The tension between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbians has been at a boil ever since Kosovo’s birth. However, the ethnic strain took another complicated turn on March 27, 2018 when a Serbian official was arrested in Kosovo after he illegally crossed the border. This prompted a response from not only Serbia, but Russia as well. Adding another international body into the Kosovar political arena could capitalize on the ethnocentrism that is propelling democratic erosion.
On March 26, 2018, Marko Đurić, a Serbian official, was banned from Kosovo. (http://prishtinainsight.com/marko-djuric-deported-serbia/). However, defying the government directed ban, he went to a meeting in the Serbian majority city Mitrovica. Once he arrived, he was arrested and deported to Serbia.
This angered Mitrovica’s Serbian population, and several protests broke out. Kosovar police responded violently, utilizing tear gas and sound grenades to disperse the crowd.
Aggravated by the violence and the EU’s unresponsiveness, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić turned to his long standing Slavic ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin. In an interview, President Putin expressed condemnation, claiming the arrest violated an U.N. Security Council resolution (http://www.stltoday.com/news/world/the-latest-serbia-president-asks-putin-for-advice-on-kosovo/article_b68202d9-4b4e-5a33-abba-ceb891284886.htmlhttp://www.stltoday.com/news/world/the-latest-serbia-president-asks-putin-for-advice-on-kosovo/article_b68202d9-4b4e-5a33-abba-ceb891284886.html).
The day after Đurić’s arrest, Russia officially became involved in the conflict, which prompted the EU to send its foreign policy chief to Belgrade (http://www.stltoday.com/news/world/the-latest-serbia-president-asks-putin-for-advice-on-kosovo/article_b68202d9-4b4e-5a33-abba-ceb891284886.htmlhttp://www.stltoday.com/news/world/the-latest-serbia-president-asks-putin-for-advice-on-kosovo/article_b68202d9-4b4e-5a33-abba-ceb891284886.html).
However, turning to the Russian authorities has capitalized on ethnic tensions already existent between the Kosovar government and the Serbian minority.
In most cases, international intervention does not cause democratic erosion. Rather, it is what international intervention produces that causes corrosion (Lust and Waldner, 14).
Soon after Russia condemned the Kosovar government, the Serbian minority party, Srpska Lista, announced its resignation, leaving the Kosovo Serbs without representation in the Kosovar Assembly.
Since the shocking announcement, Srpska Lista’s President, Goran Rakic, has called upon the Serbian municipalities to form the Association of Serb Municipalities in April 2018. He has also directed the minority to refrain from enlisting in the Kosovo Armed Forces (http://prishtinainsight.com/srpska-lista-leaves-kosovo-government/). This has halted governmental elections and activity.
Democracy exists when there is political choice (Dahl, 12). Without elections, there is no democratic opposition. Despite wanting to sever ties with Kosovo, the Serbian minority is still a part of the state. By removing themselves, only the Kosovo Albanian voices will be recognized. Therefore, the election system is not truly democratic since “democratic elections” imply political options.
Additionally, Kosovar politicans have been playing the victim role since the Đurić controversy. The Deputy Prime Minister, Enver Hoxhaj, claimed, “Such actions are highly dangerous and are intended to destabilize Kosovo. Kosovo will take all the necessary measures to maintain a peaceful situation within our territory” (http://prishtinainsight.com/kosovo-arrests-marko-djuric-illegal-entry/).
Although he does not claim the Serbians are responsible for the current political atmosphere, he does play on the existing biases.
Ethnocentrism is the root cause of democratic erosion in Kosovo. Kosovars feel there is a divide between the ethnic Albanians and the ethnic Serbians. Mentally, this reduces society to “us and them” and indicates “in-groups” and “out-groups” (Kinder and Cam, 8). There is no room for equal opportunity.
Therefore, most of the issues that plague Kosovo are often blamed on the Serbian minority. This capitalizes on one particular authoritarian tendency: political intolerance.
The result is a series of cyclical events. Political intolerance due to ethnocentrism leads to blaming the ethnic Serbians for the government’s pitfalls. This leads to silencing the Serbian minority, resulting in an inaccurate reading of the population’s desires. The final product is an authoritarian leaning. Yet, what gets the ball rolling varies.
In this particular case, Đurić’s arrest caused an international reaction from Russia. In return, the EU was alarmed, and Srpska Lista withdrew from the Kosovar Assembly.
It can be assumed that Russia will aid Serbia in the future. According to a Russian news source, Kosovo harbors violent sleeper forces, and if the ethnic Serbians wish to remain safe, Serbia should call upon the international community for assistance (https://sputniknews.com/europe/201804011063111903-kosovo-albanians-tensions/).
Whether or not Serbia will call for direct force is yet to be seen. However, as long as Russian still looms in the political background, ethnic tensions will continue to be the main proponent of democratic erosion in Kosovo, resulting in repressing a minority solely based on their ethnicity.
Photo by Crews Collection, “Board of Overseers” (Unsplash), Creative Commons Zero license