The European Protests You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić listens to German chancellor Angela Merkel during a news conference in Berlin, March 15, 2017
Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić listens to German chancellor Angela Merkel during a news conference in Berlin, March 15, 2017 (Bundesregierung)

Large demonstrations have been taking place in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, every week since the end of November against the government of Aleksandar Vučić.

Vučić has been in power since 2014, first as prime minister and for the last two years as president. He leads the Serbian Progressive Party, which, despite its name, is right-wing. He started his career in the far-right Serbian Radical Party, which was founded by the convicted war criminal Vojislav Šešelj in 1991. Read more

Balkans Could Fall Victim to Putin-Trump Deal

NATO soldiers guard a road in Kosovo, January 5
NATO soldiers guard a road in Kosovo, January 5 (KFOR Kosovo)

Rumors of war abound. The simmering conflict of the Balkans may well grow to war again.

So go the whispers from Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia. From Reuters to the The Globe and Mail, reports of war-like rhetoric between Kosovo and Serbia have emerged. Read more

Germany Concerned as Russia’s Balkan Influence Grows

Russian president Vladimir Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel attend a conference at the Moscow Kremlin, November 16, 2012
Russian president Vladimir Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel attend a conference at the Moscow Kremlin, November 16, 2012 (Bundesregierung)

Germany fears Russia intends to block further European Union expansion into the Balkans, according to a confidential Foreign Ministry analysis seen by weekly Der Spiegel.

The magazine reports that German diplomats worry Russia is levering its influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Serbia with an eye toward preventing both countries from fully joining the West. Read more

Prospects for Increased Balkan Security Cooperation Dim

American soldiers participate in a police training mission at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, April 6, 2011
American soldiers participate in a police training mission at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, April 6, 2011 (US Army/Evan V. Lane)

Southeastern European countries that were once joined in Yugoslavia battle similar economic and security challenges yet prospects for enhanced cooperation in both areas seem dim.

Many of the West Balkan republics are coping with economic stagnation and high organized crime rates, the roots of which can often be traced to the political top, frustrating efforts to curb them. Regional cooperation to strengthen economies ties as well as the fight against organized crime promises improvement but chances of a true security community emerging are slim.

In 1957, the Czechoslovak, later American, political scientist Karl W. Deutsch defined a security community as a region where war is most unlikely to occur and members share the expectation of finding peaceful solutions to disputes. He identified two types of security communities: pluralistic and amalgamated. In the latter, member states surrender some of their sovereignty to a supreme decisionmaking body. Given the former Yugoslavian states’ recent struggles for independence, that is unlikely to transpire in the short term.

For a pluralistic security community to emerge, Deutsch argued that countries should share values, a distinctive way of life and the expectation of economies gains. Those conditions are present in the Western Balkans.

An example of improving economic relations is the joining of formerly struggling national airlines into a transnational group. Deeper economic integration may be hampered, however, by the inclusion of some West Balkan states — Croatia and Slovenia — into the European Union which promises greater benefits than a regional trade bloc.

Security cooperation is still limited. The police forces of Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia have worked together in counternarcotics operations but there is no permanent framework for future such cooperation.

The region’s troubled history will likely frustrate the creation of an independent regional security community. Enhanced economic and security relations within the European Union — Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are candidates for membership — look more promising.

Milošević Loyalists Form Pro-Russian Coalition in Serbia

Once the fiery spokesman for Serbian president Slobodan Milošević during the breakup of Yugoslavia, Socialist Party leader Ivica Dačić is set to become the Balkan nation’s next prime minister.

After the election of former deputy prime minister Tomislav Nikolić to the presidency last month, Serbia would have two Milošević loyalists heading a government of nationalists and Socialists — the very coalition that supported Milošević in the 1990s. Read more

Serbia’s Nikolić Sees “Uncertain” Path to Joining Europe

During his first foreign trip as president, Tomislav Nikolić told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Saturday that Serbia is on a “long and uncertain” path to joining the European Union and will not surrender its claim to breakaway province Kosovo for the sake of membership.

The nationalist Nikolić was elected earlier this month in a runoff election against liberal leader Boris Tadić. Tadić could yet become prime minister because his pro-European Democratic Party did win a parliamentary majority.

On the campaign trail, Nikolić proclaimed himself in favor of membership. “The European Union is our goal,” he said. “We want the EU if the EU wants us.” Members of his populist Serbian Progressive Party were loyal to President Slobodan Milošević during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s however, sparking fears in the West that he will take the country in a more pro-Russian direction.

Although recognition of Kosovo, which has a majority ethnic Albanian population, as an independent state is not a condition for Serbian membership, Brussels does urge Belgrade to “normalize relations” with its former southern province. Serbia considers the region the cradle of Serb civilization. Even Tadić ruled out ever giving it up.

Russia as well as five European Union members do not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign country. Most European states, Turkey and the United States do.

Kosovo tried to assert independence in the late 1990s which prompted the Milošević government in Belgrade to send in military forces to suppress the uprising. NATO responded by bombing the Serbs which compelled them to withdraw their troops and accept a ten year period of United Nations administration in the territory.

Russia criticized NATO’s bombing campaign of Serbia in 1999 and shares an ethnic and religious heritage with the country. “We see Serbia as our spiritual brothers,” is how Putin put it on Saturday.