Last week the Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj warned that partition of Kosovo along ethnic lines could unleash a new wave of violence across the Balkans thus causing a domino effect. His declaration came after the Belgrade officials had put forward proposals to redraw Kosovo borders, with the Serbian minority going to Serbia. “We are not at all in favor of creating mono-ethnic states in the region but we should have heterogeneous states and societies,” said Hoxhaj, but at the same time reminded the recent polls showing support for the Greater Albania among ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania.
Kosovo and Serbia have been involved in a “technical dialogue” since September 2010 with the aim of resolving issues of less political sensibility, such as freedom of movement of people, freedom of trade, issues of telecommunication and energy, among others. Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, but Belgrade – along with five EU states – still refuses to recognize it as such.
In the present article we will analyze the factors that, according to Kosovo’s Foreign Minister, could lead to a domino effect across the region, characterized for its multi-ethnic and multi-religious structure. Kosovo is the seventh independent state on the territory of the former Yugoslavia and only two of them – mono-ethnic Slovenia in 1991 after a brief ten-day war, and Montenegro in 2006, already after the fall of the Milošević regime – have gained its independence without the agony of war. Even Macedonia, which was able to remain at peace through Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s, became seriously destabilized in 2001 in a civil war between the governments and ethnic Albanian insurgents. Questions of ethnicity and religion where the main sparks of armed clashes and wars and the Hoxhaj’s words should therefore not be taken lightly. Let’s see which are the possible epicentres of violence that could follow a hypothetical partition of Kosovo.
The dream of a Greater Albania
Albanians do not live only in Albania, but are scattered across neighbouring, recently independent, countries of Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. The Albanian nationalist movement developed only at the end of the 19th century, far later than those of the other Balkan peoples. The borders of today’s Albania were decided by the Treaty of London in 1913 thus leaving many Albanians outside their country and provoked the dream of a Greater Albania.
A survey, conducted in 2010 by Gallup in cooperation with the European Fund for the Balkans showed that 62% of respondents in Albania, 81% in Kosovo and 51.9% of respondents in Macedonia supported the formation of a Greater Albania. Most respondents, however, doubt that the unification of all Albanians in the region would happen any time soon.
There is a significant minority of approximately 50,000 Albanians that have been living in Montenegro for centuries peacefully side by side with other citizens of this tiny state. In Macedonia, on the other hand, Albanians and Macedonians view each other with suspicion and a violent conflict erupted in March 2001 between Macedonian security forces and the ethnic-Albanian National Liberation Army of Macedonia. The Ohrid agreement of August 2001, promoted by a NATO intervention, ended the violent conflict and recognized political and cultural rights of the Albanians. But the conflict left deep scars, and often appear small guerilla groups, like one that came to occupy the Village of Kondovo outside Skopje for six months in 2006. Partition of Kosovo would definitely set a bad example to those making efforts for a multi-ethnic and peaceful Macedonia.
Then there are also the Albanians living in the Preševo Valley in the South of Serbia, unsatisfied by being left out of Kosovo and which also came to fight the Serbian security forces between 1999-2001.
Republika Srpska’s flirtation with independence
The story of Bosnia and Herzegovina is perhaps better known: after 4-year long war involving Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and the Muslims the Dayton agreement outlined the structure of a country that brought peace, but unfortunately could not provide strong and sustainable state institutions. The country has been basically divided between two entities, the Republika Srpska (49% of the territory) and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (51% of the territory), each of them with high autonomy and few central institutions. With time attempts have been made to simplify the institutional complexity of the country – a country with less than 4 million population has 14 regional governments with their respective parliamentary assemblies – but due to the reluctance of the constitutive entities, particularly Republika Srpska, to delegate competences to the central government no significant progress has been made so far.
In recent years many Bosnian Serb leaders started advocating for Republika Srpska to secede from Bosnia. Much of this debate started after Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and which was seen by Republika Srpska – in line with the official position of Serbia – as unacceptable and as a precedent for their own secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina. A hypothetical partition of Kosovo would therefore even further nurture secessionist movement in Republika Srpska.
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