Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kosovo's Islamist movement and regional developments, by Ioannis Michaletos

A steady process of introducing radical Islamist politics in Kosovo is being gradually backed by a variety of Middle Eastern interests that have managed over the years to recruit a substantial number of adherents. 

The impeding elections in Kosovo will be characterized amongst other by the recent establishment of the political party "Islamic Movement to Unite (LISBA)". This particular party follows a clear pan-Islamic agenda composed by radical Sunni elements. 

The Weekly Standard media in a February 2013 reportage reported around the aims of that party to push towards an Islamic Caliphate in the Balkans. It was also  described around the connection of LISBA through its leader Arsim Krasniqi and the Muslim Forum of Kosovo (FMK) "which is associated through the fundamentalist European Muslim Network, led by the Islamist media celebrity Tariq Ramadan, with the Qatar-based hate preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi".

LISBA is a clear indication of the formal appearance of Muslim Brotherhood in the Balkans been supplied with capital from Qatar mostly, with an eventual goal of establishing a stronghold in the Southeastern part of Europe. In the meantime a nexus between mercenaries venturing from Kosovo to fight along Jihadists in Syria has been established by a variety of worldwide media, including local Kosovo ones, whilst the EU and NATO seem hesitant in conducting a thorough policy upon the issue, despite the fact that all these culminations increase considerably the threat level of terrorists attacks in many countries with Netherlands being the latest one to prepare itself for a potential spillover.

Moreover, the newly formed Islamist party is directly connected with the groups controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood in Bosnia-Herzegovina and also acts as a coordinating hub for similar groups in Albania and FYROM. The pace of Islamization of Kosovo is being consistently upgraded, through a variety of means. Around 200 mosques have been erected since 1999, while a similar number of Christian churches and monasteries was destroyed, a clear case of cultural genocide in which the international forces paid little attention. 

The attempted Islamization of Kosovo and of the rest of the Western Balkan territory, alerted nevertheless some European leaders, that fear sensibly that the territory will be in flames sooner rather than later, endangering the stability of the EU as a whole. Slovakia's deputy Prime Minister and foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, made a public statement recently citing his anxiety upon the issue and more specifically of the aims for the creation of a Greater Albania which coincidently are fervently supported not only by nationalistic circles but from Islamist ones as well. The German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has also called for a check on these phenomena in the Balkans, while Germany as a whole disengages from participating in high-risk games regarding the Sunni Islamic world, as does UK and France which actively support the Jihadi rebels in the Syrian civil war that are in turn related to those in the Balkans and beyond, in fact across the world. 

In the regional level, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Serbia are concerned on the pace of these developments with Croatia and Montenegro paying also attention. FYROM suffers from serious destabilization mainly attributed to the Albanian nationalists and the activities of the local Islamists, while EU countries with a stake in the region such as Italy and Austria also fear the birth of new radical networks, should they are left unchecked. 

The role of Turkey is of particular interest. Although it officially promotes the strategy of "Neo-Ottomanism" based on the local Turkish minorities and the expansion of Turkish businesses, as well as, NGO's in the region, from the other hand it fears that the expansion of Qatari and Saudi strain of Islam will push aside its own agenda. Further, Turkey itself is entrapped into the Syrian civil war, since it is being used as the stage point for attacks of the rebels against Syria, since Ankara made wrong calculations that the war will end soon and it would not endanger its own stability. Thus, in the Balkan terrain Turkey places itself in another strategic crossroad, endangering it own "investments" in the local Islamic communities without an easy exit. 

The USA, although they have invested considerable political, diplomatic, economic and most importantly military capital in the Balkans, seem absent from the developments while Russia without doing anything of substance wins "Hearts and minds" of the Christian Orthodox population in the region which forms the majority in most countries. That further obstructs Serbia's impeding accession in the Euro Atlantic structures, whilst it also hinders the socio-economic development for the whole of the region from FYROM-Kosovo-Albania up to Montenegro and Bosnia. In essence, a territory in Europe which is being contested by the most extremist form of Sunni Islam will certainly find itself unable to integrate in both the EU and NATO.

The issue of "Greater Albania" which was mentioned previously is another tinderbox in political terms and is gaining in pace based upon all available data. Apart from the public statements being heard even from the Prime Minister of Albania Sali Berisha in December 2012, a few years back in January 2010 three quarters of Kosovo-Albanians already supported such goal according to Gallup Balkans Monitor and two-thirds of the Albanian citizens. It’s a common secret and an obvious everyday political reality that nationalistic movements from all Albanian communities in the Balkans are actively pursuing such prospect which can only be achieved through another "Balkan war" of the scale of the ones back in 1912-1913 which were also the prelude for WW1. 

In overall, the normalization of the Balkans and in particular of Kosovo is far from over and new set of issues are emerging such as the gradual expansion of extremists from the Middle East. For those really interested in establishing stability and prosperity in the region, a careful assessment of the historical context upon which the Balkan Peninsula was formed should be a priority. Otherwise history may repeat itself in one of the most turbulent areas in Europe and one where all major Empires of both modern and ancient era begun their course of decline. Balkans is the barometer of Eurasian politics and the cultural revolving door between the "West" and the "East" since the break-up of the Roman Empire, a move that sealed the fate of "Rome" for many centuries ahead.