The Balkans is a part of the European continent that can be divided into the Eastern Balkans and the Western Balkans. In the last two decades, some countries in the region are members of the European Union, some are members of NATO, and some are on the verge of joining NATO or on the verge of joining the European Union. Since the past, the Balkans has been a region suffering from chaos and civil war and various conflicts. In the past years, considering the structure of the ethnic structure, many have pointed out that the Balkans are susceptible to being the focus of the crisis compared to other world regions. From the time of the Roman Empire until now, the Balkans, as a grain silo for Europe and the world, a fertile region benefiting from many natural and God-given resources, and being located on the communication highway between Europe and Asia, has always been the focus of great powers. Therefore, at least from the beginning of the 20th century until now, this theory and hypothesis has been proposed in the political arena that mastering this region will bring relative mastery over the whole world. Maybe this hypothesis caused the start of two world wars in the 20th century from this region. At the end of the 20th century, when Europe freed itself from the heavy burden of communism and socialist centralist dictatorship, it was caught in a crisis in the same region, which could not manage this crisis, and in order to handle and end this crisis, it sought help from external powers such as America and NATO. At the same time, another feature of this region is its national, ethnic, racial and religious diversity. Christian groups and their subcategories, Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic, and Muslim groups, including Sunni groups, Alavi and Shiite groups, and in other words, monotheistic religions, are also present in this region. Therefore, the racial, religious, national and economic components are the reason for the double importance of the Balkan region in regional and international relations. A feature of Muslims in the Balkans as a part of Europe is that they are indigenous to this region, while Muslims in the west of the continent are immigrant minorities. That is, in France, Germany and other European countries, the statistics and composition of Muslim minorities indicate that they have migrated to Europe mainly from other countries, Africa, Asia, while in the Balkans, Muslims are considered to be mainly indigenous to the region, and their history of presence according to different sayings reaches at least to the fifteenth or tenth and eleventh centuries AD. This is a very important feature of Muslims in this region. In other words, from around the Middle Ages onwards, due to the number and variety of crises in this region, there was never an offensive movement, uprising or beating by Muslims against other groups, while the opposite has been the case.
The Western Balkans is now facing economic, social, political and military challenges. The internal political situation and the weak economy of the Western Balkan countries have prevented the development of the European Union in this region for a long time. At the same time, this region has become a place for competition between Russia and the West, and the Westerners, in the form of the European Union and NATO, have made extensive efforts to drag the Western Balkan countries to the camp of the West. On the other hand, Russia is trying to prevent the countries of this region from joining NATO while opposing the presence and influence of the West. Brussels has been trying to create a written agreement between Serbia and Kosovo for a long time, and after the start of Russia's special operation in Ukraine, these efforts have doubled. In this regard, the leaders of the two sides are scheduled to meet in North Macedonia, where the former wartime enemies are expected to sign an agreement with the mediation of the European Union to normalize their relations and turn the page of border tensions.
Now the important question is whether the 11-article agreement that was reached in Brussels last month and has the support of Germany, France and the United States can herald a new chapter in the development of stability in the Western Balkans?!!! It is not a secret that the success of this process depends on the leaders, Albin Kurti, the Prime Minister of Kosovo and Aleksandar Vučić, the President of Serbia, and in fact, it is a difficult responsibility for the said leaders, considering the existence of nationalist parties and currents on both sides who want to reach a result in the Skopje meeting. I am going to North Macedonia again in good faith to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo is a normal country, but it does not have normal relations with Serbia, Kurti says. The important issue is that the agreement on the table suggests that both sides respect each other's territorial integrity and recognize each other's national documents and symbols, including car license plates, which have been a flash point in recent months. Importantly, it does not force Serbia to recognize Kosovo as an independent country, but it prevents Belgrade from blocking or encouraging others to prevent Pristina from joining international organizations and the European Union. On the other hand, Vučić said in response to a question about the chances of successful negotiations: I don't often talk about red lines. If you talk too much about red lines, there are no negotiable issues and the other side insists on their red lines, and it is more important to discuss the issue properly, that is, to double the efforts to find compromise solutions.
The Balkan Peninsula, surrounded by the Adriatic Sea, the Aegean Sea, and the Black Sea in terms of naval power, and with the ability to connect North and South Europe from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean by means of land power, has a special geopolitical importance, and Serbia is in the Southeast of Europe and in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula connects East and West Europe. Aleksandar Vučić had previously emphasized the country's military neutrality in regional conflicts. Apparently, this republic is the only country in the Western Balkan region that has such an intention, and the provocations in the region have increased. Despite the close ties between Serbia and Russia, especially in the defense and military dimensions, as well as long-standing historical, cultural and religious ties due to the Slavic and Orthodox Christian nature of both countries, but due to the new developments and external realities, the Serbian officials have come to the conclusion that they must define their country's future in integration with the European Union and its accession, without Belgrade wanting to become a member of NATO.
One of the most important and controversial issues in this possible agreement is the granting of a level of self-governance to the Serb community living in Kosovo, which both sides seem to interpret in very different ways. According to Vučić, self-governance means the creation of a set of Serb municipalities in Kosovo that operate separately with their own executive powers. Such an institution was approved in 2013 but was later ruled unconstitutional by Kosovo's highest court. The Serbian president emphasizes that the ultimate goal is for Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo and Albanians and Serbs in the whole region to live together, live better and respect each other. Now I insist on reconciliation, real reconciliation, not I always try to humiliate the other side, but I try to find a compromise solution for both.
At the same time, the Prime Minister of Kosovo has a tough position and says: No mono-ethnic entity will be created under his supervision because I am here as the Prime Minister of all citizens, regardless of their nationality, national identity, ethnicity or religious background. Therefore, I want to satisfy all citizens according to their rights and needs and requests but mono-ethnic solutions are not possible due to the laws of our democratic republic. He adds: We can move towards convergence in the European Union by respecting each person, regardless of their background, and also taking into account ethnic and cultural characteristics.
Anyway, in the 21st century, international developments have gained a lot of speed, and in the midst of the damaging crisis in Ukraine, there are successful countries and political leaders who have benefited from all the components of agility and dynamism in making their decisions and have the necessary ability to use from changing the strategy slightly and choosing a variety of necessary tactics based on the key national and determining interests of their country, so that they can properly manage the challenges in the Western Balkans, which has always been the subject of competition between the West and Russia in this region, and avoid compromising issue.
Ali Beman Iqbali Zarch, senior expert in Eurasia
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)