The theatre of the absurd is no longer fashionable for playgoers but the politics of the absurd flourishes in the West Balkans. Tomorrow, a new president of Kosovo will be inaugurated.
It is a calm, peaceful transition, but the President of Serbia, Tomislaw Nikolic, unlike other heads of Kovoso’s neighbouring states, will not attend the ceremony because he says Kosovo does not exist. Kafka was Czech, not Serb, but the spirit of the writer is alive in Belgrade, where the Serb leaders do not seem to be able to live with the fact that the Balkans’ wars are over.
The region faces new problems: a tsunami of refugees fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria; massive youth unemployment from the Aegean to the Alps, sending scores of thousands to join family and friends in north Europe to earn some money; an inability to let the past be history.
Belgrade once lorded it over the former Yugoslavia, but no longer. Kosovo, for example, has as much chance of returning to rule by Serbs as Ireland is likely to go back to being ruled by Britain after the Easter Uprising of 1916 and the war of independence five years later.
Nevertheless, Serbs feel the losers. They feel let down by the international court in the Hague, as their hero Radovan Karadžić is sentenced to 40 years in prison for his involvement in Serb brutalities against Croats and Bosniaks.
But the statement from the Serb president that Kosovo is “a nonexistent state” takes Balkan politics to a new high of absurdity. To be sure, Russia vetoes Kosovo being a UN member as a way of getting back at the United States after the US finally intervened in the Balkans to stop the Serb wars of the 1990s. But this childish Moscow power play has not stopped most of the world’s democracies opening embassies in Pristina and treating Kosovo like Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, and Serbia itself, as successor states to Tito’s Yugoslavia.
Last month Prince Charles went to Kosovo and made a highly charged appeal in Serbia. Citing the death of his godson, who was blown up with Lord Mountbatten by a terrorist bomb in 1979, he said: “I have at least some understanding, through my own experience, of the heart-rending anguish that so many families in this region of whatever nationality, race or religion, have experienced through the loss of loved ones.”
In a speech that he was uniquely placed to make, Prince Charles told the Serbs: “Only reconciliation offers the assurance that our children and grandchildren will not suffer the same agonies as our generation.”
The royal appeal has fallen on deaf ears in ruling circles in Belgrade,where the Kosovo presidential inauguration will not be an act of reconciliation but a rejection of the fact that Kosovo now exists.
Serbia seems determined to divert from the road to the EU that Brussels diplomats take for granted. As the Serb president proclaimed Kosovo does not exist, the nation’s foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, told the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, at a press conference in Moscow that, while Serbia wants “to become part of the European Union, it cannot be done at a cost of our good relations with the Russian Federation".
Russia can do nothing for the Serb people who need to join the network of EU citizens, and integrate with richer, more democratic Europe. Yet where is the political leader in Belgrade able to move? At a time when stability and cooperation between the former component nations and peoples of Yugoslavia is more than ever necessary no-one knows how to leave history to historians and move on.
Denis MacShane was Minister for Europe and the Balkans from 2001 to 2005
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