GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 687, 1 June 2023

Violence in Kosovo: Dangers of Escalation
Rishika Yadav

In the news
On 30 May, NATO's Joint Force Command Naples announced the deployment of reserve troops to reinforce the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), a peacekeeping force in Kosovo. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed the deployment of 700 soldiers following unrest and the injury of 30 KFOR troops on 29 May. US Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Admiral Stuart B Munsch, emphasized the need for enhanced capabilities to maintain security according to the UN Security Council mandate. He stated: "An additional reserve battalion would also increase readiness for possible deployment and stop the unrest." The violence resulted in injuries to both protesters and KFOR soldiers. US Senator Chris Murphy urged an immediate end to the provocation.

On 27 May, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic placed the military on high alert and positioned units near the Kosovo border following clashes between police and Kosovo's Serb minority. Violent confrontations erupted when residents gathered outside government buildings in the Serb-majority town of Zvecan. The event took place after police attempted to install new ethnic Albanian mayors in Zvecan. The Chief of Staff of Kosovo's President Vjosa Osmani, Blerim Vela, accused "illegal and criminal structures" in Serbia of escalating tensions. 

Issues at large
First, the dispute with Kosovo over its independence and sovereignty. The Serbs living in the northern region of Kosovo, who identify with Belgrade as their capital, do not accept Kosovo's declaration of independence. Additionally, they are unwilling to work with the newly-elected ethnic Albanian mayor and want to create an association of majority-Serb municipalities operating with greater autonomy. Concerns were raised about Serbia's heightened readiness of its armed forces at the border. 

Second, the discontent with the government in Kosovo. The Serb minority in Kosovo boycotted the April local elections in four municipalities in the north. The turnout was only 3.47 per cent of voting. When they protested and attempted to block an ethnic Albanian mayor from entering office, they were tear-gassed. Earlier, in December 2022, there was a confrontation over licence plates in northern Kosovo. Some ethnic Serbs do not recognize Kosovo's independence, causing residents in north Kosovo to reject Kosovan licence plates. 

Meanwhile, in Serbia, protests and boycotts against Vucic's rule have been met with repression and intimidation. His stance on Kosovo has drawn criticism due to his contradictory statements, expressing willingness to compromise while maintaining nationalist rhetoric. On 27 May, following these events, Vucic announced his resignation as party leader and emphasized his role as President of all citizens.  

Third, the setback to the West. The West tried to resolve the conflict for years, but progress has been slow. Serbia and Kosovo have made little progress since committing in 2013 to the EU-sponsored dialogue. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, and the US have jointly criticized Kosovo's decision to access municipal buildings in northern Kosovo forcefully. Germany and France have prioritized resolving the problems between Serbia and Kosovo in 2023; the proposed Franco-German agreement aims for mutual recognition between the two states and emphasizes fostering good neighbourly ties. Serbia's President Vučić, however, opposes the proposal, fearing it would require recognizing Kosovo's independence.

In perspective
Serbia and Kosovo have been unable to agree on major issues. The Serbian community demands the establishment of a Serbian municipality association, while ethnic Albanians fear it could lead to a pro-Serbian state. The conflict has led to tensions between the two sides and has the potential to escalate into violence.

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