Numerous multilateral meetings have convened to discuss the Kosovo situation. Recently, the European Political Community Summit took place in Granada. Kosovo was in focus, albeit only declaratively, as no substantive steps were taken to overcome the existing crisis and reduce tensions. The forthcoming Berlin Process Summit in Tirana is unlikely to yield a solution for Kosovo, as Germany is primarily part of the problem in Kosovo, rather than a part of the solution.
The crisis escalation in Kosovo culminated in an isolated armed incident in the town of Banjska on 24 September 2023, where a group of local Serbs clashed with the Kosovo police. What is presently known is that the former Vice President of the Serbian List, Milan Radoičić, has acknowledged his presence in Banjska with a group of individuals. According to his statement, his intention was to encourage “the Serbian population in that region in offering resistance to the daily terror they are subjected to”. The aftermath of the Banjskaconflict resulted in the loss of one Kosovo police officer’s life and that of three Serbs. Since then, the Kosovar government has persistently called for sanctions against Serbia, accusing it of complicity in the attack on the Kosovo police. On the other hand, KFOR has repeatedly dismissed the possibility of ‘assuming police duties’ from the Kosovo police. At this juncture, representatives from the EU, the USA, as well as KFOR and EULEX, have affirmed their intent to await the results of the investigation before taking action or considering potential measures concerning Belgrade.
The tensions in northern Kosovo have flared up following the extraordinary local elections held in four municipalities with a Serbian majority (Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zvečan, and Zubin potok), which were boycotted by the Serbian population and their leading political party, the Serbian List. At the helm of municipalities where ethnic Serbs are in the majority, ethnic Albanians have been appointed as mayors.
Subsequently, the international community has recognized that its endorsement of the illegitimate extraordinary local elections in four municipalities with predominantly Serbian population, and the appointment of ethnic Albanians as mayors in Serbian communities, has exacerbated the existing crisis and destabilized the situation in Kosovo.
Is ‘Serbian resistance’ feasible in Kosovo?
The situation in Kosovo is overshadowed by the increased intensity of the conflict in Ukraine, events in Nagorno-Karabakh, and Hamas’ military operations (Al-Aqsa Storm) targeting Israel. Of particular concern is the political and security situation in the Western Balkans, which stands at its most precarious since the cessation of armed hostilities. The international community has made numerous misguided and ill-advised moves, not only in Kosovo but also in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where further escalation is anticipated.
The European Union’s efforts to facilitate dialogue have yielded no results. The failed mission of EULEX and the unwarranted deployment of specialized ROSU units into Serbian communities in northern Kosovo have generated tensions that carry the potential for escalation into a more significant armed conflict if left unmitigated. By way of comparison, tensions similarly mounted in Gaza, where the most right-wing government in Israel’s history has enacted repressive measures against the local populace, disregarding UN Security Council resolutions and accepted agreements. In light of this situation, parallels can be drawn with Kosovo, and the metaphor of Kosovo as the ‘European Israel’ is not used casually, with the local Serbian population assuming a role akin to the Palestinians. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is suspended, and even though the UN mission (UNMIK) operates formally and continues to submit regular biannual reports to the UN Security Council, it does not involve itself in the execution of Resolution 1244. A status report on Kosovo, scheduled to be presented to the UN Security Council on 18 October, is likely to be better prepared by numerous non-governmental organizations operating in the region, as UNMIK, in its current capacity, no longer finds justification for its presence in Kosovo.
Analysts have raised concerns regarding the potential escalation of the situation. A recent development is the appointment of Turkish General Özkan Ulutaş as the commander of the NATO/KFOR mission, with a mandate to ensure security across the entirety of Kosovo’s territory. The deployment of Kosovo Police Special Units (ROSU) in the northern part of Kosovo is uncalled for since it amplifies tensions and inflames the situation, as their composition does not align with the ethnic structure of the population in northern Kosovo. Furthermore, KFOR also could have dismantled any potentially erected roadblocks. It is imperative to avert a debacle of the international community, particularly the EU, in order to maintain peace and preserve the credibility of the international community itself, which, due to some of its actions, is increasingly becoming a part of the problem in the Western Balkans, including Kosovo. Failing to do so does not exclude the possibility and warrants caution regarding the initiation of the ‘Serbian resistance,’ a spontaneous response by the citizenry to the prevailing unsustainable and intolerable conditions.
Where has over €2.5 billion of EU taxpayers’ money gone?
The European Union’s credibility in Kosovo has reached an all-time low. This decline in reputation is not attributed to the intervention of the U.S. administration in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, but rather to certain member states delegating their envoys, thereby effectively challenging the EU’s authority and undermining its role. The United States holds a critical position in finalizing the dialogue, particularly in the phase leading to a final agreement. A pertinent question emerges: does it still make sense for the EU to continue its mediation role in the dialogue considering more than a decade has passed since the signing of the Brussels Agreement and with little progress to show? A pragmatic response would suggest that the EU has fulfilled its mediation role in the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Pristina, and it is necessary to explore a new, sustainable solution.
