Donald Trump has accomplished the nearly impossible: He successfully herded cats. These would be western Balkan cats in this instance.
Thanks to the Trump administration's labors, Kosovo and Serbia signed an economic treaty and, with the same breath, agreed to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, moving their embassies there. Prompted by the U.S., they also agreed to the EU's strictures to normalize mutual relations. Both countries have cast their customary enmity aside, at least for now.
Kosovo is Serbia's historic land. It was on the Kosovo Polje (the Field of Blackbirds) that the Serb host met its defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1389. The Serbs like to remember that one of their knights, while faking submission, was admitted before Sultan Murad I and mortally stabbed him, right before being killed by the Muslim ruler's bodyguards.
What the Serbs do not like to recall is that there were Serb dissidents on the side of the Turks fighting against their own. One story has it that the Serb leader Prince Lazar was betrayed by the defectors and slaughtered in the battle. Thus the Kingdom of Serbia was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.
Afterwards, the Serbs were pushed out of Kosovo in spurs and spurts. Some fled north immediately. Others tried to cling on to the land of their fathers vainly. Gradually, they were replaced by the neighboring Albanians, most of them Christian apostates, and new converts to Islam.
By the 20th century, the Muslim Kosovars predominated. The Christian Orthodox Serbs were in a minority. Their numbers decreased even further during the Second World War, and they diminished likewise for reasons of demographic decline under Communist Yugoslavia.
Their numbers dwindled further to perhaps less than 5% of the population in the wake of the Yugoslav succession wars in the 1990s and 2000s. The Serbian remnant, however, populates border areas adjacent to truncated Serbia proper as it emerged from the carnage of the last round of the Balkan wars.
Ironically, it was at a mass rally on the Kosovo Polje that a Communist leader cynically invoked Serb nationalism to retain power. This was in 1989, the 600th anniversary of the battle. The event virtually launched the wars of succession in former Yugoslavia. General slaughter ensued.
Whoever had the upper hand slaughter the others. Essentially there were no good guys. However, as far as Western media was concerned, Muslims were the good guys, while the Serbs became everyone's favorite whipping boy: except Russia's.
In all fairness, the Serb nationalists were most prodigious in their mass killing and ethnic cleansing of their neighbors. However, that should not make us overlook the fact that others did the same when they could. They victimized the Serbs as well.
Also, it was on the Muslim side that the Al Queda fighters materialized, in particular battling the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia as "the Green Brigade." President Bill Clinton had our planes fly sorties in support of those Islamist fighters against the Serbs. The latter have not forgotten, and they continue to view the U.S. with suspicion, cherishing, instead, their ties to Russia.
This seems to continue except officially the Serbian liberal politicians, who democratically succeeded their hard nationalist rivals in Belgrade, are very eager to join "the West." That entails proper relations with Washington, D.C., and Brussels. In addition to securing America's blessings, the Serbs now would like to become a part of the European Union.
I know some of it not only through academia but also through practice. Late U.S. Ambassador Thomas Melady was our reliable Balkan hand at the Institute of World Politics, where he taught diplomacy. Tom became interested in former Yugoslavia when he was U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.
His wife, Dr. Margaret Melady, was president of the American University in Rome. In a fine display of America's generosity of spirt and public diplomacy, many a Balkan kid landed a scholarship there. Later, although ostensibly just an academic, Tom kept in touch with those students and kept an eye on the Balkans.
The then-retired Ambassador helped Croatia out of dire straits when it was boycotted by the international community because of the accusations of anti-Semitism. He chaperoned and mentored the Montenegrins on the eve of their re-emergence as an independent state. And he intervened in an extremely precarious crisis situation when Serbia and Kosovo were about to butt heads again.
Against prudent advice, the United States under George W. Bush recognized Kosovo as a sovereign nation in 2008. That greatly exacerbated the situation in the western Balkans. Belgrade was livid. The Kosovars were not helping matters.
Kosovo's leading resistance outfit, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), became the new nation's government. The problem was that the KLA was Europe's greatest pimp and drug dealer. The outfit was involved heavily in human trafficking to Western Europe and it serviced some underground opium smuggling routes from Afghanistan into the Old Continent.
At home, the KLA fighters took out on the Serb minority their resentment of the decades of oppression. It was no-holds-barred. They even sniped unprovoked at Orthodox monks fetching water from a nearby river for their monastery. It looked like more ethnic cleansing and mass murder afoot. War drums reverberated.
Tom Melady stepped in. He had the blessings of the Vatican and unofficial promises non-interference from the State Department. The retired U.S. ambassador organized a campaign of "religious diplomacy."
He was able to get on board the Catholic Archbishop of Sarajevo, the Orthodox Patriarch of Serbia, and the Grand Mufti. It worked; the violence ceased; there was no war. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Tom just smiled his usual coy, diplomatic smile.
Now, President Trump has managed to turn the informal ceasefire into an economic treaty. And Israel has received an unexpected present. Who is complaining? The European Union is. Brussels has warned Belgrade and Pristina about moving their embassies to Jerusalem. And the EU put its foot down forbidding the Serbs from joining upcoming Russian military exercises in Belarus. Serbia has complied.
Who says the EU is always wrong?
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.
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