NATO has announced that it will reinforce its presence in Kosovo after the disturbances registered in recent days. Earlier this week, clashes injured 30 NATO soldiers and 50 Serb protesters who were rejecting the authority of ethnic Albanian mayors elected in Serb-boycotted elections in several municipalities in northern Kosovar. Belgrade, for its part, increased the alert level of the Army to the maximum to deploy units in the border area with Kosovo.
The tension and violence that have been unleashed show that none of the diplomatic, military and political efforts made over the last 30 years by all the actors involved have succeeded in healing the wound. A wound generated by the 1998-1999 war between the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, already reduced to Serbia and Montenegro, and the Kosovo Liberation Army –with the support of NATO and Albanian forces–, and from which the independence of Kosovo was born, in 2008.
Today, as yesterday, the internal fracture continues to be clearly visible in a territory of barely 10,000 square kilometers and close to two million inhabitants, with a Kosovar Albanian majority that tries to impose its demographic weight in all its corners and a Kosovar Serb minority that feels marginalized in terms of generals, but which is willing to make itself felt in the northern areas, closer to Serbia.
It is there, in just four municipalities in which the latter are the majority, where the current crisis has been brewing. Poor inter-community relations led last November to the en bloc resignation of all Kosovar Serb elected officials and officials from all public bodies, in response to Pristina’s decision to impose Kosovar (non-Serb) license plates on all vehicles in that border region. .
As a consequence, a new electoral process was launched that led, on April 23, to local elections totally boycotted by the majority Kosovar Serb community, in such a way that the new mayors (Kosovar Albanians) in those four municipalities have hardly had the votes of 3.4% of potential voters. And now, when said mayors have wanted to take office, they have had to be protected by the Police (also Kosovar Albanian) in the face of the violent protest of those who consider them to be illegitimate authorities.
A collective failure
Along the way they have all failed. In the first place, the Kosovar political actors themselves, who have not been able to close the existing gaps between the two communities and promote a peaceful coexistence that makes it possible to overcome the identity barriers anchored in an anachronistic and xenophobic nationalism at all costs. Added to this is Serbia, which refuses to recognize Kosovo as an independent state and which openly feeds the feeling of victimization and revenge of a Kosovar Serb minority that continues to dream of returning to the eternal homeland.
But in the same line it is possible to identify both the UN, inoperative for a long time, NATO and the European Union. It is true that the Atlantic Alliance was a relevant actor in tipping the balance in favor of Pristina in the war with Belgrade, and it is also true that a military organization cannot be claimed to solve problems of a political nature, with identity, historical keys and social for which it is not equipped.
But it is also a reality that, since the entry into operation of KFOR (International Security Force for Kosovo, 1999), it has received much criticism, either for what some (led by Russia) consider a clear bias in favor of Kosovar Albanians or their inability to prevent recurring violent outbursts at the border. To this is added that these days it has not been able to stop the violence either and has even received direct attacks from violent protesters, to the point that it has been decided to send 700 more troops to add to the around 3,800 deployed there. .
And the EU?
The EU is not coming off well from what happened either. It is a fact that its main trump card – the integration of both Serbia and Kosovo into the community family – has so far not been attractive enough to deactivate the negative charge of the emotions at stake and to involve the Kosovar political actors in the same direction. On the far horizon, there is still the idea that the Balkans will eventually become part of the Union, but at the moment there are still five member countries that do not even recognize its existence as a State – Cyprus, Slovakia, Spain, Greece and Romania – which makes this objective unfeasible in the short term.
But it is also that it was the EU that achieved the Brussels Agreement in 2013, whereby Serbia and Kosovo committed themselves, among other things, to creating an Association/Community of municipalities with a Serb majority in Kosovo, something that was never has established and that would have served to prevent it from reaching the current point.
a positive sign
The only positive sign of all this is that, breaking with the usual script by which Russia is always behind Belgrade and the US and the European Union behind Pristina, on this occasion, as has just been made clear in the tense meeting with Josep Borrell, Accompanied by Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron, with the Kosovar president, Vjosa Osmani, and his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, Brussels has demanded that the first repeat the failed elections and the second to change its obstructionist position, actively calling for participation of the Kosovar Serbs in said elections.
And so –among errors, denials of responsibility and conspiracies– the instability of Kosovo continues to be played with. But nobody, in the context of the war in Ukraine, should be interested in it going further.
Jesús A. Núñez Villaverde is co-director of the Institute for Studies on Conflicts and Humanitarian Action (IECAH)