Turmoil in Kosovo: Diplomacy Mediating a Reigniting Conflict

PeopleOther ♦ Published: August 30, 2022; 12:50 ♦ (Vindobona)

Serbia and Kosovo have resolved the ethnic issue of the movement of citizens of both countries across their borders, said the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, and the negotiators still have to resolve the burning issue of car registration plates. In recent weeks, the conflict seemed to tighten, however, to find out what exactly it was about, read more!

Security forces removed barricades erected by Serbs in northern Kosovo. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Tiia Monto [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

In recent weeks, in the shadow of the Ukraine war, it seemed that an old conflict in Europe could flare up again. In Kosovo, there were increased protests and especially riots by Serbs in Kosovo, because of unwelcome regulations for passports and car license plates.

Kosovo, which has a majority Albanian population, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. A majority of the member states of the United Nations recognize the Republic of Kosovo. Serbia, however, continues to regard Kosovo as its province. About five percent of the 1.8 million Kosovars are Serbs. In the past, there have been blockades and clashes between the Serb minority and Kosovar and international security forces in border areas.

Background of recent tensions

There were always new tensions between Serbia, the government in Prishtina and the Serbian minority in Kosovo. This was also the case with the Kosovo government's new laws on controversial entry rules for Serbs, which were to come into force on September 1. Originally, they should have been in force since August 1. However, under pressure from the U.S. and the EU, the plans were postponed by a month.

The Kosovar government's goal was to treat Serbs crossing the border the same as Kosovars from Serbia. The plan was that Serbian identity documents would no longer be recognized at border crossings. Serbs were to be issued a provisional document instead. Serbian authorities take an identical approach when Kosovar citizens cross the border.

In response to the entry rules, Serbs in Kosovo set up barricades in predominantly Serb-populated northern Kosovo last Sunday. Shots were also reportedly fired in the direction of Kosovar police officers. The barricades have since reportedly been removed. Kosovo had demanded this to postpone the introduction of entry regulations for the time being.

However, many Kosovars use their Serbian passports, because with the Kosovar passport one would have to apply for a visa first (even in countries that recognize Kosovo). The issue of visa facilitation is getting better and most Kosovars get visas for the countries they want to enter.

Unfortunately, the problems with current regulations and the handling of license plates are similar. The controversial regulation calls for Kosovo Serbs replacing their license plates with those of the Republic of Kosovo.

EU mediation semi-successful

The European Union mediated the political conflict between Serbia and Kosovo. According to Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, "after last week's high-level dialogue meeting in Brussels and intense follow-up efforts in Pristina and Belgrade", diplomacy managed to achieve an agreement on the freedom of movement between Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

In the framework of the EU-led dialogue, Serbia had agreed to abolish entry and exit documents for holders of a Kosovar identity card, and in return, Kosovo had agreed to do the same for persons with Serbian documents.

Josep Borrel said, he is "very happy that we found a European solution that facilitates travel between Kosovo and Serbia. This is in the interest of all citizens of Kosovo and Serbia."

However, the conflict over the recognition of car license plates has not yet been resolved, Reuters news agency reported. Here, too, time is pressing for a negotiated solution: the controversial regulation requiring Kosovo Serbs to replace their license plates with those of the Republic of Kosovo is due to come into force on September 1.

Especially Austria, which has always been a strong supporter of the Western Balkans, welcomes the EU mediation but demands further strong foreign policy for the Western Balkans.

EEAS - European External Action Service