Peace Efforts in the Balkans Compromised by the Past of Kosovo’s “Modern Statesman”

  • Jean-Patrick Clancy
  • 30.6.2020 09:04

Kosovo’s President who once called himself a Modern Statesman was unable to distance himself from his past demons which have now returned to taunt him. Hashim Thaci’s indictment may not only possibly result in his resignation but could have a profound impact on attempts to normalise Kosovo-Serbia relations and hinder efforts to bring peace to Europe’s most volatile region.

According to a Press Statement released on June 24, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) filed a ten-count indictment two months prior, charging Kosovo President Thaci,  former Chairman of the Assembly Veseli, and others with “a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.”

The special court investigating war crimes committed during the Kosovo’s independence war further alleges that the accused are suspected of being criminally responsible for the nearly 100 murders of Kosovo Albanians, Serbs, Roma, and people of other ethnicities, as well as political opponents.

President Thaci was due to visit the White House for a meeting, the first of its kind in 19 months, with his Serbian counterparts for dialogue in a bid to normalise relations between both former warring parties. However the SPO has accused him and others of running “a secret campaign to overturn the law creating the Court and otherwise obstruct the work of the Court in an attempt to ensure that they do not face justice”.

 

A Calculated Timing?

Thaci’s indictment should come as no surprise as the Kosovo Specialist Chambers had been set up in 2015 as a result of a 2011 report by the Council of Europe which named, amongst many other former KLA officials, Hashim Thaci as a sponsor of atrocities and criminal activities committed during and in the aftermath of the 1998-99 conflict.

While not attempting to echo Kadri Veseli who saw this move as politically motivated, one has to consider the manner of the court’s announcement and its timing as rather unexpected given the circumstances. 

Indeed, charges were pronounced only days before a major summit in the US which Washington hoped would lead to a breakthrough in Serbia-Kosovo relations after EU-sponsored peace talks had stalled in 2018.

 

“Indeed, charges were pronounced only days before a major summit in the US which Washington hoped would lead to a breakthrough in Serbia-Kosovo relations”

 

It is therefore no surprise that the move has led many observers to speculate that this might have been an attempt by some European nations to undermine Washington’s peace effort in a strategically important region where foreign powers such as Russia, China and Turkey all compete for influence.

Other observers, such as the European Council on Foreign Relations, have also pointed out Kosovo’s passionate support for the US peace plan which might have emanated from Thaci’s fear of prosecution by the Hague, and that upcoming negotiations in Washington could possibly result in an amnesty for war crimes.

 

A Huge Blow to a Controversial US Foreign Policy in the Balkans

There is no doubt that this event will not play out in favour of President Donald Trump who, caught off guard by the announcement, sought to attain a historical diplomatic achievement ahead of the upcoming presidential election in November.

Yet, Washington’s miracle remedy was far from being flawless. Many believed that it would lead to further instability in the region. Europeans most likely let out a sigh of relief as Washington’s peace plans crashed with Thaci’s indictment as many on both sides of the Atlantic had cast doubt on the success of the controversial peace deal.

The US had mentioned that the talks would focus on creating momentum from economic normalisation between Serbia and Kosovo, which in turn would allow for a political settlement.

 

“Europeans most likely let out a sigh of relief as Washington’s peace plans crashed with Thaci’s indictment as many on both sides of the Atlantic had cast doubt on the success of the controversial peace deal.”

 

What mostly worried Brussels (at this time excluded from the peace process), were alleged talks of a land swap, or a so-called “border correction”, in which Serbia would claim the Mitrovica region of Kosovo, and Kosovo would take over the Presevo Valley. Such a deal, unthinkable as it would seem today, came with fears of further displacements and of increased tensions in a multi-ethnic region, thereby jeopardising the 20 year old fragile peace process.

Paris and Berlin both feared a new form of ethnic cleansing through this new border change, decades after ethnically driven conflicts had led to over 100,000 deaths and millions of displaced persons. In the long-term, any such deal would have seriously harmed ambitions of European Union integration as a result of ethnic nationalism and regional unrest.

 

An Opportunity for the EU to Re-Engage Amidst Uncertainty

The planned meeting in Washington was seen by some as a failure of transatlantic cooperation as it expropriated the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue which has since 2011 aimed at normalising relations between both countries. With the meeting now cancelled, the EU will be re-assuming, by default, its leading role in the mediation process.

 

“Only a permanent political settlement between Serbia and Kosovo under EU patronage will lead to their aspirations of EU integration being fulfilled.”

 

This remains a European issue which requires a European solution. Both countries have EU membership aspirations and only a permanent political settlement between Serbia and Kosovo under EU patronage will lead to their aspirations of EU integration being fulfilled. 

Paris and Berlin have both signalled their intention to resume the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue to “encourage keeping momentum” in a summit in Paris expected to be held in July.

At a time of uncertainty and unease for the European community and Kosovo, the EU will need to work unrelentlessly and collectively - despite a group of five EU States that do not recognise Kosovo’s independence including Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania, and Greece - to prevent Kosovo from being gripped into further political mayhem.

The ball is now in the European Union’s Court. While the EU might see the latest event as an opportunity to make some gains in the peace process, cooperation with the US is vital as a transatlantic rivalry will prove detrimental to long-term peace and stability in the West Balkans and will inherently result in a return to the unstable status quo.

About author: Jean-Patrick Clancy

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