I’m sure you know the legendary story of the boy who killed his mother and father and then begged mercy from the court because he was an orphan.
Perhaps it’s only an imperfect comparison, but I was struck by the audacity of Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic demanding compensation for granting diplomatic recognition to Kosovo, a territory a small minority of Serbs had controlled for most of the 20th Century to the great disadvantage of the 90% majority Kosovar Albanians.
It was only after Vucic’s mentor and master Slobodan Milosevic had so oppressively overplayed his hand in Kosovo that he set off a successful rebellion, involving a local guerilla army, the KLA, – which was supported by NATO bombing of Belgrade the Serb capital city. Which ended Serb rule in Kosovo.
For the 22 years since the Serbs were expelled, for the 12 years of Kosovo’s independence, Serbia has refused to recognize that its runaway region ain’t comin’ back. This refusal to grant diplomatic recognition has real consequences for Kosovo. And for Serbia; because the European Union has made it clear, recognition and civil relations with Kosovo are a big part of the price of admission.
For the 12 years that Serbia has been defying the reality that it is done with running Kosovo forever, the government of Kosovo has – imperfectly to be sure – been creating a standard European-style democracy, with huge flaws, but no worse than the Balkan democratic standard.
Certainly no worse than Serbia’s version, modeled over the last decade on Viktor Orban’s autocratic Hungary, with Vucic in the Orban role.
In the recent Serbian election, Vucic’s control of media and other agencies of state harassment convinced all the serious opposition parties to quit the race well short of the finish line. Vucic won what’s looking like a presidency for life, but he lost international legitimacy and diminished Serbia’s chances of getting into the EU.
Enter Donald Trump, and entering with him, his jackhammer of all trades and master of none, Richard Grenell. When Grenell was Trump’s ambassador to Germany he managed on the level of diplomacy to match the dysfunctional personal relationship between his boss and German chancellor Angela Merkel. He was by many reports, the most unpopular American ambassador in post-World War II German history.
Then he was made acting director of National Intelligence. Or they gave him the title, but he says, nobody ever gave him any information about allegations of Russian money paying for American deaths in Afghanistan. The timeline of the allegations means as the acting DNI, Grenell was either kept out of the loop, or he is a liar, exactly the same choice we have in evaluating President Trump’s claimed ignorance. In both cases, it’s hard to know which choice is more scandalous.
But back to Kosovo. Trump’s global search for places he can be a Nobel Prize-winning peacemaker or at least a game-changer – a bust in North Korea, Venezuela and Iran – suddenly focused on the intractable Serbia-Kosovo stalemate. Amb. Richard Grenell took charge.
What’s happened since has been – most analysts agree – very bad news for everyone except Aleksandar Vucic and another of his close friends, models and masters, Vladimir Putin.
Edward P. Joseph teaches at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He served for a dozen years in the Balkans, including as Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.
He is a non-profit leader, as well as a foreign policy analyst and field practitioner specializing in conflict management.
In his dozen years in the Balkans, Edward served during the wars in each conflict afflicted country (Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo and Macedonia.) He has been deployed on shorter missions as well in Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Field highlights include:
Bosnia: In July, 1995 – contemporaneous with the massacres in neighboring Srebrenica – Edward and one UN colleague coordinated the evacuation of the fallen ‘safe area’ of Zepa. This required face-to-face dealings with Serb commander Ratko Mladic and his high command. Edward’s testimony at the Hague Tribunal has been cited as instrumental in a landmark war crimes verdict.
Kosovo: In April, 2012, as the US-nominated Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, one of the largest democracy and human rights missions in the world, Edward negotiated an end to a rapidly brewing, potentially violent confrontation between Belgrade and Pristina. His eleventh-hour role was cited by Secretary of State Clinton and OSCE Secretary-General Zannier.
Pakistan: In Peshawar on December 27th, 2007, Edward held the last international meeting with Benazir Bhutto, an intensive, 90-minute discussion on her anxieties about upcoming elections.
Afghanistan: In 2008-9, Edward was part of a three-person expert team that evaluated USAID’s largest program. The mission took the team to the country’s four corners, including Kandahar.
Haiti: Over 2005-6, Edward led the USAID-funded election observation mission; after the devastating earthquake in 2010, Edward led InterAction’s unique NGO coordination mission.
A foreign policy analyst, Edward P. Joseph has been published in virtually all major outlets, including Foreign Affairs. His article, “The Balkans, Interrupted” was selected as one of “The Best of 2015.”