Officials from countries like the United States, Germany, and France are urging Kosovo and Serbia to come to a peaceful resolution following violent protests in northern Kosovo last week.
If you are not up to speed on the recent tensions in the Balkans, you’re in luck: last week ethnic Serbians living in Kosovo’s north took to the streets in protest against the ethnic Albanian politicians who were elected to office in their region. NATO sent peacekeepers, but the protests turned violent. Thirty KFOR (the NATO peacekeepers) members were wounded, and as a result NATO sent an additional 700 personnel to the region.
The core of the issue here are the ethnic Serbs being dissatisfied by the election results in their region. Northern Kosovo is made up of mostly ethnic, Orthodox Serbians while the rest of Kosovo is mostly Islamic Albanians. Clearly, the Serbs in Kosovo feel either cheated or dissatisfied with the election results.
Normally that might be okay, but if we look at the circumstances behind the Albanians elections to office, the Serbian motives become a little more suspicious.
The April elections that saw the Albanian mayors get elected was because the original mayors — who were Serbian — resigned from office in protest of a law regarding license plate registrations. With the offices empty, snap elections were held. During those elections, voter turnout was less than four percent because the ethnic Serbs in the district boycotted the election.
Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic supported the original resignation of the Serbian mayors as well as the voter boycott. Now, he also supports the protests. In response, he put Serbia’s military on their highest alert, and mobilized them to the border with North Kosovo.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti accused Vucic’s government of inciting the violence to help destabilize Kosovo. And while this seems petty up to par for Serbia, Kosovo is not exempt form any wrongdoing, at least in the eyes of the United States.
In an effort to deter escalation, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Kurti unnecessarily emplaced the mayors and that the decision increased unwanted tensions. EU member states have called for new, free elections in the Serb dominated provinces, and Kurti even stated he is open to the idea.
Unless the two sides come to some mutual decision, the fears that the tensions could turn into a full-blown conflict will persist.