Donald Trump’s foreign policy combined with a post-Brexit EU cast an uncertain future over Kosovo, whose sovereignty and recognition will be under intense pressure as Russia becomes more involved in the Balkans.
Less than twenty years ago, international integration was an exciting subject to study in school and talk about at parties, banquets, and social gatherings. The world was shrinking at a dizzying speed, and becoming virtual. Web-based entrepreneurship proliferated and publishing houses churned thousands of books on globalization’s miracles.
Though many countries saw their fortunes turn for the better in that decade, it was an America without any significant foes or rivals that relished its sole superpower status, exulting over a roaring economic and technological era. Globally, international investors were flocking to China and other emerging markets; Europe was expanding and edging closer toward a common currency, while Russia was going through a “desovietization” period, and Latin America and Africa were opening up to international trade and market reform. With the exception of the Balkans, Rwanda, and few other conflicts, global liberal order was in full march, leaving behind a bloody century. Francis Fukuyama famously heralded “the end of history”— that is, the end of century-long strife against lethal ideologies, communism and catastrophic wars. Even after the technological bubble of the late 1990s—the so-called dot-com bubble—burst, many internet ventures failed in the early 2000s, the march of global integration was unstoppable.
Fast forward to 2016 and all the ghosts of that history once considered obsolete are roaring back with a vengeance. The world—at least judging by the headlines—looks on the precipice of some major disintegration. Safety valves of global cooperation—cross border investment, international trade, human rights, treaties—built up over decades appear to splinter and crack. The rich world is withdrawing, erecting walls, and closing borders. Even the Internet, once a promise of positive change and unparalleled business opportunities, education and integration, has become a new battlefield of cyberwarfare, smearing propaganda, and concocted conspiracies of one order or another. In its most horrifying corners, terrorists use it to broadcast their medieval barbarism and celebrate gory violence.
All this has turned globalization into a byword for a despised self-serving class of international capitalists and “Davos men” hauling capital and jobs across countries, and colluding with political establishments at the expense of the working class people whose wages and hopes have shrunk. Further, the proliferation of a savage strain of terrorism, failed states, catastrophic displacement of people, pouring across borders, Britain voting to exit the world’s largest economic bloc, the US handing its government over to a dangerous buffoon— all these major events make one think that this has genuinely been an annus horribilis. For the United States, it was a “pitchfork year”—a year of revolt, nativism, nationalism, racism, nastycism, a bounty year of neo-fascist politicians seizing power, manipulating masses, emboldening haters, divisionists and extremists.
Now, if you live in Kosovo or care about it, you may wonder what might all these events mean for the new country going forward. The short answer is nobody knows. Any political analysis, like this one, is fraught with error of judgement. Anybody who presumes to know, for example, how a Trump administration will treat the Balkans or Kosovo are just engaging in a guessing game and idle talk. Nobody has special insight into what a Trumpian foreign policy will look like for the region—if there is going to be one, at all. But we know that his unusual and worrying relationship with Russia and, with Vladimir Putin in particular, may have some implications for Kosovo. As is known, Russia, along with Serbia, has been working to undermine Kosovo’s statehood and sovereignty at every opportunity. But until now, Kosovo has been lucky to benefit under the last two US administrations that—-though somewhat disengaged from the Balkans—have maintained their commitment to the new state and its territorial sovereignty.
That luck may have run out with the election of Trump. Both Serbia and Russia are emboldened by a Trump presidency. Though Serbia looks unsure in its footing, caught between the EU and Russia, it still regards Russia as its main strategic ally and counts on its resurgence. Both countries have worked to deepen their political bond and strengthen economic and military ties. The summit between them, held in Belgrade on Dec 12-13, was the latest demonstration of this deepened alliance where Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, reiterated that Serbia’s interests in the Balkans are the same as Russia’s interests in the region. This also means bolstering Serbia’s military defense against NATO amid rising tensions with Croatia, as Lavrov said during the summit. This may just be mere posturing on the part of Russia, but all these moves are unmistakable and calculating, seizing on a moment of disarray both in the EU and the US. How a Trump administration will react to Russia’s deepening involvement in the Balkans is unknown, but unsettling nevertheless.
From the perspective of Kosovo, the prospect of Russia becoming more aggressive in the Balkans than it has been thus far is deeply alarming. With a potentially unfriendly, if not hostile, US administration—whose top diplomat (if confirmed) is reportedly a close friend of Putin— and an EU in disarray with the British exit looming ahead, Kosovo seems to be heading for a deeply uncertain future. The prospect is more daunting given the country’s fragile statehood both from an international perspective and from its weak government institutions and crippling domestic divisions. Amidst this uncertainty, it is almost certain, however, that Russia and Serbia will continue to undermine Kosovo’s sovereignty, discredit its government, obstruct and sabotage its institutions in the international arena. Whether a Russia-Serbia collusion will go beyond that to undo Kosovo’s statehood remains to be seen and will depend on many seen and unforeseen circumstances, including the EU’s and NATO’s commitment to maintain their strong presence in Kosovo.
All this may be wrong, as most certainly any analysis of this sort is. So much depends on how all those future events unfold. But what is certain heading into that future is that since its liberation in 1999, these are going to be the most trying times for Kosovo’s statehood, its institutions and its leadership.
29 December 2016 - 10:13
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