Western Balkans faces heightened risk of inter-ethnic violence in 2024, US intelligence report warns

Western Balkans faces heightened risk of inter-ethnic violence in 2024, US intelligence report warns
Serb nationalist graffiti in north Mitrovica, Kosovo. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews March 13, 2024

The Western Balkans region is at an increased risk of localised inter-ethnic violence in 2024, according to the annual report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) of the US.

Within the region, the report singles out Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo as areas of concern in the section titled 'Conflicts and fragility'. The report warns that nationalist leaders in these regions could heighten tensions for their own political gains, while external actors may exploit ethnic divisions to further their interests or hinder Balkan integration into European and transatlantic institutions.

"Nationalist leaders are likely to exacerbate tension for their political advantage and outside actors will reinforce and exploit ethnic differences to increase or protect their regional influence or thwart greater Balkan integration into the EU or Euro–Atlantic institutions," the report states.

It mentions Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, president of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity, as a potential threat. 

"Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik is taking provocative steps to neutralise international oversight in Bosnia and secure de facto secession for his Republika Srpska. His action could prompt leaders of the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) population to bolster their own capacity to protect their interests and possibly lead to violent conflicts that could overwhelm peacekeeping forces,” the report says. 

The document also points to the 2023 clashes between Serb nationalists and Kosovar authorities, which resulted in casualties including injuries to Nato peacekeepers. 

These were related to protests over the appointment of ethnic Albanian mayors in four municipalities with majority Serb populations, following elections boycotted by local Serbs. Kosovo’s Central Election Commission (CEC) recently announced that a referendum is set to take place on April 21 for the removal of mayors from office in the four municipalities. 

In a separate incident in September, an armed group of Serbs killed a Kosovar border guard then engaged in a gun battle with law enforcers from within the Banjska monastery.