As predicted here last September, the Balkans rumbled once again, threatening U.S. interests there. The conflict is chronic and will not just dissipate on its own and it is one of the major ones in the Intermarium, lands between the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic seas.
In the last unveiling of the troubles, on December 10, 2022, fighting erupted after an arrest of a former Serb police officer following an alleged assault on an ethnic Albanian policemen of the Kosovo, Albanian-dominated force.
The local Serbians put up barricades. Germany and the EU warned Serbia about the consequences of the Kosovo clash. Eventually, Belgrade told its compatriots to desist fighting.
To calm the tempers, the Albanian Kosovar authorities released the former Serb policeman and allowed him to be confined under house arrest. The Serbians gradually stood down.
Moscow backed Belgrade and Kosovar Serbians; but the international community applied serious pressure on Serbia and the Serb minority throughout former Yugoslavia.
The Serbians believe themselves the main aggrieved party. After 1989, they lost the most in the destruction of Yugoslavia, which they had controlled, and they blame the U.S. Because of the European and Russian impotence, America became involved there in yet another humanitarian intervention in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
As a result, the Serbians detest the U.S.-brokered peace agreements at Dayton, Ohio, in 1995, which essentially legitimized the carving out of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Likewise, they resent U.S. bombing of Serbia in 1999 and establishing Kosovo as an independent state.
In consequence, the Christian Orthodox Serbs became a minority there, while the Albanians are the majority. Most of the latter are Muslim.
Parenthetically, but pertinently, the current Serb predicament resembles somewhat the situation of Hungary following the First World War.
In congruence with the Treaty of Trianon, the victorious Allies partitioned the Magyar part of the Habsburg monarchy, leaving unwisely the greatest number of Hungarians to form the most compact minority population in the lands contiguous with the truncated state’s new borders: from former Yugoslav lands through Slovakia to Ukraine and Romania.
Budapest still remains livid about it and the prime minister himself, Viktor Orbán, was spotted at a soccer game wearing a nostalgic scarf sporting the image of the pre-1920 borders of Greater Hungary. That is a rather popular attitude in Hungary, an analogous one to the Serbian feelings on the partitioning of Yugoslavia. And it has been duly noticed in Russia.
Also, like Serbia, Hungary experienced a foreign intervention to enforce the partition and elicit compliance with the peace treaty in 1920. The only difference was that 100 years ago the Magyars experienced the Kremlin’s hostility in the form of an attempted Bolshevik revolution. Now, in contrast, Moscow is rather friendly toward Budapest.
Likewise, at the moment, the Serbians enjoy the backing of President Vladimir Putin at many levels, including his championship of their irredentism, their desire to annex ethnically related lands. On its part, Russia believes it has a pony in the running and it meddles in the Balkans as much as it can.
Some believe that only by restoring imperial control will the Balkans calm down. By that logic restoring the Ottoman Empire would calm down the Middle East. Or would it?
I can’t imagine Israel would be happy. Nor would most Arabs rejoice to be dominated by the Turks.
Many think that the continuing expansion of the European Union should do the trick in the Balkans. A few countries in the area are already in the EU; if more come, there will be peace. Perhaps.
Further, practice tokenism by elevating female politicians to top offices as in Bosnia Herzegovina. Gimmicks like that, however, rarely produce desired results.
Also, in the name of alleged future prosperity, make them adopt the euro, as Croatia lately has, which undermines national sovereignty, since one can’t fight inflation on one’s own, as Greece found out in 2009, because one does not control one’s own money supply, among other things.
We hear similar arguments about the NATO expansion. Sure, one can argue that the more the merrier in the Balkans. The membership has failed to extinguish hatred between Greece and Turkey, but at least the two are not in a hot war. But how reliable are they as our allies therefore?
For now, instead of encouraging more German power projection via the EU, the U.S. should work unilaterally: perhaps chatting up Budapest to calm Belgrade down. This should work until the next round.
There is alas little evidence that the Biden administration gets it.
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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