Serbia was armed as a state, and radicalized, Russified and militarized as a society. Serbia has not severed its ties and deep cooperation with Russia, nor will it do so, and is able to take advantage of a favorable geopolitical constellation in which Russia would be in a position to support future pan-Serbian, even armed, secessionist adventures in the region, says Srdjan Susnica, a lawyer, culturologist and publicist from Banja Luka.
Our interlocutor is an excellent connoisseur of political and security issues, especially of external malign influences in the region. Among other things, he deals with cultural research on Bosnian and Balkan topics, writing and social activism against the culture of oblivion, historical revisionism, nationalism and fascism.
Susnjica emphasizes that Serbia, in relation to its neighbors, especially Kosovo, acts from the position of violence and constant provocation of crises, and then offers itself to Western actors as a mediator and supposedly constructive and peaceful actor.
“It is the position of a blackmailer, not a peacemaker. Analysts and actors who equate the politics of Belgrade and Pristina, and equate nationalisms, are alienated from both history and politics and do not want to see that all internal crises in Kosovo originate from Belgrade”.
Belgrade, he points out, has simply hijacked the lives of Kosovo Serbs, isolated them from normalcy, spreading existential fear, war psychosis and a sense of vulnerability among them.
“They are the property of political Belgrade, it has made them its political slaves, as it once did with the Serbs of Dalmatia, Slavonia, Bania and today is doing it with the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the last 10 years, the interlocutor of Geopost underlines, Belgrade has developed a strong capacity to blackmail the West.
“He strengthened Russian security, propaganda and economic presence in Serbia and Republika Srpska and supports the pro-Russian regime of Milorad Dodik in its unconstitutional, secessionist and parastatal activities.”
According to Shushnica, it is clear to everyone in the West, but no one will say out loud that Belgrade is not acting in good faith in the Brussels process.
Asked why this is so, he says that “Belgrade has never been ready, neither now nor will it be ready to accept Kosovo as an independent state. Within the Brussels process, since Serbia cannot avoid it, Belgrade does not want essential normalization, but tries to gain effective levers of influence over the internal and external politics of Kosovo, to obtain the means to continue its malignant and destabilizing influence on the internal political conditions of that country.
What Belgrade secretly wants, while pathetically pretending to be a fair negotiator, is a new Republika Srpska and a new control mechanism over Kosovo, but also a new blackmail mechanism against the West, says Susnica.
Serbia, he claims, has managed to arm itself so much that it is invulnerable to NATO, more precisely by acquiring Chinese and Russian anti-aircraft systems, Belgrade has raised the threshold of tolerance to the threat of force that could come from the West as a means of deterrence and pressure.
“The Western Alliance is aware that Serbia and pan-Serb nationalism have the capacity, resources, fanaticism and will to demonstrate force and ignite a smaller or larger armed conflict in the Balkans, if it is judged to be in their interest or if they think it is now or never,” says Susnica, adding that Russia, with the help of Serbia and the radicalized Republika Srpska, could easily ignite a new front in Europe.
“There is a possibility that at the end of 2024 and the beginning of 2025, the conditions will be created for a perfect political storm, which would favor the outbreak of the conflict in the Balkans”.
Geopost: The West sanctioned Kosovo and at the same time silently accepted the destabilizing actions of Serbia, which according to those familiar with the situation in the region does not contribute to peace in any way and further undermines the West’s credibility in the region. How do you see this?
Susnica: We are indeed witnessing a dramatic turn in the attitudes of Western actors when it comes to the malign influence of official Belgrade in the region. Western actors have decided to turn a blind eye to Serbian tactics of maliciously using or “weaponizing” the Church of Serbia, Republika Srpska, or the Serbian ethno-religious minority in neighboring countries to destabilize internal political processes, interfere in elections, interfere with the defense and security system, and limit the sovereignty of those countries. But before referring to the Western actors, I would like to say something about Belgrade politics itself, which Western diplomats so uncomfortably avoid seeing.
Geopost: What is Belgrade’s policy to which the West is turning a blind eye?
Susnica: In relation to its neighbors, especially Kosovo, Belgrade acts from the position of constant violence and causing crises, and then offers itself to Western actors as a supposedly constructive and peaceful mediator and actor.
This is the position of the blackmailer, not the peacemaker. Analysts and actors who equate the politics of Belgrade and Pristina, and equate nationalisms, are influenced by both history and politics and do not want to see that all internal crises in Kosovo originate from Belgrade.
Let’s recall the series of violence in the north of Kosovo during the political consolidation of the Serbian List as the future Serbian exponent, where all other political and civil actors of the Kosovo Serbs were suffocated by threats, bribes and violence.
