Just six days before Donald Trump’s inauguration as US President, a Serbian train took up position on the Kosovo border. It was painted ostentatiously with the slogan “Kosovo is Serbian” in several languages along with national Serbian and Orthodox Christian emblems.
The train has been stationary since Friday, Jan. 14. Kosovan security authorities are blocking its advance along the new 213km long rail link from Belgrade to Mitrovica, a town in Muslim Kosovo which has a large Serbian population.
This is more than a symbolic reminder of the brutal Balkan wars of the 1990s. Two armies are already poised for battle: 60,000 Serbian troops, including armored, artillery and air force units, are on war preparedness, facing a much smaller Kosovo security force which, after calling up reserves, numbers around 6,000 combatants.
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic beat a war drum this week when he declared: “If Serbians are killed, we’ll send our army to Kosovo.”
It was 19 years ago that Serbia signed an agreement for ending its war with Kosovo after NATO forces intervened and US warplanes bombed the Serbian capital of Belgrade into capitulation. The West recognized Kosovan independence, but Russia and China still view the country as an integral part of Serbia.
The Kosovo war was the sequel to the 1992-1995 conflict between Christian Serbia and Croatia, on one side, and Muslim Bosnia, on the other. This war was brought to a close after President Bill Clinton’s intervention forced Serbia to sign the Dayton Accords and cede broad areas of Bosnia to Muslim rule.
In sum, the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s saw many horrors, but also ended in American support for the establishment of independent Muslim enclaves in southern Europe. Orthodox Christian rule and territory, which were under Russian military, religious and national influence, were substantially downsized.
This policy was pursued systematically for 15 years by Presidents Clinton and Obama with the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is widely seen today as the key which in recent years unlocked continental Europe to the influx of millions of Muslim migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
Four south European nations, Turkey, Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania, provided the arrivals with their gateway into West Europe.
The Serbian train parked on the Kosovo border marked the end of the Obama era and underlined Belgrade’s non-acceptance of the borderline imposed in the last century on Serbia. The train is expected to cross that border after the Trump inauguration Friday, Jan. 20. If it is attacked by Kosovan security forces, the Serbian army will march in. And even if it is not attacked, the Serbian army plans to march behind the train across the border in a bid to eradicate one of President Clinton’s proudest achievements.
Indeed, a statue of Bill Clinton stands at the center of Pristina’s main square, in appreciation of his gift of Muslim independence and liberation from Serbian rule.
When it starts moving, the Serbian train will pose the new US president with his first test in dealing with an international crisis involving the Muslim issue before he has a chance to settle in at the Oval Office.
He will find on his desk an urgent note to the US and members of the European Union from Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj asking for assistance against Serbian aggression. A similar SOS in 1998 brought a NATO elite force, consisting mainly of British units, rushing to Kosovo. In 2017, Kosovo can forget about help from any European government, even sympathetic Germany and France.
This is not just about the presidential transition in Washington. A harsh relic remains from the old wars: On June 12, 1999, Russian President Boris Yeltsin landed an army contingent at Pristinia airfield to put the brakes on Kosovo’s takeover by the West. That contingent was never withdrawn. It is still available in case his successor, Vladimir Putin, chooses to back the Serbian train as it rolls into Kosovo.
His response will offer an important insight into the secret understandings reached between Trump and Putin for collaboration in the war on Islamist terror and the prevention of further Muslim expansion in Europe.