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.
New govt regulations on licence plates triggered protests at Serbian border and escalated tensions with Belgrade. Govt implemented regulation beginning 20 Sept requiring replacement of Serbian licence plates with temporary Kosovo ones when entering Kosovo; govt said move imposes “reciprocity” with measure similar to long-time Serbian practice with Kosovo-registered cars. Rejecting decision, hundreds of Kosovo Serbs 20-21 Sept blocked roads leading to Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings, prompting armed police 20 Sept to deploy to border, where they fired tear gas at blockades. European Commission immediately called on both parties to exercise restraint “without any delay”. Serbian President Vučić 21 Sept held National Security Council meeting to discuss possible economic and political sanctions “if Kosovo does not change its decisions”. Serbian defence ministry 24 Sept said President Vučić gave order to heighten alert for army and police units; Serbian fighter jets 26 Sept flew close to Jarinje border crossing. Police 25 Sept said Serbs set fire to car registration office in Zubin Potok town and threw two hand grenades (which did not explode) at civil registration office in Zvecan town near border crossings in Mitrovica district, northern Kosovo; PM Kurti same day accused Serbia of attempting to “provoke a serious international conflict”. EU and NATO next day called on Kosovo and Serbia to de-escalate situation in northern Kosovo. Meanwhile, Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, Netherlands, 15 Sept began first case against former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Salih Mustafa for atrocities committed during Kosovo War.
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.
Serbia and Kosovo must build on a recent breakthrough in negotiations and extend dialogue to sensitive issues, especially northern Kosovo’s institutions, in order to keep their fragile relationship moving forward.
Kosovo deserves to celebrate today as the international community converts the “supervised independence” it achieved four years ago to full independence, but it must also do more to guarantee full protection of minority rights, especially those of the country’s Serb population.
The dispute about Kosovo’s sovereignty continues to fuel tensions and violent clashes in northern Kosovo, halting Kosovo’s and Serbia’s fragile dialogue and putting at risk Serbia’s EU candidacy.
The dispute between Kosovo and Serbia, which keeps the Western Balkans divided and insecure, is most acute in Kosovo’s northern municipalities.
The development of more realistic, if not yet fully public, attitudes in Kosovo and Serbia suggest a win-win resolution of their dispute is feasible if both sides promptly open talks with the aim of reaching a comprehensive compromise.
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.
Political instability keeps growing in the Western Balkans amid geopolitical contests and increased tensions with Russia. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to engage intensively to ensure the political space for avoiding more serious crisis does nto entirely vanish in the Western Balkans.
Originally published in Today's Zaman