Recent developments in Kosovo have witnessed a significant reversal in the government's stance. Prime Minister Albin Kurti reneged on a 2013 agreement, brokered by the European Union, which aimed to establish a separate association of elected mayors for the Serb minorities in the region. This decision led to Serb boycotts of the mayoral elections, resulting in the election of ethnic Albanian candidates in four mayoralties with strikingly low turnout figures of just 3.8 per cent. In response, the Serb community voiced concerns about the new mayors' lack of a legitimate mandate.
Tensions reached a boiling point as violent protests erupted when Kosovo-Albanian authorities sought to install the newly elected mayors last week. The consequences were dire, leaving over 60 casualties on both ends, thus painting a bleak picture of the region's stability. This tumultuous outburst of unrest stands as the most severe manifestation of violence observed within this territory in well over a decade, raising alarming concerns for the future trajectory of peace and security.
Amidst the volatile landscape of Kosovo, blame game politics have taken center stage. Kurti swiftly pointed fingers at the "fascist mobs" under the control of Serbia's government as the orchestrators behind the recent unrest. The protests stem from a culmination of grievances and a steady deterioration of relations between the Serbs and Albanians in northern Kosovo over a year and a half. The age-old dispute over Kosovo carries deep historical roots, dating back centuries. Serbia holds Kosovo dear, considering it the very core of its statehood and religious heritage, housing numerous Serb Orthodox Christian monasteries from medieval times.
For Serb nationalists, the 1389 battle fought against the Ottoman Turks on this very land serves as an enduring symbol of their national struggle. Conversely, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority perceives the region as their rightful homeland, accusing Serbia of both occupation and repression. In 1998, ethnic Albanian rebels rose against Serbian rule, triggering a brutal response from Belgrade. The resultant NATO intervention in 1999 compelled Serbia's withdrawal and the transfer of control to international peacekeeping forces.
The intricate and unresolved status of Kosovo, once a Serbian province with a predominantly ethnic Albanian population, remains a persistent source of contention. Despite Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008, Serbia consistently refuses to acknowledge its statehood, asserting its integral connection to the nation. Approximately 100 countries, including the United States, have recognised Kosovo's independence, while Russia, China, and five European Union nations have aligned with Serbia.
One truth emerges with stark clarity: the presence of Western troops, along with the looming specter of NATO military intervention, remains a crucial deterrent against the rekindling of the relentless ethnic warfare that plagued the region in the 1990s. The recent clashes between Serbs and Albanians in northern Kosovo serve as a poignant reminder, dispelling any lingering doubts. This unsettling reality underscores the vital role played by external forces in preventing the region from descending into a full-scale conflagration of violence and deepening divisions. The United States and the European Union have been quite indignant at Kosovo for instigating the current episode.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have urged Kosovo to hold new elections in the north of the country to de-escalate tensions with Serbia. The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo were invited to impromptu talks at the close of a summit of 46 European leaders in Moldova on last Thursday. “It is very clear that the Kosovan authorities bear the responsibility for the current situation,” Macron told reporters in Moldova Similarly, the United States, which played a major role in the independence of Kosovo, is also quite furious at the Kurti government for its handling of the situation.
Despite the United States' request, the Kosovo government proceeded with certain actions that had been advised against. Regrettably, these concerns materialised, aligning with Washington’s apprehensions. The United States finds itself perturbed as the Kosovo government took a decision that resulted in KFOR (NATO mission in Kosovo) and the United States grappling with the ensuing ramifications. The perception is that the burden of managing the consequences has been shouldered by the United States due to a decision made without due consideration for the broader implications. However, it would be unwise for the Serbian government to interpret the United States' dissatisfaction with the Kosovo government as an invitation to exacerbate bilateral relations.
Contrary to such assumptions, the truth is that the United States would respond with great force if Serbia attempted to capitalise on the present circumstances. Serbian President Vucic has been trying to play a double game: attempting to champion stability and a European future for Kosovo while simultaneously leveraging Serbian nationalist sentiments. This duality has defined his approach for years, straddling two distinct paths with varying objectives and strategies. Probably Vucic is relying on the support from Moscow, but he seems to be miscalculating at this moment when Putin is too much occupied with the Ukraine imbroglio.
Primarily, the responsibility for this predicament lies with the Serbs, who persistently cling to the delusion of reclaiming Kosovo for Serbia, an unattainable aspiration. It is also clear that the current steam will soon subside because the Kurti regime has no other choice but to listen to the US and Its European neighbors and announce new elections in four northern municipalities to deescalate the situation.