If the train that was decorated with anti-Albanian slogans and nationalistic and religious Serbian symbols hadn’t departed yesterday, the detention of Haradinaj in France could have been considered a coincidence. But together these two events transcend their separate meanings and take on another color. That of Serbs trying to alter the relationships and support in that area.
The train departing from Belgrade was a provocation and there is a general agreement about this event. It was a symbolic provocation indeed. It was a gift from Russia, embellished all over with nationalistic slogans and sent to test the reaction of Kosovo, but especially that of the internationals.
The history of the twentieh century is filled with similar occasions. Northern Vietnam was afraid of the cruelty of President Nixon, therefore it ordered its troops to cross the border line and attack the South (thus violating the Paris–USA agreement), right as Nixon was leaving the White House office to his successor, Gerald Ford. They believed that Ford would be different from Nixon and they were right. After a few months, South Vietnam didn’t exist anymore, despite being guaranteed by a recognized international agreement.
In January 1980, while Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President, Iran immediately released its American detainee . They were former diplomats of the American embassy that had been held captive for 444 days. Iran understood that Carter would not react but when Reagan threatened that their liberation was his first act once in office, Iran released the 90 American detainees. An Algerian plane transported them outside Iran. Reagan was entering the White House when a journalist informed him about their release. The provocation had been successful with Carter, but not with Reagan.
President Putin understood that the Obama administration was undecided regarding its position on Syria and Ukraine and so after several provocations they annexed Crimea. Nowadays Crimea is part of Russia, in violation of all international law.
Serbia, whether pushed by Russia or not, has acted the same way. The international situation favors the provocation. The election of Trump has left many unsure about his behavior on Russia and the Balkans; EU is paralyzed because it remains in the dark regarding further American actions. So, with Haradinaj’s case Serbia proved that Europe is a bit shaky on its foundations. While using Russian symbolism it proved something to Kosovo, but more so to the international arena. And it was successful somehow. The EU was unable to react and the declarations issued by the representatives of the Foreign Commissioner were perplexing. Luckily Kosovo reacted. If it hadn’t, Serbia would have made its third step, after the train and the wall. Even though we should be cautious in case it does make its third step in the coming days. Serbia will provoke again in northern Kosovo and will likely deposit a done deal on the lap of the EU, USA, and all the internationals. Then negotiations will ensue, starting from this done deal and the belief in a new geopolitical arrangement. Serbia hopes that it will have the upper hand in the region, an advantage it lost two decades ago.
This intermediate period, when the Obama administration cannot act, when the administration of Trump hasn’t assumed office yet or defined its stance on the matter, and when the EU is waiting on Washington to rebuild all its foreign politics, is certainly the best time to provoke, or to take by force, that which in other circumstances they cannot. Kosovo was right to react immediately. It was the gesture that mattered, because pictures of war games are valuable only for the gullible and those that don’t understand that this is about courage, and not about power! Kosovo reacted and it showed proof that it is a real country.