At least 25 NATO peacekeepers have been injured in violent clashes in Kosovo and with Serbia alerting its combat forces stationed on the border, some are beginning to ask if war could return to the Balkans.
Back in December 2022, I wrote a piece about a peculiar license plate law that was being used as the scapegoat for civil unrest, and ultimately, isolated gunfights in Kosovo. Now, in May 2023, it seems tensions have not subsided, but have actually increased.
First, we need to explore some history to truly understand the complexity behind what it happening, otherwise it might not make sense.
War in the Balkans?
Back in August of 2022, a series of protests, NATO patrols, and minimal gunfire from unknown gunmen sparked increase…
From 1991 to 2001, Yugoslavia was fractured by an extremely brutal war along ethnic and religious lines. When that war ended, seven new states had emerged from what was former Yugoslavia. But while the war was over, the tension had not yet subsided.
During the war, Serbia and Montenegro had held on to Yugoslavian statehood, while Croatia and Bosnia saw most of the fighting within their territories. It is there that the tension has remained; some sides paying the ultimate price for personal sovereignty, others feeling as if their regional empire was stripped from them.
Kosovo is one of those states that exists in the periphery between those sides. Fighting its own war (one of the Yugoslav Wars) from 1998 to 1999, Kosovo was victories due to NATO intervention. But like most of the countries in the Balkans, Kosovo’s existence is complicated by a long and diverse history of ethnic and religious clashes and claims.
Fast forward to today, and much of Kosovo’s status can be defined as such: Muslim Albanians throughout, with Orthodox Serbians in the North. It is along that (oversimplified) status in which the current tensions arise.
Kosovo had officially declared independence in 2008 but has since been unrecognized by Serbia. Supported by the likes of Russia and China, Serbia has kept a firm grip on Kosovo’s desire for self-determination.
And so, NATO peacekeepers had been sent to Kosovo to keep ethnic Serbian protestors in check. Ethnic Serbians in Kosovo boycotted the April elections in North Kosovo after ethnic Albanian politicians were elected to mayoral positions. The Albanians were elected as a result of the previous mayors — of Serbian stock — resigning in November 2022 over the previous license plate dispute.
And so, KFOR — the NATO Kosovo FORce — were deployed to the riots to disperse crowds and reduce the chances of escalation. It resulted in 25 KFOR members being injured and tear gas and stun grenades being deployed.
KFOR personnel stated that “Protest is ongoing and [situation] continues to be tense especially in Zvecan. But also in other municipalities there are people and criminal groups wearing black clothes and masked.”
Some insinuate the ethnic Serbians in Kosovo are being used by Serbian President Vucic to keep Kosovo destabilized and incapable of full self-determination. To another degree, Vucic has also used the Kosovo situation as a means of appearing to be a champion for Serbs everywhere, not just in Serbia, thereby improving his image domestically.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke on the matter, saying that the Balkans is potentially facing conflict again. Noting the Yugoslav Wars, Lavrov also said Serbia and Kosovo are at risk of NATO and Western “aggression.”
NATO has issued an official statement:
What do you think? Is the situation in Kosovo one that risks broader escalation? Could a kinetic conflict emerge?
Let me know in the comments.