Serbia Is Sitting at the Great-Powers Crossroads

Resolving differences with Kosovo could be the key to Serbia’s emergence as an important force in regional development and stability.

Serbia has been here before. In ancient times, the Western Balkans sat astride the dividing line between the Roman Empire and the infinite frontier to the East. Later, the region marked the point of converging interests for Imperial Russia and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empire.  

But sitting at the crossroads on great powers doesn’t necessarily make you the doormat of great powers. On the contrary, it can set you up for peace and prosperity.  

Today, Serbia has a unique opportunity for a strategic reset that could set the country and the region on course for a better future. The road starts with making space for Kosovo statehood.  

When the Past Could be Prologue 

There is a lot more to Dubrovnik than stunning scenery for Game of Thrones. In the eighteenth century, the small city-state (in present-day Croatia), almost entirely surrounded by Ottoman territory, managed to maintain its liberty and thrive. It was a major port of call and business hub, not just for Istanbul, but for many European powers—even reaching out to establish trade relations with the newly established American Republic. All these powers found it served their interests best to allow the place where their interests comingled to flourish. The fathers of Dubrovnik made themselves valuable to everyone.

In building a Europe whole, free and at peace, the Western Balkans are definitely unfinished business. There is scant regional integration. While Slovenia and Croatia are members of the European Union, others’ prospects for accession appear remote. The potential for conflict remains. Transnational crime and corruption are a problem. Russia continues its perpetual meddling in the region, and China is looking to exert more influence there.  

Yet the heart of the region’s disunity lies primarily in the tension between Serbia and Kosovo, which obtained its independence in 2008. Serbian foreign policy actively continues to press nations not to recognize Kosovo and constantly seeks to block Kosovo’s participation in international organizations. Resolving differences with Kosovo could be the key to Serbia’s emergence as an important force in regional development and stability.