The history of Kosovo is a banner under which the international far right assembles. Western politicians would do well to understand its dangers.
In June, Le Figaro magazine ran what may have appeared to be a relatively innocuous story about Serbs living in Kosovo 20 years on from the NATO intervention there. The report prompted politicians and pundits from France’s far right to make loud claims about their country supposedly becoming like Kosovo. They made particular reference to the banlieues, which host significant minority populations in France.
Absurd though the comparison may seem, it rests on three narratives, all of which are popular among the far right in its networks throughout Europe. These narratives internationally have led to violence – and they are phenomena of which political leaders should be aware, both so that they can understand what the far right are thinking and saying, and so they can guard their own flank against contagion of far-right ideas.
Firstly, far-right figures in France and elsewhere leaped upon the Figaro story to deploy it in aid of their belief in a “Great Replacement” – a phenomenon that Europe is allegedly undergoing both now and in the coming decades. Popularised by French intellectual Renaud Camus, it accuses a globalised political elite of planning the replacement of the ‘native’ European white Christian population with Muslim newcomers – whose arrival would, in turn, help the elite gain their votes and stay in power. The story itself correctly stated that thousands of Serbs have left Kosovo since 1999, in part through instances of revenge, persecution, and lack of opportunities exacted against them. But far-right French figure Eric Zemmour took it upon himself to claim that a century ago 90 percent of the Kosovo population had been Serb and 10 percent Albanian – something which is simply not true.
Of course, Islam has been part of the Balkans for centuries, even if it has arrived in other parts of Europe more recently. To bypass this inconvenient obstacle, Great Replacement devotees retort that both induced migration that occurred centuries ago and forced conversion to Islam in the Balkans were the result of the Ottoman occupation – thus making it non-European. As a consequence, they endorse the theories of Serbian and Croatian nationalists which argue that Bosniaks are nothing but Islamised Serb or Croats.
The Christchurch terrorist in New Zealand – an admirer of Radovan Karadzic – spoke of the “Great Replacement” as a reason for his actions.
The Christchurch terrorist in New Zealand – himself an admirer of Radovan Karadzic – spoke of the Great Replacement as a reason for his actions. Videos and photos found in his collection showed firearms inscribed with a web of historical references of figures who led the fight against the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, the Serbian narrative of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo is deeply appealing to the prejudices of the Great Replacement faithful. In this interpretation, Kosovo is a herald of what awaits Europe if nobody acts now to resist: namely, a Muslim population growing in the face of a shrinking and secularised Christian population, until the former outnumbers and slaughters the latter by law or by sword. Here, Kosovo Serbs are therefore both the last brave defenders of a culture and civilisation that are being erased, and a vanguard in the global struggle against the Great Replacement.
Secondly, the far right internationally has adopted the Samuel Huntington view of a world divided into civilisations that are destined to fight each other. Regardless of their practices and religious feelings, Albanians from Kosovo are thus first and foremost Muslims of whom Kosovo Serbs, as Christians, can only be victims of persecution. It is no coincidence that Solidarité Kosovo, an NGO praised in the Figaro magazine report for providing help to Kosovo Serbs, is headed up by none other than Arnaud Gouillon, who stood as president of France in 2012 for the “ Génération Identitaire” movement. This is a white supremacist group which has branches all over Europe, and whose core doctrine is the struggle against Islam as the enemy of a white and Christian Europe. The forerunners of this were in evidence in the 1990s, such as those defending Slobodan Milosevic, who endorsed the idea that the Serbs, like in 1389, were again fighting to protect Europe from an Islamic wave. Indeed, at the time some far-right geopolitical circles created maps the alleged “green diagonal” from Bosnia to Kosovo through to Novi Pazar Sandjak. Hence the great support Serbia still enjoys among the far right and Huntingtonian circles around the world.
Thirdly, the far-right narrative about Kosovo goes hand in hand with the Russian narrative according to which the NATO bombings on Serbia and the independence of Kosovo became playthings of an imperialist Western – American – agenda, destroyed international law, and now conveniently serves as a precedent to justify the annexation of Crimea. This narrative makes it possible for the far right and the far left to join together in this anti-US imperialism struggle.
For the international far right, Kosovo is one piece on an intellectual chessboard in a Gramscian contest for cultural and political hegemony. But it is not only obviously far-right individuals and groups that have succumbed to these ideas. The invasion of Iraq – and the associated killings and human rights violations after 2003 – took place partly under the banner of a civilisational battle. This is no accident but is instead a logic consequence of a binary vision of the world, led in that case by a coalition of supposedly liberal democracies. The more this civilisational paradigm, now coupled with the Great Replacement idea and the Russian narrative of international relations, grow mainstream and normalised as a coherent world-view, the more it could push European governments’ policies towards accepting and even enacting violence and illiberalism.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.