Why escalating tensions in the Balkans could have significant ramifications for the Liberal World Order

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić shake hands at a conference.

The UN Rambouillet Agreement, which ended the 1998-9 Kosovo War, was a widely celebrated achievement of the liberal international order. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair propounded a cheery optimism, hailing the dawn of a new liberal age in contrast to the grim realities of the cold war. As one of the last bastions of communist society crumbled, a new democratic liberal world order could finally prosper peacefully without the shadow of authoritarian socialism looming over it. 

Of course, such a view of a liberal, Western, international order has long since come under strain with continued conflicts in the Middle East, Russia-Ukraine and Sub-Saharan Africa challenging the idealistic and patronising notions of the supporters of liberal democracy. Tensions in Kosovo could signal the liberal world order’s last gasp.

Serbian revolutionaries in the 19th century constructed a popular national consciousness strongly centred on Kosovo, and it has featured prominently since. Suffering and heroism were placed at the centre of the national story, mythologising the battle of Kosovo in which the Serbian army was defeated by the Ottomans, an event annually commemorated during Vidovdan. Kosovo is thus a site of great historical symbolism to the Serb nation, defining centuries of its imperial repression. 

Serbia-Kosovan tensions are escalating with the Putin-like populist, Aleksandar Vučić, in Belgrade placing extensive pressure on his counterpart, Albin Kurti, in Pristina. Vučić has started to amass troops on the border while Serbian paramilitaries have attacked Kosovan police in the last few months. Kurti has held his ground, banning the use of the Dinar, Serbia’s currency, in favour of the Euro, which makes life incredibly complicated for the 100,000 Serbs living in the north of the country. Despite numerous interventions by the US and the UN, tensions still remain extremely high and show very dangerous signs of boiling over.

With domestic instability and faith in his government collapsing, Vučić, an admirer of Putin’s strong-man tactics, may attempt to reimpose Serbian control over Kosovo, cultivating internal cohesion in a deliberate rejection of the liberal international order. A renewed Kosovo war would also have significant ramifications for the rest of the region, with Bosnia’s federal system also under concerted strain from Serbs who repeatedly seek to undermine the state. This would shatter the last remaining legacy of the 1990s, where western liberal imperialism reigned supreme, fully exposing the impotence of the UN and exposing the failures of the West to establish a sustainable world order. 

Встреча Александра Вучича и Владимира Путина 17 января 2019 года в Белграде” by Управление пресс-службы и информации Президента России is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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