Most fragile countries of Europe
The West Balkans route is virtually closed to refugees, but the region is the focus of attention for other reasons: it boils – especially in four countries. This can be a problem for Europe.
As thousands of refugees are being pushed towards the provisional camps in Austria and Germany, the West Balkans became the quintessence of the refugee crisis last year. Now the escape route is considered closed, but the region is still in the headlines: It boils in the states of the former Yugoslavia.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn compares the situation with a “pan full of oil, and a match that is standing nearby. The result: everything is in flames”. The nationalisms of the Balkan warfare of the 90s are always high. The British historian Timothy Less has recently suggested that the “frozen conflicts” should be solved once and for all by border changes along ethnic lines. This is the only chance to prevent new violent conflicts.
Warnings from the Foreign Office are also coming. “We can not live permanently in peace and stability in the EU as we decline in our commitment to democracy, stability and security on the West Balkans,” said Michael Roth (SPD), Minister of State at the Foreign Office. So far, the United States has been reliant on the region – precisely its commitment to “the rule of law and shared values,” he said. If the US were to withdraw from the region under the new administration, the EU would have “much more responsibility”.
Four countries are particularly fragile. These burners can become dangerous.
The situation in Bosnia caused him “sleepless nights”, said Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic last year. It could pop at any time. The situation has only intensified since then: in the middle of January, the US imposed sanctions against Milorad Dodik, the president of the Bosnian Serbs “Republika Srpska” – explicitly because he was working on a split in the country .
Dodik threatened to explain the US Ambassador Maureen Cormack to the “Persona non grata”. Serbian media reports that even the EU ambassadors had “informally canceled” contact with Dodik since the beginning of February. Dodik is constantly threatened with the demolition of the Serbian republic from the rest of Bosnia. The Croatians of the country would not mind: They could then join the Croatian “motherland”.
There is the entanglement of the Dayton Agreements of 1995, which finally brought peace after three years of war, but no solution. Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) are trapped in a complicated, structured common state that does not work and is not considered a final solution by anybody.
Only the prospect of a possible EU membership offers a future perspective, but although Bosnia has now been able to submit its application for membership, the chance of success is low – because in the EU itself, only a minority of citizens are in favor of a renewed enlargement of the Union. The US also no longer seems ready to act as an ordinance. In other words, the ability of the West to keep the conflicts under control is diminishing, while Russia is fueling these conflicts to the best of its ability.
2. Serbia and Kosovo
“In the Balkans there is the possibility that everything will be set on fire,” Serbian Prime Minister Vucic said last Monday before assembled journalists. It sounds a bit like it has nothing to do with Belgrade itself. However, since the beginning of the year, more and more provocative moves have been coming from the Serbian capital towards Kosovo.
In mid-January it was a train that brought the conflict to a boil. “Kosovo is Serbia” was to be read on the wagons in 21 languages, under the Serbian national colors. “We sent a train, not an armored vehicle,” Vucic said shortly afterwards, after he had stopped the railway in front of the border to Serbia.
But the words on the train are like a tank. Finally, the former Autonomous Province of Serbia argues with Belgrade about the recognition of independence. In 2008, 90% of the Albanian population, supported by the USA and the EU, had independently declared themselves – more than 110 states recognize independence, but Serbia does not want to know anything about it. Before the train, it was a wall that provoked. They had built Kosovo Serbs on the bridge over the river Ibar, which connects the north-Kosovo in the majority of Serbs with the South.
Vucic is also afraid of a war in Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. Vucic said it was futile at the beginning of February – although these harsh words of the last few weeks are linked to the Serbian presidential elections at the beginning of April .
The hope of Serbia’s accession to the EU remains uncertain, even though Serbia has been an accredited candidate since March 2012, with a remoteness of the conflict. An agreement on the Kosovo issue is a prerequisite for this. For a long time, the EU perspective was seen as a stabilizer in the region.
Austria’s Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, also stressed on his journey to Serbia against the “world”: “The European perspective is not only a glimmer of hope for the region but also a link between the different states and ethnic groups.” In Thessaloniki, seems to be waning in Serbia – with it also the EU enthusiasm in Serbia.
A glimmer of hope: In a survey conducted by the Belgrade Security Research Center in February, roughly 74 percent of the Serbs stated that they would never again go to war in Kosovo. Only ten percent would want to fight with violence around the province. However, acknowledging the independence of Kosovo would be only eight percent of respondents.
Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, has been waiting for the opening of the EU accession talks for eight years. The European Commission has already issued the recommendation in 2009. It is the glimmer of hope for the economically weak country with an unemployment of 27.5 percent.
But the situation is hopeless – and for two years Macedonia has been shaken by internal political crises. There are major problems with a listening scandal, election tampering and increasing pressure on opposition media and independent judges, government expansion and corruption.
After the premature elections held in December 2016 by the EU, the conservative party VMRO-DPMNE, with its Prime Minister Nikolai Gruevski, who has been in power since 2006, has not managed to form a government. Now the Social Democratic opposition party is to try to form a majority.
Greece has blocked the inclusion of Macedonia’s EU accession talks on a constant basis. The southern neighbor does not recognize the name “Republic of Macedonia”, which the country gave itself in September 1991 after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Athens fears territorial claims on the Greek region of Macedonia. The Greeks are pressing for the designation “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, abbreviated FYROM.
At least in the refugee crisis, Athens and Skopje were able to get together after initial difficulties. “Almost a miracle”, the Macedonian Foreign Minister calls the cooperation of the Greek and Macedonian police with the border controls.
However, without a close accession perspective, the EU in Macedonia is lacking a genuine means of pressure. The threats of the EU Commission to withdraw the recommendation for the accession talks are a weak argument, in view of the lasting blockade by Greece.