Recently, tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have been felt as a result of Pristina’s declaration that vehicles owned by Kosovo citizens must be registered with license plates produced by the Republic of Kosovo’s authorities. After the ruling, the Serb minority, which is primarily concentrated in the country’s north, protested it by erecting barricades and starting fire. The Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) shares Alban Dafa’s opinions on the tension as a researcher at the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) in Albania.
- What do you think about the crisis between Kosovo-Serbia? Can you evaluate the reasons for the emergence of the crisis?
Northern Kosovo is in a state of permanent crisis, which flares up occassionally as the Government of Kosovo attempts to exert its sovereign rights in the north. Those rights range from law enforcement, taxation and customs administration, energy distribution, and border control.
The latter, border control, has always been a matter of contention, but it become rather prominent last year when the government of Prime Minister Kurti decided to establish ‘reciprocity measures’. This meant that car entering Kosovo bearing Serbian license plates would be issued a temporary one by the Kosovo government at the border crossing points with Serbia. This measure was enforced by the Serbian government towards cars entering Serbia bearing license plates issued by the Kosovo government. Last year, this issue was temporarily solved through EU mediation by agreeing that the national symbols in each of the license plates would be covered when the cars with Kosovo license plates entered Serbia and vice versa.
The current crisis has been prompted because the Serbian government does not want the Kosovo government to tell Serbs in the North to put Kosovo-issued license plates instead of the Serbian-issued ones they currently hold. This is not merely a matter of license plates, but a matter of sovereingty.
The Serbian government does not want the Kosovo government to extend its sovereingty over Serbs in the North; it wants to maintain its own sovereingty over the Serbs living there. Just to illustrate with an example: If you buy something in North Mitrovica, you will have to use Serbian dinars, instead of euros – the currency used by Kosovo.
- How far do you think the crisis could go? Can KFOR intervene?
The positions of the parties at this stage do not suggest that it will be solved easily. The pressure on Serbia from the US is slowly increasing, and Serbia is reacting to that pressure through inflamatory statements about the Kosovo government wanting to ‘expel the Serbs from the North’, which blatently false.
Despite the statements of president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, I do not think that there will be any major escalations in terms of a possible military conflict. It is more likely that the Serbian government and the Serbs List (Lista Srpska), a major political party in Northern Kosovo, will exert political pressure on the Kosovo government by undermining the institutions of Kosovo. Serbia will also try to exert international pressure on Kosovo, but this is increasingly becoming less effective than before the Ukraine war, after which Serbia has been put in a rather defensive position.
KFOR, indead, can intervene should the situation become problematic, and the Kosovo law enforcement authorities cannot effectively deal with it.
- What can you say about the reflections of the crisis on the regional countries? Does this crisis have any connection to the Russo-Ukrainian War?
As I described in my response to your first question, this crisis predates the war in Ukraine. Nevertheless, there are indeed dynamics that have been influenced by the war. The main one is the soft support of the US and – to a lesser extent – the EU towards Kosovo. This is mainly due to the reluctance of Serbia to join the sanction regime against Russia.