U.S. President Brokers Deal Between Serbia and Kosovo

The latest example of Washington’s pivot to Eastern Europe

United States President Donald Trump has accomplished another major foreign-policy achievement: Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to normalize economic ties in a deal brokered in the White House, President Trump announced September 4. The agreement includes the two regions setting up a common market with a removal of tariffs between the two sides and an integration of energy and water resources, as well as renewed transportation links that were severed in the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo has agreed to suspend its applications for international organizations while Serbia has stated it will cease boycotting such applications.

Many hope that this is the first step to fully normalize political ties between the two parties.

Both Balkan nations were part of the former Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia collapsed in the 1990s in the aftermath of the fall of East European communism, with the various ethnic groups—predominantly the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians—each trying to form nation-states based in what each side considered their traditional territories. The overlapping territorial claims, combined with old ethnic prejudices and historical animosity, brought the region into a bloody quagmire of civil war that lasted most of the decade.

But the Balkans were a powder keg long before the wars of the 1990s. The late 1800s and early 1900s saw Serbia and Bulgaria competing with each other for dominion as the Ottoman Empire’s influence crumbled in Europe. The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb was one of the catalysts for World War i. World War ii greeted the Balkans with a Nazi invasion and the establishment of a Croatian fascist puppet state, where the first death camps of the Third Reich were set up, mainly for the extermination of the Orthodox Serbs at the hands of the Catholic Croatians.

Only the strong-arm rule of Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito seemed to bring the region any sense of stability. That stability collapsed after Tito died in 1980. Just over a decade later, ethnic and religious communities that had been neighbors for hundreds of years—for better or for worse—were slitting each other’s throats in the forests of Bosnia and eastern Croatia.

While the wars may have ended 20 years ago, the Balkans have continued to grapple with the aftermath of the conflicts. Tensions in many key areas, including Kosovo, remain.

President Trump, at least in a small way, seems to have given the region a bit of stability once more.

Unlike Croatia and Bosnia, Kosovo was not a constituent republic of Yugoslavia but an autonomous province of Serbia within Yugoslavia. Serbs consider the region the medieval heartland of their civilization. The traditional headquarters of the Serbian Orthodox Church is located in Kosovo, but the region was and is predominantly populated by Muslim Albanians. Amid the chaos of the wars with the other Yugoslav nationalities, the Albanians in Kosovo launched an insurrection against Serbia in 1998, with Belgrade initiating a bloody crackdown of Albanians in return.

This prompted the intervention of nato air strikes, which forced Serbia to hand over Kosovo to the United Nations for administration while the province nominally remained part of Serbia. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, something Belgrade has never agreed to or acknowledged.

Most Western nations diplomatically recognize Kosovo, but a large number of important global players do not. Among the most prominent of these are Russia and China, friends of Serbia who use their United Nations Security Council veto power to snuff out any Kosovar applications for UN membership. Other countries that do not recognize Kosovo include India, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico (all G-20 economies), as well as Spain, Greece and Romania (all European Union and nato members).

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