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Balkan Secessionists Inspired by Catalonia

Restive Albanians, Serbs take heart from events in Spain, despite EU warnings to Catalan leaders.

10 October 2017

Would-be separatists in the former Yugoslavia suddenly became friends of Catalonia’s secession movement on 1 October, when the Spanish autonomous region ignored Madrid’s warnings and held a referendum on independence from Spain.

 

Graffiti of Catalan flags and the slogan “Vojvodina = Catalonia” appeared in Novi Sad and other towns in Serbia’s autonomous Vojvodina province, located in the northern part of the country. In the Bosnian town of Mostar, a large banner of the flags of Catalonia and a self-styled Croat entity flew near the cathedral, AFP reports.

 

In the largely Albanian Presevo Valley in south Serbia, bordering Kosovo, a local Albanian party leader, Jonuz Musliu, said the world should recall the region’s 1992 referendum on joining the as-yet unrecognized state of Kosovo.

 

"A referendum about ethnic Albanians in the Presevo Valley is also legitimate," Musliu said.

 

The Muslim-populated Sandjak area could be another potential focal point for separatist sentiment in Serbia, while Serbs themselves in Bosnia and northern Kosovo could also grow restive, AFP says.

 

Map showing the location of Vojvodina within Serbia. Image via Boze pravde/Wikimedia Commons.

 

Many Kosovo Serbs resent Pristina’s rule, and Serbia itself has never recognized Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic last week harangued the EU over its “double standards,” contrasting its chiding of Catalan leaders with its support for Kosovo in the 2000s.

 

Serbia’s harsh rule over Kosovo under Slobodan Milosevic ran into bitter resistance, first peaceful, later from the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army. Vucic helped frame Milosevic’s nationalist “Greater Serbia” rhetoric while serving as information minister. More than 10,000 people, the large majority Kosovans, died in fighting between local guerrillas and Serbian forces in the late 1990s.

 

Years of pressure from the EU finally resulted in Kosovo agreeing to set up a special court to try Kosovo Albanians accused of war crimes against Serbs and others during the fighting.

 

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci yesterday said the international community had pledged to boost the country’s integration into the EU and help it form an army in return for cooperation on the special court.

 

The Netherlands-based court has yet to hear any cases, but Thaci accused it of favoring Serbia. The court has had "maximal and bilateral cooperation with Serbia" but "minimal, symbolic and unilateral" cooperation with Kosovo, The Associated Press quotes him as saying.

 

 

  • Florian Bieber, a professor of Southeastern Europe studies at Austria’s Graz University, told AFP the Catalan independence movement could inspire a “real potential case” among the Kosovo Serbs, although any Balkan secession movement would face strong international opposition.

 

  • The international community is reluctant to recognize new states except "in extraordinary circumstances" such as a "massive repression” or “a strong, violent independence movement, as in Kosovo,” he said.

 

  • Spain is one of five EU countries that have not recognized Kosovo’s independence. The others are Cyprus, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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