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Taking the high road in Serbia, the rocky one in Kosovo

July 31, 2011


A border checkpoint last week.

Good news came out of Serbia today, and that was that the simmering quarrel between it and Kosovo might be reaching resolution. No, it’s no resolution on centuries of strife, mistrust and antagonism, but rather, it’s a very targeted resolution to a border skirmish that resulted in one death and NATO forces becoming involved earlier in the week. But, the language being used by Serbian President Boris Tadic is notable, because it goes beyond this mini-conflict and paves a road to Serbian peace with the issue.

Border problems have plagued the Balkans since their separation. This incident involved Kosovo government forces taking two border crossings as a result of Kosovo’s decision last month to ban imports from Serbia, including food. Now there are shortages in predominantly Serbian areas of Kosovo. Serbians in Kosovo reacted by blockading the roads to these crossings as well, setting one ablaze. NATO forces took control of the posts, but the situation is still delicate, as the roadblocks remain in place. The supply of food and medicine has only deteriorated in light of these roadblocks, compounding the import ban.

A vicious cycle.

How the Kosovo government reacts to this will be a significant moment in affirming or repelling its legitimacy and ability to govern effectively. Serbia has arrived looking mighty reasonable, and Boris Tadic has established himself as the pro-Western leader with moderate views that the country has long sought but never found.

The AP piece quotes him as say, “We live in the region of the former Yugoslavia where wars have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives,” he said. “I join the majority in the western Balkans that believes peace has no alternative.”

Strong words. Flowery words. But do they carry weight with Serbs living in Kosovo, whose existed is far different from those Serbs in Serbia proper? Will they resonate? Will they quell the violence?

It seems Kosovo’s leadership also needs to step up. It’s not easy, when it’s unpopular and you suffered long-standing oppression and ethnic cleansing.

Does it make sense that Serbs in Kosovo insist on importing their food from Serbia, en masse, from milk to bread? No. Is it rational? No. Does it hurt the economy of Kosovo? Sure. But is it worth enacting this legislation at the cost of violence?

Surely, no.

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