Almost 3 months have passed since our article of March 14, 2023 titled “European Union steps up efforts to overcome Kosovo-Serbia intransigence”. Unfortunately, it is still not possible to talk about a reconciliation between the parties. On the contrary, we are watching the situation worsen. In the north of Kosovo, where Serbs live, there has been chaos again in the past weeks. KFOR soldiers caught between the sides were injured. Not 3-5 months pass without some tension in the region. The agreement and its implementing annex, which the European Union tried to impose on Serbia and Kosovo on February 27, 2023 in Brussels as a “last chance”, following the example of the 1973 agreement normalizing relations between the two Germanies, and announced that it would be signed on March 18, 2023 in Ohrid, Macedonia, as of today, unfortunately did not deliver what was expected, did not relieve the parties, and did not lead them to reconciliation at all.
Turnout in local elections boycotted by Serbs was 4 percent
The reason for the protests this time is local elections in Serb-majority areas. The elections, originally scheduled for December 18, 2022, were postponed until April 23, 2023 due to the tense situation at the time. This time, Kosovo Serbs have again demanded a postponement of the elections, threatening to boycott them. Despite the main Kosovo opposition party (Ramush Haradinaj) declaring that the conditions were not favorable for holding elections in North Mitrovica, the stubborn Prime Minister Albin Kurti ignored the warnings and held the elections. With only about 4 percent of the electorate in favor of the elections, chaos erupted as the newly elected mayors took office in the town halls of four Serb-majority towns. Serb protesters mobilized to evict the “occupiers” of these 4 municipalities. They attacked KFOR soldiers who had set up a security line to protect the municipalities. Some 10 Italian and 20 Hungarian soldiers were wounded. It should be noted that this time the clashes have been characterized as the worst display of violence in the last 10 years.
Albin Kurti has fed up all his international interlocutors
In the wake of the recent violence in northern Kosovo, both EU and US officials have strongly warned both sides, urged calm and emphasized that violence will not be tolerated in any form. Considering this latest escalation, it seems clear that Albin Kurti is the one who has lost more ground, who has lost more points. Particularly noteworthy were the statements of US officials that “this man does not listen, he continues to do his own thing”. Indeed, a critical decision was announced from Washington: Kosovo has been excluded from the “Defender Europe 2023” military exercises to be held in Albania this June. Washington, which has made great efforts for Kosovo’s recognition in the international community over the last 15 years, has been rumored to suspend its assistance to Kosovo’s efforts to join international organizations in the coming period. It was also announced that visits to the United States by the authorities in Pyristina would be rejected. At this point, the question of whether there is a break in Kosovo-US relations comes to mind. In 1999, Washington, which, without a UN Security Council resolution, led NATO to bomb some strategic targets in Serbia in order to stop the massacres committed by the Serbian butcher Milosevic in Kosovo, will no longer be tolerant of Albin Kurti’s stubborn stance.
Pointless stubbornness has failed: elections will be renewed
In the wake of the violence in northern Kosovo, Belgrade has called for the immediate departure of “fake mayors” and the withdrawal of Kosovo special police forces from Serb areas. Security in Serb-majority towns is mainly entrusted to KFOR, but Kosovo police also operate there. It is inconceivable that a country’s police would be banned from a part of that country. In the face of intense pressure, Albin Kurti was forced to backtrack on the newly elected mayors, who were not recognized as legitimate by the international community. We understand that municipal elections will be held again in North Mitrovica in the near future.
Does Kosovo, a country of 1.8 million inhabitants, have no other population than 80-90 thousand Serbs?
I don’t know if Albin Kurti, Kosovo’s leftist and nationalist leader, who owes his political success to his anti-Serb stance, can learn any lessons from the latest tensions. In other words, when will it become clear that Kosovo’s only problem is not North Mitrovica? When will Kosovo’s politicians realize that Kosovo, the most backward country in the region, needs development, not conflict? When will the Kosovar public realize that the economy is sustained by the remittances sent by Kosovars living abroad, that there is no progress in solving the unemployment and employment problem, and that attracting foreign capital is a priority? When will it be understood that the confrontational policy pursued under the leadership of Albin Kurti will not bring peace and prosperity to Kosovo, the only state in the Western Balkans that has not yet been granted candidate status in the European Union? As a result of the latest tensions caused by Mr. Kurti, I read that the EU’s IPA funds (Instrument for pre-accession assistance) allocated to Kosovo have been suspended and the visa liberalization promised for the end of 2023 has been postponed. These regrettable steps backwards will be remembered as the price of Mr. Kurti’s insistence on a northern Kosovo.
Pristina cannot achieve prosperity, development and stability through confrontational politics
As a retired bureaucrat who worked in the region for more than 5 years and followed the region for 15 years, I have a message for my brothers and sisters in Pristina: Serbs living in northern Mitrovica are citizens of Kosovo; the right thing to do is to win these citizens, not to lose them. It is in your interest to make them look towards Pristina and not towards Belgrade. Keep in mind that the politicians of the “Serb List” act under Belgrade’s influence. We know that Kosovo citizens who believe that options other than EU membership will bring prosperity and stability to Kosovo are a minority. In 5-10-15 years from now, when you gain EU membership on the same date as Serbia, this problem will have already disappeared completely. If your accession process is used to win the hearts and minds of 80-90 thousand Serbs, whose existence we only know about because of violence, Kosovo will win this duel that we are tired of. Always keep in mind that the European Union, which you have been trying to join for 20 years, is ultimately a project of peace and civilization.
Turkish commando battalion deployed to Kosovo
Upon the recent tension in the north of Kosovo, it was decided to increase the number of troops serving in KFOR from 3700 to 4500, and within this framework, Turkey was requested to send a commando battalion to the region and the deployment has been completed. In addition to our wish that our soldiers serve under the best conditions in the friendly and brotherly country, let us reiterate our wish that the issue of Northern Kosovo should not be viewed from the front of ethnic nationalism and ethnic reaction, but from the framework of a solution prioritizing prosperity, development and stability.