Open Letter: A Joint Response Towards Belgrade’s Threats to the Security of the Western Balkans

October 11, 2021

To the Honorable Members of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,

To the Honorable Members of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs,

To the Honorable Antony Blinken, Secretary of State,

To Mr. Jake Sullivan, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

As leading advocacy organizations and community leaders from the Albanian-American, Bosnian-American, and Montenegrin-American communities, we have come together — in a novel pan-Balkan diaspora appeal — to collectively express our grave concern and alarm regarding the growing militancy of the government of Serbia towards Kosovo but also, increasingly, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. We believe that this is a matter of utmost concern to the U.S. because it directly imperils the peace and stability of the Western Balkans region and with that peace in Europe as a whole.

Over the course of September 2021, we have seen an alarming and escalating sequence of threats to regional security and stability by the Belgrade-based government of Aleksandar Vucic. The most alarming scenes have been in Kosovo, where Serbian tanks, combat aircraft, and armored vehicles were deployed in close proximity to the Kosovo border. These dramatic maneuvers resulted from Belgrade’s sudden decisions to renege on a license plate agreement which the EU had negotiated with both Serbia and Kosovo nearly a decade ago.

This disturbing escalation follows a major security crisis in Montenegro prompted by the enthronement of the new Montenegrin Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The event was conducted by the Church and the Government in Podgorica, whose close ties to Belgrade are well-known, in an inflammatory fashion, provoking ethnic tensions across the country. During this same time, Vucic’s closest regional collaborator, the Serb member of the Bosnian state presidency Milorad Dodik, has maintained a months-long boycott and obstruction campaign of BiH’s state institutions following the imposition of a genocide denial law by the international community’s High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina in response to more than a decade of explicit and vulgar denial of the Srebrenica Genocide and the broader Bosnian Genocide by Dodik and his associates. Dodik has also repeatedly and overtly threatened to initiate the secession of the Republika Srpska entity (RS) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, even threatening to reform the so-called “Army of the Republika Srpska” to accomplish this goal, whose leadership orchestrated the Srebrenica Genocide.

Each of these instances are only the most recent manifestations of what has become the now stated policy of the government in Belgrade to undermine the regional security order. The Serbian government calls its new policy “the Serbian World” (Srpski svet), which aspires, according to the country’s Minister of the Interior, towards the formal political and institutional “unification” of all ethnic Serbs in the Western Balkans, with Aleksandar Vucic as their leader. This is no more than a reboot of the Milosevic-era “Greater Serbia” project which led to the worst violence and the worst atrocities in Europe since the Second World War.

We note also that all of Serbia’s expansionist activities to date have come with the explicit support and backing of the Russian Federation and, to that end, Moscow has actively deployed intelligence and para-criminal assets throughout the region to further escalate tensions and embolden the regime in Belgrade. In 2016, a Serbian-Russian backed coup attempt aimed to assassinate the country’s key leadership on the eve of Podgorica’s NATO accession. Moscow has likewise explicitly backed the secessionist pretensions of Milorad Dodik and thereby directly undermined the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, the Serbian World concept is as much a facsimile of the Greater Serbia motif, as it is of Vladimir Putin’s “Russian World” foreign policy in the former Soviet Union region.

The situation in Kosovo is Vucic’s most dangerous gambit to date. It represents a definitive turn from even the pretense of dialogue and negotiation and demonstrates that Serbia now seeks to use force, or at least the threat of force, to create new facts on the ground. This is a categorical threat not only to the security and sovereignty of Kosovo but, in fact, the entire Western Balkans and therefore represents a significant risk to U.S. and NATO economic and security interests in southeast Europe.

The U.S. was instrumental in securing the sovereignty of Kosovo and bringing peace through the implementation of Dayton Peace Agreement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it has for decades been the primary guarantor of regional security and stability. As the prospects for EU enlargement have all but disappeared, a return to U.S. leadership in the Western Balkans is urgently needed.

Accordingly, we call on Congressional leaders, and the Biden administration, to immediately initiate steps to rebuff the attempts by the government of Serbia to unravel the region’s peace and security. A strong signal must be sent to Belgrade that the use of force will never again be allowed to dictate the nature and direction of Western Balkan politics. America invested too much of its own resources into this region to allow revanchist actors to decimate nearly a quarter century of progress.

We also call on U.S. leaders to reinvigorate NATO enlargement as a priority for the region, in particular as concerns Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. The inclusion of these two polities in the Atlantic alliance would definitively foreclose the threat of Serbian (or Russian) aggression, and finally allow socio-economic priorities to come to the fore. This is of vital importance because NATO’s significance in the region has only increased as the prospects for EU enlargement have dimmed. This will also necessarily involve America convincing the handful of European allies which have not yet recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty to do so immediately. We are convinced that a bipartisan effort to this end could be successful.

Our organizations and communities have undertaken this historic joint appeal because the nature of the threat is so great that we have recognized that only our collective action can prevent the Vucic regime from realizing its most sinister machinations.

In short, we are convinced that absent a turn to American leadership and primacy in the Western Balkans, the government of Serbia will feel emboldened to further inflame regional tensions, with an aim towards using the resulting mayhem to further its geopolitical aims via the use of force. This cannot be allowed to happen. But it can only be prevented through greater and more directed American engagement in the region.

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Endorsements

Albanian-American, Bosnian-American, and Montenegrin-American organizations, respectively:

The Pan-Albanian American Congress

Vatra – The Pan-Albanian Federation of America

The Lukaj Foundation

Congress of Bosniaks of North America

Bosnian American Alliance (Missouri)

Community of Bosniaks Georgia

Civic Initiative 21 May

13 July Association

Foundation Gusinje

Euro-Gusinje

The Portal Gusinje-Plav

The Cultural Center Rumija, Chicago

Leaders from the Albanian-American, Bosnian-American, and Montenegrin-American communities:

Donika Bardha, Albanian-American Activist

Ramazan Bekteshi, Longtime Albanian-American Activist

Šime Bergam

Dr. Bosa Bulajić

Dr. Amira Buturovic

Mufti Sabahudin Ceman

Ivo Djukanović

Radoš Dubljanić

Ambassador Vesko Garčević, former Ambassador of Montenegro, Professor – Boston University

Drilon S. Gashi, International Development Specialist

Gjevalin Gegaj, Entrepreneur and Longtime Albanian-American Activist

Mark Gjonaj, New York City Council Member

Lumi Hadri-Devine, Longtime Albanian-American Activist

Aleksandar Hemon, Writer, Professor — Princeton University

Edin Hot

Edvin Hot

Rafet Hot, Gusinje-Plav Portal

Dr. Gazmend Kapllani, DePaul University

Vasko Kocović

Dr. Sidita Kushi, Bridgewater State University

Nikola Lukolic

Jehona Marku-Podvorica, Albanian-American Activist

Ard Morina, International Trade Specialist

Avni Mustafaj, Longtime Albanian-American Activist

Refko Radončić

Lina Radonjić

Vesna Radunovic

Dr. Emir Ramic, Chairman of the Institute for Research of Genocide Canada

Aferdita Rakipi, Albanian-American Activist

Fado Redzović

Suzanna Shkreli, Attorney

Ahmet Spahija

Ambassador Zeljko Stamatovic, former Consul General of Montenegro in New York

Ilir Zherka, Nonprofit Leader

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