My magic wand

Someone asked for my views on whether Kosovo is equipped to deal with nationalist and Islamist extremism, as well as the best ways to counter violent extremism and the recruitment of foreign fighters. Here is how I replied:

1. The first thing that needs to be said is how different the two topics you’ve given me are.

2. When it comes to Kosovo, nationalism is endemic among both Serbs and Albanians. It was the clash of these two nationalisms that brought us war in the 1990s and prevented consolidation of the peace until recently.

3. The April 2013 Brussels agreement is as close as we’ve gotten to a peace treaty between Serbian and Albanian nationalists. It recognizes the authority of the Pristina-based institutions on the entire territory of Kosovo and implies that Kosovo will enter the European Union as a sovereign entity on its own bottom. In exchange it gives the Serbs of Kosovo a large measure of self-governance, in accordance with the Ahtisaari plan that Belgrade rejected eight years ago.

4. I’m reasonably sure that with international guidance and pressure that peace will hold, though I also believe it will not be consolidated until Belgrade bites the bullet by recognizing Kosovo and exchanging ambassadors with Pristina.

5. I’d like to see that sooner rather than later, though the inclination in Belgrade and the international community, including Washington, is to let it slide for now.

6. Delay encourages nationalist responses in Kosovo, right now in the form of support for Vetvendosje! and its promise of a referendum on union with Albania. It also encourages Kosovo to plan for larger security forces than it would otherwise need and/or burdens NATO more than otherwise would be the case.

7. So much for nationalism. It’s there, and an obstacle when we would like to see a special court created. It is also a law enforcement issue when ethnic nationalists take up weapons and insert themselves into Macedonia. But it is unlikely today to generate the kind of violence that seems to be necessary to get the international community to react.

8. Violent extremism—if by that you mean non-nationalist extremism of the Islamist variety—has in the past been rare in Kosovo. Takfiris do not grow naturally there. I have rarely met a less religious people than Kosovo Albanians, whose dominant faith during most of the last two decades has been Albanianism, not conservative Islam.

9. That is changing. The reasons are many:

• Frustration with slow economic progress,
• The languid pace of international acceptance and recognition,
• Ill-educated, unemployed, often criminal and disappointed youth,
• Takfiri propaganda stemming mainly from Saudi Arabia,
• A limited number of militant mosque leaders,
• Recruitment of fighters for Syria and Iraq.

These have combined to spawn and grow a small but notable Muslim extremist coterie.

10. It would be a mistake to exaggerate Islamist extremism in Kosovo, which is ideologically inconsistent with the kind of national liberation struggle the Kosovars conducted in the 1990s.

11. That’s what the government did when it arrested dozens and released more than half because of lack of evidence.

12. But it would also be a mistake to ignore it.

13. The good news is that the current government and more generally the ruling elite in Kosovo dislikes religious extremism and regards it as a threat to them, not just to us.

14. They sincerely would like to rid themselves of that threat and have passed legislation aimed at doing just that.

15. But legislation and law enforcement will not be sufficient in Kosovo any more than they would be sufficient elsewhere on their own.

16. In my view, the most important antidote to recruitment is the one that has worked elsewhere: community efforts, based on former extremists and their families.

17. But that will not suffice. At the risk of stating the blazingly obvious, what Kosovo needs to prevent radicalization is what any of us would wish for it even if radicalization were not an issue: more rapid progress towards the EU, formation of its army and entry into NATO’s Partnership for Peace, effective implementation of the Brussels agreement, more capable and less corrupt institutions, better education, more jobs and security services both alert and cautious to avoid making matters worse.

18. Now, where did I leave that magic wand….

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