to the table with Kosovo’s leaders. Bitter previous experience in Chechnya, who Moscow repeatedly crushed because of the radicalized Islamists it harboured serves as a pertinent, contemporary case study that Russia will never let Serbia forget, of which though it would presumably not need reminding.
Is the Serbia-Kosovo question still a powder keg that could reignite at any time? In the international community Kosovo still holds the moral high-ground, more as the sinned against than the aggressor. Taking full advantage in the 1990’s of the prevailing zeitgeist which pilloried Serbian aggression elsewhere throughout the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo was seen as just another victim of Serbia’s strong-arm, uncompromising attitude towards the secessionist republics – especially those that contained sizeable Serbian populations. Although both sides can rightly say that had they had their time again things might have been done differently, it is the Serbs who want back what they believe to be theirs. Any form of land-grabbing or military intervention would therefore be instigated from Belgrade’s side of the border, again portraying them as the aggressor towards Kosovo – the ‘innocent’ victim.
Although many countries still fail to recognize Kosovo as anything but a breakaway, separatist entity, the nations with the biggest clout enjoy full diplomatic relations with Pristina and are the crucial bulwark against international condemnation and the flames of Balkan discord once more being fanned. It would therefore seem, as was, is, and perhaps forever will be, that Kosovo continues to hold all the cards – much to Serbia’s mounting anger and frustration.