Author: Ramadan Ilazi

“Si vis pacem, para bellum,” a timeless Roman adage meaning “if you want peace, prepare for war,” aptly characterizes the prevailing political mindset not only in the Western Balkans but particularly in Kosovo and Serbia. Despite the passage of 25 years since the brutal and devastating wars that accompanied the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the political mentality of the region remains entrenched in the ethos of the 1990s.

By contrast, consider the remarkable transformation in Europe just 25 years after World War II. France and Germany not only forged a new partnership but were also pivotal in the expansion of the European Community. This period witnessed Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom joining the burgeoning community, while citizens in Spain, Portugal, and Greece succeeded in overturning dictatorships. By the late 1970s, European citizens were even participating directly in elections for the European Parliament.

This historical juxtaposition underscores a crucial point: lasting peace and democratic progress in the Western Balkans, particularly in Kosovo, require a fundamental shift away from the antiquated maxim of “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” It is imperative for Kosovo to cultivate a new political philosophy, one that embraces dialogue, cooperation, and mutual understanding as the true foundations for peace and democracy. Only through such transformative thinking can Kosovo hope to achieve the multiethnic harmony and democratic maturity witnessed in other parts of Europe post-World War II.

There are two principal challenges hindering progress in Kosovo and Serbia, casting a long shadow over the entire region’s prospects for peace and cooperation. The first challenge is rooted in the enduring bilateral disputes that originated from the brutal wars of the 1990s, with Serbia’s staunch resistance to Kosovo’s independence standing out as a primary issue. Despite over a decade of dialogue facilitated by the European Union aimed at normalizing relations, both nations are further from reconciliation now than when discussions began in 2010/2011. Unfortunately, the radical political discourse emerging from these talks has not fostered societal reconciliation but has deepened divisions within communities.

This radical discourse, particularly from the current Kosovan government, often conflates the Kosovo Serbian community with the Serbian government, thereby alienating Kosovo Serbs, exacerbating interethnic tensions, and radicalizing Kosovo Albanians. The latter group, influenced by their leaders, increasingly perceives Kosovo Serbs as mere extensions of Serbian government agendas, which does not help interethnic relations. The governmental rhetoric, combined with specific actions or inactions in the Serbian community, has heightened ethnic tensions and fostered a climate ripe for conflict and violence. Essentially, what citizens increasingly hear from their government is the dangerous maxim: “if you want peace, prepare for war.”

On the other side, President Vucic of Serbia partakes in a significant campaign that alienates Kosovo Albanians, often using language laden with fascism and/or racism. He consistently paints a picture of impending doom, keeping Serbian citizens in a perpetual state of anticipation for dire events, because of Kosovo. This does not help at all change the way how the Serbian citizens see Kosovo.

The second major obstacle is the absence of a shared historical narrative. Neither the Albanian nor the Serbian communities in Kosovo fully recognize the suffering and victimhood resulting from the brutal wars of the 1990s. This lack of mutual recognition of past atrocities continues to impede the healing process and stands in the way of building a cohesive society.

In spite of the challenges faced by Kosovo and Serbia, there remains a pathway to peace and reconciliation that is paved with opportunities for transformation and growth. The enduring dialogues, although fraught with setbacks, highlight a commitment to finding a resolution, however protracted it may seem. The very existence of these talks suggests an underlying recognition of the necessity for peace and cooperation, not just by the European Union, but crucially by the leaders and people of both nations.

Looking forward, the key to overcoming these obstacles lies in fostering a culture of understanding and empathy. By acknowledging and addressing the grievances and narratives of all communities involved, Kosovo and Serbia can begin to dismantle the longstanding animosities. This process can be bolstered by educational initiatives that promote an inclusive history, community-building activities that encourage interethnic collaboration, and political discourse that prioritizes unity and progress over division.

Moreover, the role of civil society activities at the community level cannot be overstated. These initiatives are crucial in supporting interethnic cooperation and relations, providing a practical framework within which individuals from different backgrounds can engage with one another, build trust, and work collaboratively on shared goals. Such grassroots efforts complement high-level political dialogues and are essential for the sustainable development of peaceful relations.

Additionally, the younger generations in both countries, who are more removed from the conflicts of the past, can be pivotal in driving this change. Their fresh perspectives and lesser burden of historical prejudices present a promising avenue for fostering a new era of interethnic harmony and mutual respect.

This content was funded by a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Pristina. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the State Department.

Alternativna in partnership with New Social Initiative.

Ramadan Ilazi

Ramadan Ilazi currently serves as the Head of Research at the Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (KCSS). He holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from Dublin City University, Ireland, and a Master of Letters degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from St. Andrews University, Scotland. Dr Ilazi is a member of the International Republican Institute & Western Balkans Task Force on Threats to Democracy and, in this capacity, has co-authored a paper on Kosovo’s vulnerabilities towards malign foreign influence. Previously, Dr Ilazi held the position of Kosovo’s Deputy Minister for European Integration (2015-2016), where he was involved in supporting the process of preparing a national plan for the implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union and developing the European Reform Agenda (ERA) for Kosovo. His most recent book is The European Union and Everyday Statebuilding: The Case of Kosovo (Routledge 2022).

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