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The Biden administration should rethink its Kosovo policy

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As former Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the United States House of Representatives and for more than 30 years in the House of Representatives, I have closely followed United States policy toward Balkans and I was pleased with Washington’s support for democracy, the rule of law and the fight against terrorism. corrupt efforts there. But while I generally support what President Joe Biden’s administration is doing at home and abroad, I am concerned about how the State Department is handling the ongoing dispute between Kosovo and Serbia.

As former Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the United States House of Representatives and for more than 30 years in the House of Representatives, I have closely followed United States policy toward Balkans and I was pleased with Washington’s support for democracy, the rule of law and the fight against terrorism. corrupt efforts there. But while I generally support what President Joe Biden’s administration is doing at home and abroad, I am concerned about how the State Department is handling the ongoing dispute between Kosovo and Serbia.

The United States and most of Europe recognized the Republic of Kosovo in 2008, when the small country declared independence from Serbia. Less than a decade earlier, the United States and NATO had ended the brutal ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s Albanian population, led by former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic. It was a major foreign policy success for the West, followed by years of massive U.S. support for Kosovo. But since then, Serbia and Russia have blocked Kosovo’s efforts to join the United Nations and gain full recognition around the world, and the U.S. State Department has recently appeared less willing to support Kosovo’s exercise of sovereignty. Kosovo throughout its own territory.

Over the past year, Kosovo has sought to carry out the normal functions of government within its borders, but has encountered condemnation, even punishment, from the United States. When Kosovo attempted to have all its citizens, including northern Serbs, use its license plates rather than those of Serbia, the State Department firmly critical Kosovo. When Kosovo sought to elect duly elected mayors, who happened to be of Albanian origin because ethnic Serbs had boycotted the vote, began working in their offices in northern Kosovo – a basic and normal function of a democratic government – ​​US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “firmly condemned” the young republic and slapped punishments on the country.

Has Washington condemned Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic for pressuring Kosovo Serbs to boycott the elections? No. Did he condemn the small group of Serbs who attacked the NATO Force in Kosovo, wounding 30 peacekeepers? Barely: he condemned the violence but did not denounce the attackers. Did she condemn Serbia for inciting Serbian citizens in northern Kosovo to aggressively refuse the use of the license plates of the country in which they live? No. Did she condemn Serbia’s actions against ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia, who, according to to the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, does it amount to “ethnic cleansing by administrative means”? Again, barely, if at all.

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that in the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia, Washington appeased a semi-autocratic tyrant – Vucic – and became a bit of a tyrant itself, pushing around and intimidating Kosovo, more small and more vulnerable. This is behavior unbecoming of the United States, and it is time to review this approach.

Serbia has been moving away from democracy and the West since Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) came to power in Belgrade more than a decade ago. According to According to Freedom House, a non-governmental organization that tracks human rights and civil liberties around the world, the ruling SNS “has gradually eroded political rights and civil liberties, putting pressure on independent media, the political opposition and civil society organizations. Additionally, the US Department of Defense reported in 2019 that “after the 2012 Serbian elections, the SNS took steps to strengthen its military relations with Russia.” Since then, the Moscow-Belgrade connection has continued. Indeed, Serbia has still not imposed sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine – something every other country in Europe (except Belarus) has done.

So what’s going on? Why is the United States so quick to condemn Kosovo and so reluctant to denounce Serbia? And how can we put an end to this downward spiral and restore common sense to American politics?

I believe that in light of the war in Ukraine, Washington’s desire for stability in the Balkans has taken precedence over its support for democracy, the rule of law, and the fight against corruption. The US president deserves enormous credit for the way his administration is leading the West in supporting Ukraine. But his fervent desire to maintain stability in Europe has distorted his administration’s view of the long-running conflict between Serbia and Kosovo. Washington is now working to appease Vucic in an attempt to quell his inflammatory tendencies.

Of course, the United States wants to see Serbia and Kosovo join major Euro-Atlantic institutions, including the European Union and NATO, as peaceful and democratic states. But right now, the Biden administration should support Kosovo as it strengthens its democracy and consolidates its sovereignty. Instead, it is blocking Pristina out of fear that the semi-autocratic city of Belgrade could fan nationalist flames and ignite the powder keg it has cultivated in northern Kosovo.

US diplomats say if only Kosovo could implement the Association of Serbian Majority Municipalities (ASMM) – a proposed community association with some capacity to coordinate local activities – in the north, then all could move forward. Yes, Kosovo promised to create the ASMM in the 2013 Brussels Agreement, and it should do so. But ASMM will not solve the fundamental problem – Serbia’s aggressive opposition to an independent Kosovo – which only grows stronger when Washington indulges Vucic’s misdeeds. Ultimately, however ASMM is created, the same parties will have the same interests and pull the same levers to achieve the same goals. And Vucic will continue to stoke separatism and incite violence.

Of course, it is positive that the United States and the European Union are trying to advance normalization between Serbia and Kosovo through the EU-facilitated dialogue. However, standardization means quite different things from one side to the other.

In the meantime, appeasement towards Serbia is not working and it is time to change course. The Biden administration took the first step in this direction last week, when the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against the head of Serbian secret services, Aleksandar Vulin, for “aggravating corruption…including his involvement in a drug trafficking network” and using “his public positions to support Russia, facilitating Russia’s malicious activities that degrade the security and stability of the Western Balkans. But these activities have been going on within the Serbian government for years, and it is time to truly break with the past.

The United States must support democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of the press, while opposing corruption. These characteristics are declining in Serbia, but they are increasing in Kosovo. I urge the Biden administration to get back to basics: refocus on American values ​​and stop harassing Kosovo. And it must rebalance its policy in the Balkans to support those who adhere to these priorities and stand up to those who do not.

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