Since 1945, Europe has done a remarkably good job at avoiding war. Between European neighbours (if not with the rest of the world) there have been few major conflicts since the end of the Second World War. That’s not to say there haven’t been any wars in Europe post-1945, of course; see the Greek Civil War, the wars in Chechnya, the War in Donbass, to name just a few.
Some of the worst violence in Europe since World War II has taken place in the Western Balkans, both during and after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Yet, since 2001, the “credible promise” of EU membership has provided an incentive for peace and reconciliation.
In recent years, however, relations have been tense. In 2018, for example, Serbia’s prime minister warned that the formation of a Kosovo army might trigger armed intervention (a warning ignored by Kosovo). Before that, in 2017, Kosovo and Serbia were brought to the “brink of conflict” by a provocatively-painted train.
Could these tensions ever tip over into war? Some European leaders are clearly worried about the possibility of renewed conflict in the Western Balkans. French President Emmanuel Macron got himself into hot water in 2019 by calling Bosnia a “ticking time bomb”. This was at the same time that the promise of EU accession became less credible, following French-led efforts to block membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania (a move some analysts believe threatens peace in the region).
What do our readers think? We had a comment come in from Jon, who worries about the possibility of another conflict breaking out in the Western Balkans. Is that a realistic possibility, particularly with the accession process seemingly stalled?
To get a reaction, we put Jon’s comment to Christian Danielsson, Director General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (NEAR) at the European Commission, when we spoke to him at Friends of Europe’s Balkan Summit in December 2019. What would he say?
No, I don’t think so. I think we should always be concerned about seeing to the stability of the Western Balkans, and that’s what the EU accession process is about. So, that’s how I see it; I don’t see any reason to fear a conflict in the Western Balkans.
For another perspective, we also put Jon’s question to Bernard Nikaj, Ambassador of Kosovo to Belgium and Luxembourg, and acting Head of the Kosovo Mission to the European Union and NATO. What would he say?
Finally, we put Jon’s comment to Velma Šarić, founder and president of the Post-Conflict Research Center (PCRC), a Sarajevo-based non-governmental organisation promoting stronger inter-ethnic relations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What does she think?
Are we heading towards a war in the Balkans? Or is there no reason to fear another conflict in the region? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!