Serbia VS Kosovo: The Border Games

Trump, Trump, and more Trump. People around the world are watching US politics with their mouth open as they witness the newly inaugurated president continuing his “fun” adventures. The Trump effect is in full force as the relationships he is building with Russia, China and Israel among others, are shaking the international system. New president, different approach. To some extent what is happening is normal. However, to some countries, what Trump does is abnormal and not a matter of politics only. What might seem like fun and games to some is a matter of life and death to others. So who is on which side of the sword?

Kosovo is a newly created state. Found in February 2008 with Pristina as a capital, Kosovo was born amidst a very intense and pressured situation. Declaring independence from Serbia, a country that not long ago was a regional superpower known under the name of Yugoslavia, Kosovo was to deal with an unforgiving enemy. As a result of several wars during the 1990s and 2000s, Yugoslavia was dissolved on several occasions forming many countries including Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia, and most recently Kosovo. All of these states were created through “blood and iron”. The dissolution of the Balkan giant was not easy for anyone in the region, but mostly, to the proud Serbs who have enjoyed some type of supremacy in the last decades.

So where does Trump come into all of this you may ask. The story starts in the 90s, when a man named Bill Clinton unleashed the wrath of American “democracy” upon both civilian and military positions across the Balkans, the main target of which was Beograd, the Capital of Serbia. The ruins left of those days can still be seen in the center of the city.

Pedestrians cross a street in Belgrade on March 10, 2014, near the former federal military headquarters destroyed during the 1999 NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Pedestrians cross a street in Belgrade on March 10, 2014, near the former federal military headquarters destroyed during the 1999 NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

The result of the war was devastating for Serbia not only in the amounts of casualties, but also in territories lost. The newly established borders were very fragile, and having the US as a guarantee for them was crucial for the newly formed states. The guaranty was granted, and even though slowly, the patriotic and nationalistic spirits in the Balkans were slowly fading away. Not for Serbia. The war ended, but never for Serbia. The divisions continued in the 00s, climaxing in Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. In some sense, this was the cherry on top. It was too much for the proud Serbian nation. Losing vast territories from an already cut up state was by no means “OK” for both Serbian officials and citizens. Despite the huge insurgencies and denial, the US-backed Kosovo was recognized as a state, and Serbia was left with nothing to do in the face of a supreme power that not long ago bombed the very streets of Beograd. It was a dead end again for Serbia.

Fast forward to November 2016. A new face is running against an old one. For the Serbians it was an obvious choice. The newly appeared phenomenon of American elections cannot possibly be worse than having a second Clinton (Hillary) as a president. All of Serbia’s nationalists supported Trump as if he was their own hero, including officials like the President Tomislav Nikolic cheered for Trump. However the reason behind this support for Trump is not based purely on hatred for the Clintons, and assuming that would be wrong.

The key to this mystery lies in Trump’s foreign policy, or at least what he claims it is going to be like. Kosovo’s very existence depends on the USA and the defensive role it plays in “scaring” Serbia away. With Trump’s continuous talk of how states should “learn to take care of themselves” and how he is going to cut down on involvement of the US around the world, Serbia is starting to see an opportunity.

The train that had a print in different languages the phrase "Kosovo is Serbia" Image rights of
The train that had a print in different languages the phrase “Kosovo is Serbia”
Image rights of

The evidence to that is already at hand. A Serbian train, painted with the words “Kosovo je Srbija” (Kosovo is Serbia) written all over it in different languages, is indeed a clear statement. The train headed to Kosovo was fortunately stopped before any direct confrontation. However, the problem is not solved. The tension is rising between the two sides as both Pristina and Beograd are shooting allegations of all types at each other. To add to everything, Croatia and Bosnia, two countries that were also involved in war with Serbia, condemned the Serbian action by reminding the international community of Serbia’s past.

So is Serbia to blame for the rising tensions? The answer is no. Despite the negative view in the West of Serbia, which is mainly due to the Balkan wars and the American involvement in the region, the responsibility does not lay in some ignorant and out fashioned nationalistic sentiment within the Serbs. On the contrary, all polls prove that the Serbian nation is in no way ready or willing to wage another war. It seems like the once hailed concept of “self-determination in Europe” is the answer here. This concept appears often in European history and maybe this case is not an exception. Sometimes defining borders with accordance to ethnicity might save many lives. Kosovo has Serbian populated lands, while Serbia has Kosovar populated lands. Obviously, changing borders and exchanging territory is not this simple, but looking back on the history of the region, it seems like there will be no rest until this issue is resolved.

Sami Meziad

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