Kosovar society has so far remained almost untouched by a phenomenon sweeping much of Europe – but that is no cause for complacency
Considering the factors behind the rise of the far-Right, we should understand that crisis situations create a favourable environment for such ideologies to thrive.
While Kosovo still remains relatively untouched by the far-Right compared to some other European countries, it is imperative to recognize the facts that lead to the rise of such groups and ideologies.
While economic factors and migration crises offer a basis for these groups to gain popularity, deep social divisions also create an environment for them to thrive.
Despite the international standing of Kosovo as a partially recognized independent country – and probably due to the large diaspora who are prone to falling victims of such ideologies in the countries where they live – Kosovar society has not opened its doors to these ideologies as yet.
However, it is important to recognize that the ongoing Brussels-facilitated dialogue for the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia must begin to show results. In 11 years of this dialogue, the two parties have signed 33 agreements, but have also failed to implement them.
The heated rhetoric in Prishtina and Belgrade, with elements of populism and nationalism, leads to the creation of further divisions between the two peoples. In turn, conditions for the creation of far-Right groups are laid.
The Interactive Map launched by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, has identified eight far-Right organisations/groups operating in Kosovo, while Serbia has 20 or so such organisations/groups operating in its territory.
The Map offers an interesting hint; while Serbs make up only about 6 per cent of the total population of Kosovo, four out of these eight far-Right organisations/groups are operated by Serbs -= that is, half of them.
While these groups in Kosovo do not have prominence and support among the general public, this could shift if the situation between Kosovo and Serbia remains in the realm of a “frozen conflict”.
The big social divisions between the two ethnic groups, fired by the rhetoric of the political leaderships in both countries, not only is failing to normalise relations but is creating further divisions.
Furthermore, the far-Right groups in the north of Kosovo, populated mostly by ethnic Serbs, could pose a challenge for the government in Prishtina to exercise its authority in that part of the country even after normalisation of relation of relations with Serbia, once the EU-facilitated dialogue reaches its desired goal.
This was seen with the recent resignations of Serb officials from Kosovo institutions of all levels in the north. After the mass resignations of the mayors in the north, the laws require that new, extraordinary, elections be called. However, instead of complying with Pristina’s decision to call them, Central Election Committee officials were attacked in the north, and the situation has escalated to the most severe social clashes since the unrest of March 2004.
Faced with such situations, it is only a matter of time for far-Right extremism to find its way into the Kosovar reality, as has happened in other areas of the continent.
Political leaderships in both Kosovo and Serbia must lower the tensions and de-escalate the situation.
Both sides should recognize the need for normalisation of relations and pave the way for the opening of a new chapter in the history of the Western Balkans.
Not only will the continued situation foster extremism, but it most certainly blocks the aspirations of both countries for European integration.
BIRN’s Interactive Map offers another interesting clue as to how deep social divisions create an environment for far-Right extremism to flourish: the country with the highest number of such organisations in the Western Balkans is Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The existing cleavages in Bosnia have allowed for the creation of more such organisations. On the other hand, the country with the lowest number of such organisations in the Western Balkans is Albania, which can be understood as a result of the lack of deep inter-ethnic and inter-religious divisions within this country, despite its economic instability and political divisions.
As discussed in the previous article, economic factors are among the common factors that lead to the rise of the far-Right. However, as in the case of Kosovo, in Albania – due to the large diaspora residing abroad – such ideologies have not found much support.
Here, too, the prejudices Albanians abroad face in the countries they live in has led to a rejection of such policies.
Going back to the case of Kosovo, opinion-makers and politicians need to refrain from the divisive discourse that fuels inter-ethnic tensions.
The process of comprehensive normalisation of relations should be a top priority for the Kosovo political leadership, in order to avoid further divisions that will in turn pave the way for far-Right groups and ideologies to gain momentum.
While the populist discourse in general poses a threat to the country – still battling for international recognition and to become an equal member of the international community of nations – it is not as concerning as the prospect of far-Right populism.
Kosovo’s path to independence was marked by certain concessions the country had to make, such as guaranteeing the rights of non-majority communities, and far-Right ideologies would attack the very core principles of the statehood of Kosovo. This would be dangerous and harm Kosovo’s path towards integration.
While we cannot forever remain untouched by trends in the rest of the continent, it is important that Kosovars abstain from exclusion and instead focus on ideas of inclusion, as stipulated by Kosovo’s supreme law of the land – the Constitution.