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Why does the Albanian-Serbian Conflict on the Kosovo-Serbia Line Deepens?

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On 11 December 2022, the President of Serbia Alexander Vucic announced that he would request the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Kosovo Task Force (KFOR) to allow the deployment of Serbian soldiers and police to northern Kosovo, citing United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1244.[1] Because, on 16 December 2022, Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic stated that he formally requested KFOR to allow the return of some 1000 Serbian military personnel to Kosovo.[2]

Although this request was rejected by Washington, the recent escalation of conflicts in the north of Kosovo and Vucic’s subsequent request for such a request have raised concerns on the European continent that the second war will start between Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans.

The background of the tension between Kosovo and Serbia is that Albanians do not want to be dependent on Serbian rule. Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians are in the majority, seceded from Serbia and declared its independence in 2008 with the support of the West. However, this secession was not accepted by Serbia. Thus, the Kosovo-Serbia conflict, which destabilized the Balkans, began.  The development of this conflict is shaped by three parameters: the relationship between the ethnic group and the state, the existence of a kin state, and ties with external actors.

In addition to not being recognized by Serbia, Kosovo also faces the tendency of Kosovo Serbs to secede and unite with Serbia. Because Serbs remain a minority in the state where Albanians constitute the majority. In this context, Kosovo Serbs express that they do not want to compromise their national identity. Especially the Serbian minority gathered in Northern Mitrovica in the north of Kosovo insists on not applying the rules of the Kosovo Government and not accepting the state authority.

As a matter of fact, the beginning of the recent tension was marked by the decision to surrender Serbian license plates and IDs to receive Kosovo’s national identity and license plates. This demand of the Pristina administration was considered a war against Serbs and protests started. Subsequently, with the detention of former Serbian police officer Dejan Pantic, the nationalist sentiments of Kosovo Serbs gathered in North Mitrovica, which became the center of Serbian resistance, were reinforced and they moved away from accepting state authority.

Moreover, recent demonstrations have seen Kosovo Serbs trying to undermine the authority of the state. They have set up roadblocks at the borders of Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Zveçan Towns to prevent the passage of Kosovo officials, making it difficult to control Kosovo in the north.

At the same time, there are attempts to deter Kosovo Serbs who obey the rules of the state. For example, in Zubin Potok, a predominantly Serbian town, a car belonging to a Serbian citizen was burned by radical groups because it had Kosovo license plates.[3]  Thus, the developments since August 2022 make it difficult to integrate Serbs and ensure Kosovo’s integrity.

The fact that the Kosovo-Serbia line is a sensitive region open to the influence of external actors also affects the future of relations. As it is known, the US, which wants to establish influence in the region, has argued that Kosovo should be independent for the sake of European security. In this way, the US, acting together with the EU, played an active role in Kosovo’s independence.

Although the EU is divided on the issue of recognizing Kosovo’s independence, today EULEX, together with KFOR, is trying to ensure state-building in Kosovo. This support from the West brings Kosovars closer to the EU and NATO in economic, political and social fields.

Russia, on the other hand, acts together with Serbia against the West and does not recognize Kosovo’s independence. In fact, Russia supports not only Serbs in Serbia, but also Slavic nationalists throughout the region, with which it has close historical, religious and cultural ties. In this context, it strengthens Slavic nationalism by fueling the separatist sentiments of Kosovo Serbs. At the same time, it also wants to reinforce Serbia’s anti-Western sentiments since Kosovo gained its independence with NATO support. In this way, Moscow gains Belgrade’s support not only in the Balkans but also in the international community, as in the case of Serbia’s failure to implement Western sanctions against Russia.

The approach of external actors to the Kosovo-Serbia tension, which started with the license plate and identity crisis and continued to deepen, has been in line with this network of relations. The Moscow administration accuses Pristina, Brussels and Washington of attempting to expel the Serbian population and Serbian social institutions from Kosovo and warns the international community that it must also respect the rights of Serbs in the region.