The role of the OSCE mission in Kosovo in organizing recent illegitimate local elections in four municipalities in northern Kosovo (Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zvečan, and Zubin Potok) is being downplayed, despite its direct contribution to the escalation. The question arises: who bears responsibility for facilitating such illegitimate local elections, especially when it was evident that the Serbian population would abstain from participation? Presently, international representatives are advocating for a fresh round of local elections in northern Kosovo. Given such actions and rapid shifts in their positions, it comes as no surprise that the international community is facing a debacle in Kosovo.
NATO/KFOR international forces play a vital role in ensuring and maintaining security in Kosovo. Nevertheless, they made a critical error by tacitly allowing the deployment of Kosovo Police Special Units (ROSU) to northern Kosovo, a move that should not have occurred without KFOR’s explicit authorization and which compounded the concernsof the Serbian community. Where KFOR is present, there is no need for ROSU.
To date, the European Union has largely squandered approximately 2.5 billion euros of EU taxpayers’ money on Kosovo. In light of the failed EULEX mission, the question is who will be held accountable for the expenditure of such a substantial amount of EU taxpayers’ funds?
Analysts contend that certain EU member states are at risk of repeating a prior misstep committed three years ago when they imposed unwarranted sanctions on Belarus. At the time, Belarus was relatively distanced from Russia, but the EU-imposed sanctions inadvertently pushed it into the embrace of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. There are speculations that some EU member states aim to replicate this error concerning Serbia and its President, Aleksandar Vučić, by contemplating the imposition of sanctions. Such actions hold the potential to irreversibly draw Serbia toward Russia, likely leading to Serbia’s definitive estrangement from the EU. This, in turn, could potentially signal the end of the EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans.
Violence should not be the path to resolving the status quo
The existing situation in Kosovo cannot be viewed in black-and-white terms, given its inherent complexity. Various actors are contributing to the situation’s destabilization. Even Bulgaria is actively engaged in Kosovo, striving to assert the presence of autochthonous Bulgarians, particularly in the area of Gora and Dragaš, by offering locals Bulgarian citizenship and associated documents, that enable them to live and work in EU countries. Particularly targeted are the Gorani people, as well as the other residents in that region.
History is repeating itself in Kosovo, and Serbs and Albanians have switched roles. In the past, Milošević’s regime-imposed repression on the Albanian population, but now, the situation has reversed.
Analysts contend that violence should not serve as a means to resolve the unsustainable status quo, and that disarmament of Kosovo’s residents is an imperative. Estimates indicate that, on average, each resident in Kosovo is in possession of one firearm. This is a consequence of recent armed conflicts, perpetual tensions, a prevailing sense of fear, and the traditional proclivity of both Albanians and Serbs for firearms, deeply intertwined with their national heritage and affinity for weaponry. The disarmament of the population should not be subject to misuse or selective application. It must apply to all residents of Kosovo with the establishment of a unified registry for firearm permit holders, in accordance with the standards and regulations observed in developed nations. Therefore, it is crucial to forestall and avert a ‘New Banjska’ event and the looming potential for a fresh conflict in northern Kosovo.
Edi Rama’s aspirations for the unification of Albania with Kosovo
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama periodically expresses his aspirations or strivings towards a Greater Albania national project, stating that the objective and ambition of his career is the unification of Albania and Kosovo while denying any personal interest. “President of Albania and Kosovo?! That is not in my plans! Unification of Albania with Kosovo, yes! That is the aspiration,” said Rama. The responsibility now rests with the authorities in Pristina. Through their actions and declarations, they should work towards the prosperity of Kosovo and all its citizens by fostering multi-ethnic harmony and an inclusive society, rather than further inflaming the already volatile situation with statements advocating the unification of Albania and Kosovo. Kosovo is already subject to the European Union’s restrictive measures, imposed as a precaution, which have resulted in damages exceeding half a billion euros.
Analysts believe that through his specific actions, Edi Rama is causing harm to Kosovo in both its international and domestic relations. A similar role is assumed by Kosovo’s ‘verbose’ President, Vjosa Osmani, when she calls for Spain and Greece, countries that haven’t recognized Kosovo’s independence, to impose sanctions on Serbia, which is met with derision in international circles. Dangerous ideas and intentions regarding the unification of Albania and Kosovo could trigger a chain reaction in the region and incite new conflicts. The path to securing peace and stability in Kosovo hinges upon the comprehensive implementation of previously signed agreements and reached accords. The Kosovo government is taking advantage of the armed incident in Banjska as an opportunity to evade its obligations under the Brussels Agreement regarding the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) and the organization of new elections in northern Kosovo, aimed at returning the Serbian population to the institutional framework.