It is perhaps the most dangerous idea in European politics today, and therefore a threat to the entire continental order. And in a sign of the times it’s yet another reboot. The government of Serbia, particularly the country’s Minister of the Interior, Aleksandar Vulin, calls it the ‘Serbian World’ (Srpski svet). It refers to the stated desire by Belgrade to enact the formal, institutional, and political union of all ethnic Serbs in the Western Balkans. That is, the unification of all Serbs and all ‘Serb lands’ – territories inhabited by significant ethnic Serb populations in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, and North Macedonia – in one state.
During the Yugoslav Wars, this idea was known by a different name: ‘Greater Serbia’ (Velika Srbija). It was the animating principle behind then President Slobodan Milosevic’s wars of conquest and extermination in the region between 1991 and 1999. The apex horror of that initiative was the Bosnian Genocide from 1992 to 1995, which saw the Serbian government and its proxy forces attempt the wholesale removal and liquidation of the country’s non-Serb population, with the Bosniak community as its primary target. The aim was to ‘purify’ Bosnia of the taint of ‘Islamisation’ (that is, the predominantly Muslim Bosniaks) and annex it to the new, enlarged Serbian polity, along with significant parts of then occupied Croatia.
In the fantastical narratives of Serbian nationalist ideologues like Milosevic and his underlings Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic – both currently serving life sentences for genocide and crimes against humanity following convictions at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – this entire bloody effort was part of the process of restoring Serbia to an era of halcyon greatness, to a time before the fall of the medieval Serbian state to the Ottoman Empire in 1459. And exterminating the indigenous Muslims of the former Yugoslavia, the Bosniaks and Albanians, was the ultimate form of revenge against ‘the Turks’ because these communities were improbably portrayed in the Serbian nationalist discourse as the ancestors and collaborators of the hated Ottomans.