Moreover, it claims that the West is trying to start a civil war between Serbia and Kosovo in order to open a new front against Russia and threaten Russia.[4] The West, on the other hand, does not want an ethnic conflict between Serbia and Kosovo in terms of its regional and global interests and tries to prevent Russia from being active in the region through Serbia, which has influence over Kosovo Serbs, by exercising restraint. For this reason, the West emphasizes the need for dialogue between the parties and states that the presence of KFOR is important both in terms of protecting the rights of Kosovo Serbs and preventing Serbian forces from entering Kosovo.[5] It is also claimed that Russia wants to distract the West’s attention from Ukraine by creating problems in the Balkans.[6]

As it can be understood, the Albanian-Serbian tension in the Western Balkans, which has always had a high potential for conflict, is also affected by the struggle between external actors actively involved in the conflict. Given this sensitivity and the involvement of multiple actors in the region, the impact of a possible war in the Balkans would be extremely destructive. However, with the social, political, and economic repercussions of the Ukraine War, it is thought that Europeans, in particular, will not allow a new war to start on the continent. However, the low probability of war does not mean that the conflict will end. In particular, the far-right group People’s Patrols in Serbia is expected to make its presence felt more in the North of Kosovo.

In conclusion, Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 did not solve the Albanian-Serbian ethnic conflict; on the contrary, it added a new dimension. Since then, Kosovo’s struggle for recognition and against separatist Serbs has begun. Serbia’s support for the Kosovo Serbs, together with Russia, created a suitable ground for the radicalization of nationalists in the north of the country. Serbia’s direct aggressive policy against Kosovo is prevented by the presence of NATO and the EU, which are actively involved in the conflict. As can be seen from the parties involved, the Albanian-Serbian conflict is not only an ethnic problem but also has the potential to turn into a power struggle over ethnicity between actors with conflicting interests. In this context, it seems that external actors will need to be convinced before an Albanian-Serbian agreement is reached to normalize the conflict.


[1]“Serbia’s Vucic Seeks Nato Approval to Send Forces to North Kosovo”, Aljazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/12/11/serbias-vucic-seeks-nato-approval-to-send-forces-to-north-kosovo, (Date of Accession:13.12.2022).

[2] Milica Stojanovic, “Serbia Officially Asks for Security Personnel to Return to Kosovo”, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/12/16/serbia-officially-asks-for-security-personnel-to-return-to-kosovo/, (Date of Accession:16.12.2022).

[3] “Another Kosovo Serb Car With RKS Plates Burned”, Prishtina İnsight, https://prishtinainsight.com/another-kosovo-serb-car-with-rks-plates-burned/, (Date of Accession:13.12.2022).

[4] “Kosovo Conflict is Part of US, EU and NATO’s Broader Plan Aimed Against Serbia&Russia, Experts Say”, Sputnik, https://sputniknews.com/20221212/kosovo-conflict-is-part-of-us-eu-and-natos-broader-plan-aimed-against-serbia–russia-experts-say-1105391084.html, (Date of Accession:13.12.2022).

[5] Giorgio Cafiero, “Tensions in north Kosovo – whose agenda does the flare-up serve?”, Aljazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/12/15/tensions-in-north-kosovo-whose-agenda-does-the-flare-up-serve, (Date of Accession:16.12.2022).

[6] Ibid.

Gamze BAL
Gamze BAL
Gamze BAL has completed her undergraduated education at Sakarya University, Department of International Relations. Afterward, she has completed his master in Sakarya University with a dissertation titled “The European Union’s Policy on Palestine-Israel Issue in Post 1992”. Between 2021 and 2022, she studied doctoral program in European Union at Institute of Social Sciences, Istanbul University. At the present time, Bal pursuing a PhD in international relations at Instıtute of Graduate Program, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University. Having advenced level in English, her main research areas are European Union, security, ethnic conflicts, means of conflict resolution.