The killing of Oliver Ivanovic was the crown of that process. Furthermore, with the help of the Putin regime, Belgrade actively lobbied for the withdrawal of Kosovo’s recognition, blocked Kosovo’s admission to international organizations, while simultaneously building a new network of criminal and security proxies and Russian agencies in the north, which is still holding Kosovo Serbs hostage.
When Kurti’s first and second governments began to act from the position of reciprocity, to introduce the rule of law in the north, demanding that Belgrade understand the normalization process as a dialogue between two equal state actors – Belgrade raised the readiness of the army, threatened war, threatened with weapons, projected military force on the border with Kosovo, ordered Kosovo Serbs to abandon the institutions and boycott the implementation of the state’s laws, organized violent protests against the Kosovo Police and members of KFOR, kidnapped Kosovo policemen.
Geopost: Who do such tactics resemble?
Susnica: It is an aggressive Russian-Soviet tactic and Belgrade will continue to practice it according to the situation on the ground and in negotiations.
The kidnapping of Kosovo policemen, for example, is a “border tactic” that Russian aggressors often use in the undefined demarcation zone between Georgia and the so-called illegally declared “South Ossetia”.
Russia interprets the position of that belt very flexibly, often pushing it several kilometers into the interior of Georgia, invading populated areas under the pretext of being inside South Ossetia, where they kidnap Georgian policemen, local officials or citizens, for whom they later demand ransoms.
The pro-Russian government in Tbilisi has turned a blind eye to this for a decade and a half and left those border regions at the mercy of the Russian aggressor. Fortunately, there are NATO forces in Kosovo, as well as a sovereign government that has the will and capacity to defend itself against attacks from Serbia.
It is clear to everyone in the West, but no one will say out loud that Belgrade is not acting in good faith in the Brussels process.
Susnica: Because Belgrade has never been ready, nor is it ready now, nor will it ever be ready to accept Kosovo as an independent state.
Serbia does not want essential normalization, but tries to gain effective levers of influence on the internal and external politics of Kosovo within the Brussels process, since it cannot avoid, or rather, the means to continue its malignant and destabilizing influence on the internal political conditions of that country.
The welfare of the Kosovo Serbs, their normal and peaceful coexistence with the Albanians, is the last thing on Belgrade’s agenda.
Serbia simply does not want to allow Kosovo Serbs to independently organize their local life and cultural, religious, educational, health and other communal needs in an equal dialogue with Pristina and Belgrade, to think independently, do business, work, earn and progress independently, without Belgrade’s decisive control and intervention in every part of their lives.
Belgrade simply kidnapped the lives of Kosovo Serbs, isolated them from normality by instilling existential fear, war psychosis and a sense of vulnerability.
They are the property of political Belgrade, he made them his political slaves, as he once did with the Serbs of Dalmatia, Slavonia, Bania and today is doing it with the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And where are the Serbs from Croatia now, where are the Serbs from the Neretva valley and Bosnia, where are the Serbs from Upper Krajina? Everywhere, they are simply not in their homeland.
How else to explain the life of the people in the north of Kosovo, other than captivity, when criminals under the control of Belgrade burn their cars, destroy their property, take away their freedom of movement and the opportunity to do business, for the banal reason of re-registering their vehicle with Kosovo license plates.
Belgrade forces Kosovo Serbs to obey them, punishes them when they show the smallest form of political independence and the desire for a civilized life in their homeland, as the case of Mrs. Rada Trajkovic shows. The amount of contempt, aggression and psychological instability that Vucic radiates when he insults Ms. Trajković and others who dared to disobey Belgrade’s orders is unbelievable.
Geopost: How to get out of this captivity?
Susnica: Kosovo Serbs must realize that Belgrade treats them as change in Belgrade’s foreign policy, which is concerned with the size of the territory and mythology, not the quality of life and the future of their children.
Wherever Belgrade has “protected” Serbs in the neighboring Yugoslav republics and autonomous provinces in the last three decades, they are no longer there. If they understand this in time and if they organize politically independent from Belgrade, there is hope that they will survive in Kosovo. Otherwise Belgrade will push them into the abyss until they disappear, let them be sure of that.
Geopost: How much does the hesitant policy of the West towards Vucic really contribute to the enslaved position of the Serbian population in Kosovo?
Susnica: To understand Serbia’s policy and the reluctance of Western actors to oppose it, one must understand the Brussels process and Serbia’s attitude towards it. It is a complex negotiation process that has resulted in over 50 official documents being negotiated and agreed, all of which can be called agreements.
Basically, there are a little more than 20 key sectoral agreements, which are accompanied by various technical documents.
From the freedom of movement, the border points, the integration of the parallel Serbian security structures in the north into the state bodies of Kosovo, etc. Most of the agreements have been fully or partially implemented. Some documents, such as the recognition of Kosovo license plates, were not implemented, but were planned.
