Serbia has nowhere to go and Brussels knows it. But it might still be a dangerous gambit
By Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and research director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
Current events in northern Kosovo resemble an attempt to bring about the “end of history” in the Balkan context. Of course, the same one that was promised 30-odd years ago, on a global scale, hasn’t happened, but the idea behind it has remained in people’s minds.
Francis Fukuyama, the author of the concept, later admitted that he had been hasty and had failed to take into account important circumstances in the development of societies. However, he hasn’tabandoned it, and continues to believe that the predicted triumph of Western liberal ideology, and the corresponding way of life, will still take place, just later than expected.
What has Kosovo got to do with this? The disintegration of Yugoslavia has taken as long as the concept of “the end of history” has existed. And it has been, perhaps, the clearest example of what it meant in practice. The nature of that state – a socialist federal republic – was diametrically opposed to what was thought to be right after the Cold War. Firstly, socialism as a socio-political construct was simply written off as having failed.
Secondly, it was a complex federation dominated by the largest ethnic group. This, to be fair,could be described as being in the spirit of multiculturalism, which has become popular in developed countries over the past couple of decades. But no, because multicultural communities have only been welcomed if they were part of a process that develops from homogeneous to heterogeneous through immigration and the influx of new citizens of different origins.
Thus, multinational states like Yugoslavia or the USSR (or even Czechoslovakia) have instead been perceived through the prism of self-determination. In other words, national aspirations were worthy of support but the desire to maintain (con)federative unions was equated with imperial ambitions.
In general, paradoxically, the notional “end of history” implied that there were nations that had already passed all the required stages of historical development (those in Western Europe, for example) and were ready to be integrated into a proper and, as Fukuyama lamented, rather dull world.
Then there are those who have followed the wrong path and now, in order to get back on course, have to skip over the missed stages at an accelerated pace. In particular, they have to forego national self-determination in order to claim to be part of their new community.
The large multinational states, whether the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, had their own set of problems which sealed their unenviable fate. The question, however, is more about themachinations of external forces.
Yugoslavia would probably not have survived in its previous form. But it might not have been shattered into so many small state units had mighty outsiders not been involved. From the very first steps – the immediate recognition of the independence of Croatia and Slovenia by Germany and others – to the military operation to separate Kosovo and active support for Montenegro’s independence, leading Western countries consistently implemented a scheme of reducing the Balkan map to the smallest possible mosaic. Bosnia is an exception, where an attempt was made to construct a multi-ethnic confederation. But, firstly, it did not work out very well and it’s still not clear what to do with it. Secondly, another issue was to prevent the strengthening of a country which was seen as the bearer of expansionist instincts (Serbia).
The fact that it was the Serbs who were denied the right to self-determination as they would have liked, i.e. to unite in a single state, can be explained in various ways. From a reluctance (up to a point) to change the previous administrative boundary lines, which could have opened up a Pandora’s Box, to a fear of creating a strong and independent state in the Balkans.
However, if we look at things in the context of the “end of history,” Serbia is a perfect example of attempts to “re-educate” a nation which doesn’t fit into the trajectory that has become the only accepted variant.
Kosovo’s Serb-inhabited northern municipalities are the last territory Belgrade considers its area of responsibility outside of Serbia’s de facto borders. The precedent of recognizing the province’s independence using military force, and without the consent of the official capital, has never been to everyone’s liking, even in Western Europe.
In this context, for a long time the European Union allowed Serbia some leeway – not only the non-recognition of Kosovo’s separation, but also apparently some special rights regarding the Serbs living there. However, it now seems that they have decided not to be patient anymore. Pristina has been given carte blanche to establish full sovereignty over Kosovo. Meanwhile, the province is applying for EU membership, despite the fact that under existing agreements this cannot be done before a settlement.
Objectively speaking, Serbia has nowhere to go. The country is dependent on its neighbors and partners, who are aligned with the EU and it has no alternative development paths other than integration with the bloc. This, obviously, is the EU’s goal – to close the issue by demonstrating to everyone that, in this geopolitical space, it remains the decisive force. The end of history – if not universal, at least specific.
Perhaps it will work now. But experience has shown that successes such as this can open up a new chapter in which the old problems return, in an even more aggravated form. It is possible that the same will happen here.
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