The long-running dispute between Kosovo and Serbia was a major driver of conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s and led to the separation of Kosovo (with its ethnic Albanian majority) from Serbia at the end of that decade. Belgrade and Pristina have never normalised relations with each other, with Serbia continuing to refuse to recognise Kosovo’s independence. The sharpest point of friction today is the level of self-rule in the four northern Kosovo municipalities, home to a Serb majority, and their connection to Serbia. Violent protests have occurred repeatedly since 2021. Crisis Group closely watches developments in the region and recommends ways to foster dialogue that could help avert violence and eventually lead to normalised relations.

CrisisWatch Kosovo

Unchanged Situation

Pristina faced pressure to resolve currency issue, PM Kurti alleged Serbian troop movements near border, and electoral authorities set date for referendum on removal of ethnic Albanian mayors in north.

Govt maintained firm stance on currency issue. During 13-15 March trip to Kosovo, U.S. Special Envoy Gabriel Escobar urged govt to suspend new regulation banning use of Serbian dinar, primary currency for cash and commercial transactions among Kosovo Serbs. PM Kurti 19 March insisted he would not reverse decision, saying Central Bank’s move was designed to tackle “financing of terrorism and other illegal activities”. Kosovo and Serbia chief negotiators 25 March met in Belgian capital Brussels to discuss issue but failed to reach agreement.

Prime Minister accused Belgrade of troop movements along border. PM Kurti 21 March shared footage of Serbian Army units near Kosovo border, claiming Belgrade was “waiting for the best possible opportunity to invade Kosovo”; Belgrade 22 March dismissed accusations as “disinformation campaign”. NATO-led force same day said situation is “calm but fragile”.

Authorities backed referendum on removal of ethnic Albanian mayors in north. Central Election Commission 9 March approved referendum on whether to dismiss ethnic Albanian mayors in four Serb-majority northern municipalities, whose election in April 2023 (boycotted by Serbs) triggered violent protests. Vote slated for 21 April, after which govt is expected to announce new elections.

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In The News

15 Feb 2023
There’s just zero trust [between Kosovo and Serbia] and active hostility on both sides. Gzero

Marko Prelec

Consulting Senior Analyst, Balkans

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