After the expiration of this specific agreement on license plates in 2021, Belgrade, considering that it was on the line of obstruction of the Brussels negotiations, did not want to renew the agreement, and the government of Kosovo did what it could do only as a sovereign and internationally recognized state – it began to apply the principle of reciprocity in relation to Serbia’s license plates, which caused an incomprehensible demonstration of violence on the part of Serbia. I will remind you, this happened only five months before the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
All those agreements were either signed by Belgrade or accepted verbally and in none of them was Serbia forced to expressly and officially agree to the status of Kosovo as an independent state, but from all the agreements and accompanying documents (including the Ohrid one) it appears that the ultimate goal is the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and that this normalization is based on the independence of Kosovo from Serbia.
Agreeing to all the agreements of the Brussels process, Belgrade essentially agreed to resolve all technical issues with Kosovo as a matter of relations with another independent and sovereign state, only this was not explicitly stated. In this respect, the Ohrid Agreement went further and therefore Vucic did not sign it, and Western actors ignored this blatant and insulting Serbian disregard for the negotiation process. This is one of a number of signs of Brussels’ failure and weakness.
The Vucic regime wants to exit the Brussels process and return it to the care of the UN Security Council. The Brussels deal is something that Vucic inherited from Boris Tadic and couldn’t thwart so easily, until he was sold to the West as a reformed politician, a former radical who reads Mar Weber, and until global politics was shaken by the election of Trump as US president.
We recall that the Brussels process was frozen since Trump came to power in 2016, until it became clear that Trump would lose power in 2020.
Since 2016, the Vucic regime has been actively working to get out of the Brussels process, blaming the Kosovar side for it. For this, Serbia uses the support of Russia and one of the rare issues that has not been implemented by all the Brussels agreements – the issue of the Association of Municipalities with a Serbian majority. And here, the official Belgrade leaves the framework of the Brussels agreements, ignores both the details and the entirety of the agreement and interprets the status and scope of that Association in a very free, I would say fanciful way.
Geopost: Are you saying that Belgrade imagines the AKS as an outcast part of the Serbian state?
Susnica: The agreement clearly states that the association will be a statutory organization based on the principle of free and voluntary membership, whose structure, i.e. the organization and powers must be based on the same foundations on which the existing Association of Kosovo Municipalities exists and functions, which as a non-governmental organization was established in 2001. There is no dilemma about the legal nature of the association, it cannot be anything other than a non-governmental organization, established and in accordance with the regulation of the association of Kosovo. The agreement further specifies that the association itself will be the only body through which the member municipalities will cooperate and act collectively in the exercise of their municipal powers of local self-government given to them by the legal system of Kosovo.
Through which the member municipalities will be collectively represented in the central government, and will represent and supervise the implementation of the interests of the municipalities in matters of economic development, education, health, urbanism and rural planning. In this sense, it is envisaged that the Association will have membership in advisory councils that deal with these issues.
It means that the Association itself will not have special, exclusive, original or additional powers that are characteristic of local self-government units of any level. The association will not have an exclusive territory, nor any exclusive field of activity, nor territorial jurisdiction, nor the statutory bodies of such an association will be elected on the basis of the election regulations of Kosovo. The agreement leaves only the possibility that within the framework of the laws of Kosovo and within the defined status of a non-governmental organization, the central government may delegate some additional powers to such an association.
When you look at the Berlin process as a whole and analyze the behavior of official Belgrade, then it is clear who is pulling the strings and why. Belgrade is trying to make the bullfrog, i.e. it is trying to turn a statutory non-governmental organization agreed in Brussels into a legal instance, as an exclusive ethno-territorial political community, which would act as a middle level of government, and over time and with the help of Serbia, would usurp the symbolic and real prerogatives of the state and start the process of “state building”, as Republika Srpska has done in BiH since the first day of its illegal formation. Serbia insists, although there is no basis in the Brussels agreements, that the Association be formed not in accordance with existing laws and the Constitution of Kosovo, but in accordance with some “future” laws of Kosovo known only to Belgrade.
This is a political fantasy. Serbia, shamelessly and without any basis in the signed agreements, demands from Kosovo and the western actors that Kosovo first adopt new laws and constitutional amendments that will introduce into law the concept of the Association of Serbian Municipalities and its jurisdiction as a separate legal instance, so that the municipalities in the north can then be formed in the so-called “Association of Serbian Municipalities”. In that case, such an “association” would not be a statutory, territorial association of municipalities, but a legally defined middle level of government and potentially a state within a state. What Belgrade secretly wants, while pathetically pretending to be a fair negotiator, is a new Republika Srpska and a new mechanism of control over Kosovo, but also a new mechanism of blackmail against the West. /Geopost