March 19, 2008
Three EU and NATO member neighbors of Serbia – Croatia(an ally and prospective member of both organizations) , Hungary and Bulgaria – have recognized Kosovo today. The number of states that have recognized the new European state has risen to 33. The move of the three neighbors brought exceptionally high tension in Serbia. Serbia has recalled its Hungarian ambassador promptly.
These three countries have fought at least one war with Serbia in the past 100 years. The first World War broke out when a Serbian terrorist has assassinated the Austro-Hungarian crown prince, and the former joint state of Austria, Hungary and Croatia gave an ultimatum to Serbia. The latest war between Croatia and Serbia was concluded in the Dayton Peace Treaty in 1995. Hungary and Austria were among the first states to recognize the independent Croatia and Slovenia after the break-up of Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia, and Hungarian-Serbian relations came to a low when it turned out that the Hungarian government has sold arms Croatia which was fighting a nasty war with Serbia. In the twentieth century, genocide was committed against Serbs, Croats and Hungarians in the last two or three generations. It seems that there is an unusual level of mistrust among these countries.
Serbia’s fourth EU member neighbor, Romania, did not recognize Kosovo, and it is likely that it will not do so for a longer while. The Romanian political elite fears that the approval of ethnic separation may give a precedent to the Hungarian ethnic minority in Romania. (Special minority rights are recognized by Hungary, Croatia and Kosovo for their Serbian minorities). However, I think this argument may go against Romania if an unresolved status of Kosovo will destabilize it, because it more likely to go under an endless ethnic partition instead of returning to Serbian sovereignity.
I think it is very important to realize that this is a real and deep, historically rooted conflict which is not unprecedented within the European Union. After all, the six founding members of our Community came together to end such a rivalry that had lasted for centuries. Such tensions were frozen, but not resolved during the Cold War when some parts of Central Europe and the Balkans were under Soviet domination and military occupation. Such ethnic conflicts, sometimes burdened with a low-level armed conflict are present in other regions of the Union: think about Northern Ireland, the Basque region of Spain, Belgium or the divided Cyprus.
The Balkan wars were fought on the boundaries of today’s EU fifteen years ago yet the could not be finished without American intervention, and these conflicts are not fully resolved yet. This is unacceptable in a region that is surrounded by the Union. I think the European Union should show two good examples. First of all, it should work out an unanimous positions towards Serbia and Kosovo, and offer a true and attractive partnership to Serbia. If such a partnership would be refused by the Serbian government, the EU should offer an attractive package to the Serbian people themselves, for instance, in the form of lifting travel restrictions. Secondly, it should put much more weight on resolving all such ethnic conflicts within the EU-territory. Seeing the results of the latest Cyprus elections probably we should start there. Otherwise the rest of the world will not take the European Union seriously.Author : Dániel Antal