Burak Yalım: Given the tumultuous history between Kosovo and Serbia, how do you interpret this recent incident in Banjska/Banjske? Is it an isolated event or part of a larger geopolitical agenda?
Mevludin Ibish: The last incident which happened in North Mitrovica could be interpreted as a local incident; however, the previous disputes and different trajectories that PM Kurti and President Vucic have utilized in their political approach have served as a platform for such incidents to occur. Should these types of incidents, which include human loss continue, the chances of an increased severity of the geopolitical turmoil in Kosovo and the Western Balkans at large is almost certain. As long as the two sides do not come to mutual ground, incidents of this kind might continue. As such, these events increase the already aggravated positions of Kosovo and Serbia. Since the general situation is quite heated, every incident affects the International and Regional actors such as the EU, NATO, USA, Russia and Türkiye. These incidents can be avoided if the rhetoric of the policymakers place narratives of peace and stability at the front. In my opinion, President Vucic should immediately change his position while addressing the Serbian community in Kosovo because, as this event proves, his position motivates terrorist groups to engage in violent attacks which further destabilize the region and cause casualties, for which he has accepted in yesterday’s statement that the killing of police is wrong. PM Kurti should use this momentum to represent himself as a statesman who neutralizes terrorist acts and is a stabilizing factor during these moments while also continuing the trajectory of good relations with NATO, EU and Türkiye on finding a constructive solution to the issue of North Mitrovica.
BY: Role of Religious Institutions: A Serbian Orthodox monastery’s involvement complicates the conflict. How do religious institutions play into the geopolitical narratives of both Kosovo and Serbia?
Mevludin Ibish: It is already known that the Serbian national identity is deeply rooted in the religious Christian Orthodox identity. For Serbs, Kosovo is the religious cradle of their state and their religious existence and in fact identity. Utilizing the Monastery as a place from which police officers were attacked can be depicted as an action of symbolic value in a religious and historical point of view. Having in mind the high tensions between the Albanian and Serbian communities in North Mitrovica, in my opinion, religious institutions should play a profound and constructive role towards peace and stability instead of being instrumentalized by formal and informal political groups in order to advance their daily political agenda. The Serbian Orthodox Church should immediately distance itself from these actions and act as a platform for stability, peace and coexistence. The History of the Balkans is filled with events that can be misused for political advantage. Therefore, all political actors and other stakeholders should be vigilant in playing a constructive role during these developments instead of acting as isolated spectators.
BY: Both sides are pointing fingers at each other, with PM Albin Kurti blaming “Serbian-state supported troops” and Serbia’s Parliament Speaker, Vladimir Orlic, accusing Kurti of wanting an “escalation.” What avenues are available for an impartial investigation into the incident to ensure the responsible parties are held accountable?
Mevludin Ibish: Since both sides are in high-level disputes, establishing a level of trust is quite difficult since both sides are willing to accuse each other of being responsible for the arising conflict. Therefore, international actors have the responsibility and legitimacy to resolve the issue and act immediately by investigating the events in order to determine the aggressors with experts from both sides being involved in a committee. This can also be a good moment for opening the doors to cooperation and peaceful resolution while also holding the aggressors accountable.
BY: How do you assess the immediate reactions from international actors like NATO’s KFOR, the EU, and other foreign embassies, including Turkey? Are their responses sufficient, or do you suggest alternative approaches?
Mevludin Ibish: With the last events in North Mitrovica, the military establishment of NATO, the EU representatives and the USA Ambassador, as well as the Turkish factor, portrayed a high-level of professionalism and vigilance in displaying support for Kosovo’s institutions, especially when they are under attack from unknown assailants. The US Ambassador and the EU representatives paying their respects to the officer that lost his life during the event speaks volumes for their engagement, sensitivity and a public denouncement of the aggressive act against the police unit from Kosovo. Their systematic approach to the Kosovo-Serbia issue should remain and push for stability and security. It will guide both sides in finding mutual ground and pressure Vucic to change his narrative and rhetoric over Kosovo.
BY: What are the potential long-term implications of incidents like these for the stability and security of the Balkan region, particularly in the context of ongoing discussions about the EU integration of Western Balkan states?
Mevludin Ibısh: The Western Balkans integration process in the EU is a long-lasting journey that will undoubtedly be affected by these events in terms of domestic security and regional development. Therefore, EU members will understandably be more hesitant in providing positive remarks and support for the full integration of the Western Balkans into the EU. Of course, for the sake of argument, I would like to mention that Kosovo and Serbia are doomed in resolving their issues for further EU integration. Apart from this, Kosovo has two other issues that need to be addressed: its questionable de jure status on the international stage and the non-recognition of Kosovo’s statehood by five EU member-states. Meanwhile, other Western Balkans states have a variety of issues and obstacles for which the EU commission provides a detailed report on a yearly basis for each country. In my opinion, the Western Balkans, with all its economic, political and security instabilities, should be involved in the EU homeland because the EU has the opportunity and it’s the sole factor that can bring justice, reduce corruption and provide the rule of law and an advanced free-market economy to the Western Balkans region. The EU is the only supranational category that can effectively suppress the national authorities in order to effectively implement the necessary reforms to realize much-needed social and economic development in the region.