The original purpose of the European Union – to secure peace on a continent fed up with war – was demonstrated once again on Monday. An EU-brokered agreement was approved by Serbia and Kosovo that, in effect, puts to rest one of the most vicious wars of the 1990s – and, hopefully, the last one in Europe.
Under the landmark pact between former enemies, Serbia concedes legal authority to its former province while Kosovo grants wide autonomy to its minority Serb population.
To the world, the pact shows that peace is possible when issues such as land disputes, ethnic divides, and religious fears are minimized through negotiation in favor of the kind of universal ideals and common prosperity that the EU stands for. That lesson is badly needed right now in places like Syria, the Korean Peninsula, the North Caucasus, Congo, Myanmar (Burma), and the disputed waters of East Asia.
For the two Balkan nations, the lure of EU membership helped drive them toward making difficult compromises on sovereignty and power sharing. They now need to make internal reforms to meet the EU standards on rule of law and fighting corruption. The Monday pact gives them the ability to “heal the wounds of the past,” said Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of Kosovo, a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
It serves as another lesson as well. The pact is the end result of the West’s armed intervention in 1999 to prevent genocide in Kosovo, similar to its 2011 success in Libya. NATO’s 11 weeks of bombing Serbia helped bring an end to the rule of Slobodan Milosevic and his rousing of nationalist anger to attack other peoples and stay in power.
Preventing massacres in Kosovo marked a high point in the world’s determination not to ignore mass atrocities. That lesson of humanitarian intervention needed to be learned after a weak global response to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995. In 2005, a United Nations world summit endorsed the idea of a “responsibility to protect,” or collective intervention in a state experiencing large-scale killing.
The Serbia-Kosovo pact follows an American-led diplomatic success in 2011 to end the conflict in Sudan and create two nations. Just as a Muslim-Christian clash fueled that war, so, too, did a clash between Serbia (Orthodox Christian) and Kosovo (largely Muslim and ethnic Albanian). In both cases, a desire for economic progress helped dampen the religious tensions.
Much of the credit for the agreement goes to Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign-policy chief. Her patient negotiating skills and credibility helped keep the talks on track. It also helped that the EU’s appetite for admitting new members has diminished following the euro crisis. Kosovo and Serbia needed to compromise now to retain hopes of eventually joining.
Progress for the former Yugoslav states – Serbia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and the Republic of Macedonia – has been uneven. But at least they no longer use “hard power” to settle differences because the use of “soft power” by the rest of Europe appears to be winning the day.
Once the powder keg of Europe, the Balkans is serving as a positive lesson for the rest of the world.