Why Kosovo Border Alteration Sets a Dangerous Precedent For the Region

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

There appears to be a nascent argument forming surrounding the Kosovar and Serbian borders. It has been mooted by some that a solution to the contentious nature of Kosovo’s independence could mean an alteration to the borders with Serbia, in other words, a land swap, whereby majority Serbian areas are traded off for majority Kosovar Albanian areas. This is foolish as it could set a dangerous precedent for the Balkan region, and possibly beyond.

Credit: TUBS [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Some History

It is important to remember and consider how we got here. In 1991-5 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia began to break down irretrievably, Croatia and Slovenia were first to declare independence which led to bloody wars beginning shortly afterwards; later Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia (now North Macedonia), also declared independence, again leading to heightened ethnic tensions and the worst fighting in Europe since World War II.  All these new sovereign states were recognised around the world and became full members of the United Nations.

Kosovo, on the other hand, remained an autonomous region of Serbia. However, it maintains a majority ethnic Albanian community and this therein lies the tension. This tension came to the fore in 1999 when the Kosovo War broke out. In an attempt to prevent war crimes such as the deplorable Srebrenica massacre being committed as had happened in Bosnia earlier in the decade, a NATO-led bombing campaign began in earnest against Serbia. After the war, Kosovo came under the administration of the UN and during the subsequent years talks were held in order to come up with a solution to the issue. In 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence.

Credit: Directorate of Intelligence, CIA [Public domain]
Kosovo’s Current Status 

As of today, Kosovo is de facto independent with its own constitution and government, despite Serbia setting up its own rival parliament in the north.

117 states have recognised Kosovo as an independent state. However, there is great contention over this and Serbia continues to claim Kosovo as its own autonomous region.

Other world powers such as China and Russia also refuse to recognise Kosovo, and five European Union members, including Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Cyprus respectively, also do not recognise Kosovo.

This creates challenges for Kosovo as an independent state.

So Why Swap Land?

There are allegedly negotiations happening between Pristina and Belgrade with the possibility of US and Russian agreement, which could end with a land swap between Kosovo and Serbia. Serbia would get a part of Kosovo’s northern territory inhabited by ethnic Serbs while in exchange giving up the Presevo Valley in its southern tip, predominantly inhabited by ethnic Albanians.

The key aim of the idea is supposed to settle land disputes and normalise relations between the two, though this is arguably too reductive a solution and could make it dangerous.

The European Union has tried and failed for many years to bring the conflict to a close to no avail and has said it will support any agreement that Serbia and Kosovo come to.

The Danger

The precedent that this could potentially create for the region is alarming. The Balkans are still coming to terms with the horrors of the 1990s and deep ethnic divisions still exist in Bosnia and many other states. It is perfectly plausible that a land swap of sorts will lead to calls from others in Serb populated areas within Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia, with a domino effect being created, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the leader of the Serb Republic in the country openly wants unification with Serbia.  Though more troubling is the nationalist tensions that this could inflame which could lead to outbreaks of violence commencing along with these calls for border changes, which is something everybody on all sides will want to avoid.

The coming year will likely lead to more elucidation on the proposed trajectory for border changes, however, many believe that it will be in the interests of everyone to avoid this.

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Political Science student with key interests in the fields of conflict studies, security, political economy, and IR theory.

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