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.
In late May, violent protests broke out in Kosovo’s four northernmost municipalities, where Serbs form the majority. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec explains what caused the unrest and what should be done to defuse tensions.
EU pushed for progress on normalisation with Serbia, NATO mulled expanding peacekeeping force amid tensions in north, and Kosovo Serb participation in Serbia’s Dec poll remained uncertain.
EU reiterated normalising relations with Serbia “essential”. In 8 Nov reports on EU enlargement, EU Commission reiterated normalisation process “essential” for both parties, pledged for “more serious commitment” on both sides; EU report on Kosovo also called on authorities to organise “fully inclusive” local elections “as soon as possible” in Serb-majority northern municipalities. Meanwhile, EU 13 Nov confirmed existence of proposal for establishing Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM); FM Donika Gërvalla 24 Nov said European CSM proposal was “good basis” for discussions.
Kosovo warned of continued threat from Serbia. Following deadly attack in northern Kosovo late Sept, PM Kurti 19 Nov warned of continued threat emanating from Serbia. NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 20 Nov confirmed NATO is considering “more enduring increased presence” in Kosovo, while warning Belgrade to avoid another military build-up near border. German FM Baerbock 29 Nov announced deployment of “150 additional troops” to NATO-led force in Kosovo.
Uncertainty over Kosovo Serb participation in Serbia’s elections persisted. After Serbia 13 Oct scheduled snap parliamentary elections for 17 Dec, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) 3 Nov received Serb request to support participation of voters living in Kosovo; OSCE made support conditional on Pristina’s approval. After PM Kurti 19 Nov insisted on need for “special agreement”, Serbia 22 Nov changed tack, allowing voters to cross border to cast their ballot.
Six arrested in Pristina at protest against Head of Hague-based War Crimes Court. Protesters 29 Nov reportedly used smoke grenades to protest at visit of Ekaterina Trendafilova, President of Kosovo Specialist Chambers, Hague-based court with jurisdiction over crimes “either commenced or committed” in Kosovo 1998-2000; police subsequently arrested six members of Social Democratic opposition party.
There’s just zero trust [between Kosovo and Serbia] and active hostility on both sides.
This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker speaks with Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s consulting senior Western Balkans analyst, about the latest flare-up of tensions in northern Kosovo, what it means for the prospect of normalisation between Belgrade and Pristina and the potential for further escalation.
Kosovo-Serbia relations have floundered in recent months, reflecting underlying tensions over Kosovo’s northern municipalities. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2023 – Spring Update, Crisis Group encourages the EU to mediate and promote normalisation of relations between the two countries.
This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.
This week on War & Peace, Crisis Group’s Balkan expert Marko Prelec joins Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope to discuss why the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue has stalled, why the status quo is untenable and how to change it.
Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.
Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.
While Kosovo and Serbia have been at peace since 1999, the unresolved dispute over the former’s independence is a potential source of instability in the western Balkans. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to determine whether there is possibility to expressly focus on achieving a final agreement based on mutual recognition, help establish communication channels between the parties, and highlight that both Begrade and Pristina should address pervasive misinformation about the dispute, and communicate with their respective peoples in a more concerted way.
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