Tension are rising between Serbia and Kosovo, taking on an international dimension with Russia lending its support to Serbia, while NATO has long had a presence in Kosovo. There is only one real solution to such a historic feud over territory and ethnicity, and it's called: Europe.
PARIS —An unresolved conflict is always a potential time bomb. That's what happened last week in the Caucasus, with Azerbaijan's recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh, driving thousands of Armenians into exile. And it is also what is threatening Europe's southern flank, with violence breaking out between Serbia and Kosovo.
Kosovo, a state with a predominantly Albanian population, was born 25 years ago, during the war that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia. The region has recently seen a string of violence that might otherwise seem local in nature.
It began with the assassination of a Kosovar policeman, followed by a battle with an armed Serbian commando, which had taken refuge in an Orthodox monastery near Serbia. Three of the attackers were killed, six others captured, and the authorities reported the discovery of a war arsenal. For Kosovo officials, it was a commando group "supported and organized by Serbia.”
This affair has raised tensions with neighboring Serbia, which still does not recognize Kosovo's sovereignty. Belgrade supports the Serbian minority living in the north of the country, precisely where the incidents took place.
Tensions have been mounting for weeks, with friction surrounding four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo. Serbian voters boycotted the municipal elections, where Albanian mayors had been imposed on them. This is what set off the current unrest.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti is a nationalist who wants to put an end to Serbian nationalist claims. But he is not only facing fierce resistance from the 40,000 or so Serbian inhabitants, but also criticism from Kosovo's European and American "sponsors," who see him as a provocateur.
Russia was enthusiastically ready to add fuel to a fire that involves NATO countries.
It's a local micro-conflict that should remain local, but is rapidly turning into an international crisis. Firstly, because Serbia and Kosovo still have no diplomatic relations and any dispute has the potential to degenerate into confrontation.
Czech soldiers who served on a NATO mission in Kosovo
Vit Simanek/CTK via ZUMA
Russia lends its support
But also on Monday, Russia lent its support to Serbia in this nascent crisis, enthusiastically ready to add fuel to a fire that involves NATO countries. A quarter century after its independence, Kosovo is still under the protection of NATO, which has a military presence there.
Around 100 of the UN's 190 member states currently recognize Kosovo, the rest refusing to recognize the partition of Serbia's Albanians. The European Union is trying hard to mediate between Belgrade and Pristina, using the carrot of an EU membership by 2030. But this prospect still seems too uncertain to calm nationalist impulses on both sides.
Yet it is only the European solution that can ultimately pacify an inextricable conflict, as it has done elsewhere. There is an urgent need to extinguish the fire that is being rekindled in the heart of the Balkans.