Supporters of Serbian ultra-nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj light flares during an anti-government rally in Belgrade, March 24, 2016.
Marko Djurica / Reuters

Over the past year, a number of incidents in the western Balkans have raised concerns that the region might be in for renewed conflict. In January 2017, in a provocative stunt orchestrated by the Serbian government, a train set to run from Belgrade to North Mitrovica in Kosovo was plastered with signs in more than a dozen languages controversially declaring that “Kosovo is Serbia.” The Serbian government halted the train’s journey only after Kosovo authorities threatened to do so themselves—and by force, if necessary. A few months later in Macedonia, a group of thugs, let in by members of the ruling nationalist party, VMRO-DPMNE, stormed the Parliament, beating up and threatening the lives of opposition deputies and seeking to prevent the formation of a new government. Just a few weeks ago, a leading Kosovo Serb politician, Oliver Ivanovic, was shot and killed in broad daylight in Mitrovica by unidentified gunmen. 

These and a dozen other small incidents have driven home the message for the United States and the European Union that leaving the Balkans outside of Euro-Atlantic structures carries significant risks. In response, there has been a flurry of renewed activity, beginning with the completion of Montenegro’s NATO

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  • FLORIAN BIEBER is Professor of Southeastern European History and Politics at the University of Graz and coordinates the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group.
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