By Lee Jae-woong

It has been more than seven months since the war in Ukraine broke out. Europe is suffering from the most tragic conflict since World War II. There has been no tangible progress on diplomacy, and no one knows when the war will end. As Russia countered the sanctions by cutting its supplies of oil and gas to European countries, people in Europe are worrying about stiff rises of the prices of heat and electricity in the coming winter.

Adding insult to injury to countries in Europe, there are concerns that the Balkan region ― traditionally tagged as a powder keg region in Europe in the early 20th century ― may fall into another crisis caused by the ongoing conflict between Serbia and Kosovo.

In the 1990s, Serbia suffered under heavy sanctions as the main instigator of the civil wars among the countries of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and, during the Kosovo War (1998-1999), it was bombed by NATO in 1999. Eventually, United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1244 settled the matter and ended the Kosovo War in June 1999. Since then, there have been dialogues between Serbia and Kosovo with little progress despite the efforts of both sides as well as the U.N. and European Union mediators. In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, and Serbia would not recognize Kosovo, causing tensions ever since.

Recently, albeit little known to Korea, the situation escalated, as the Kosovo government announced the introduction of new measures regarding ID cards and car license plates to ethnic Serbs mostly living in northern Kosovo from September, who, in return, defiantly protested against them. Last-minute efforts of the EU and the United States temporarily resolved the problem as both sides agreed to allow the free passage of people.

However, concerns still linger as the Kosovo government argued that all cars in Kosovo should be registered with Kosovo plates before the end of October. This situation happening is a stark reminder that the security situation is fragile when old disagreements are not settled and memories of the Kosovo war remain fresh, with no tangible solution to be sought in the foreseeable future.

Serbia is historically and geographically in a strategic location between the East and West. Because of its location, the country has been under constant struggles among the great powers since its liberation from the Ottoman Empire. And now, Serbia seems to be mulling over which path it should take amid the very volatile environment. After the Kosovo War and the subsequent political, economic and social turmoil, the Serbian government proclaimed accession to the EU as its top-priority foreign policy.

At the same time, the country has maintained a very close relationship with Russia and China for various reasons. Both Russia and China are staunch supporters of Serbia in opposing Kosovo to become a member of the U.N. Russia is exporting oil and natural gas to Serbia at cheaper than market prices, and China is a big investor in Serbia in infrastructure and other industries, including mining.

With the start of the Ukraine War, the EU wanted all European countries united in condemning Russian aggression and imposing sanctions. However, Serbia didn't join and remained the only country in Europe ― except Belarus ― not imposing the sanctions.

Amid the current dire political and economic situation the world is facing, European countries and the international community as a whole cannot afford to have more trouble in the Balkan region, which would exacerbate the crisis. Well aware of that possibility, the European countries have been acting vigorously to persuade Serbia ― and Kosovo ― to continue dialogues to resolve the pending issues and seek long-term solutions for the normalization of their relationship. Given the strong rhetoric from both Serbia and Kosovo, it is unlikely that they may to find a solution very soon. But it is absolutely necessary for all relevant actors to work together to prevent another military conflict in Europe from happening.

For the Korean government, proclaiming Korea as a "global pivotal state" armored with "value-centered diplomacy," should expand its realm of attention to regions like the Balkans in its effort to play a leading role in diplomacy to enhance the peace and security of the world. It needs to collaborate closely with the U.S. and other like-minded countries in Europe in persuading countries like Serbia to stand with the international community as an unswerving advocate of fundamental principles of international law, such as the territorial integrity of a sovereign state, and promote peace and prosperity. Through a value-based approach, both Korea and Serbia can build a more sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship.


Lee Jae-woong is the Korean ambassador to Serbia.


QOSHE - What's happening in the Western Balkans? - Guest Column
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What's happening in the Western Balkans?

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29.09.2022

By Lee Jae-woong

It has been more than seven months since the war in Ukraine broke out. Europe is suffering from the most tragic conflict since World War II. There has been no tangible progress on diplomacy, and no one knows when the war will end. As Russia countered the sanctions by cutting its supplies of oil and gas to European countries, people in Europe are worrying about stiff rises of the prices of heat and electricity in the coming winter.

Adding insult to injury to countries in Europe, there are concerns that the Balkan region ― traditionally tagged as a powder keg region in Europe in the early 20th century ― may fall into another crisis caused by the ongoing conflict between Serbia and Kosovo.

In the 1990s, Serbia suffered under heavy sanctions as the main instigator of the civil wars among the countries of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and, during the Kosovo War (1998-1999), it was bombed by NATO in 1999. Eventually, United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1244 settled the matter and ended the Kosovo War in June 1999. Since then, there have been dialogues between Serbia and Kosovo with little progress despite the efforts of both sides as well as the U.N. and........

© The Korea Times


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