The landmark agreement signed in 2015 was never meant to lead to this.
Instead, guarantees of freedom of movement for ethnic Serbs in Kosovo—as well as self-limiting powers by the government of Kosovo—were hailed as a promise of putting both Kosovo and Serbia on a European path while gradually putting behind the pain, suffering and sharp grievances brought on by an all out war that ended in 1999.
Think about that: a war that ended in 1999.
Instead, with much of the West hustling to buy last-minute presents for Christmas, it is now 2022 and ethnic Serbs in Kosovo are manning the barricades for the 14th day in a political climate that often seems hell-bent on depicting Serbia as a pariah.
No, Serbs have not joined in on sanctions against Russia. Yes, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has both seemed statesman like when addressing the EU (and the US) but petulant and even nationalistic at home. Yes, Serbia still has plenty of issues with regard to press rights, rule of law and the “might makes right” of favored capitalism that at times seems far less Western (despite incoming investment) than oligarchical and Russian both.
Yet the war ended in 1999—and Serbs are still being punished.
And here it also pays to keep in mind that all war is ugly. There are to this day mass graves where victims have not been identified—and Kosovo Albanians remember this. Yet there was also atrocities committed by KLA –with Serbs, Roma and moderate Albanians murdered before, during and after the war. (And keep in mind that this was an organization allegedly trained by UK “experts,” which was listed as a terrorist organization by the US as late as 1998), Then came the bombing of civilian targets by NATO—including bungles, such as when a convoy of Albanian refugees was hit; alleged bungles, such as the Chinese embassy and also a Serbian public radio station in which 14 were killed.
So yes, war is ugly. Yes, war crimes should be prosecuted.
But again, these were the events of the 1990s. This is Dec. 23, 2022 and only on Dec. 22 was it learned that an ethnic Serb police officer, Dejan Pantic, was alive and well, after being held for 13 days by Kosovo police in a location undisclosed to even EULEX.
Pantic is one of allegedly four ethnic Serb policemen arrested in Kosovo—and a prime reason why ethnic Serbs in North Kosovo have come out to protest and manned barricades in the face of pressure by Kosovo police, possibly Kosovo special forces and, of course, the EU.
Regarding Pantic, the officer’s lawyer, Ljubomir Pantovic, noted that Pantic had been held in a “container,” and that he had only now been granted permission to deal with Pantovic as legal representation.
Regarding the plight of local Serbs…
It’s a bit more complicated.
Earlier this week Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic called on NGOs working in Kosovo to make themselves heard—all the while noting that Kosovo was on the edge of real violence. The former request—which some may consider political holler—actually has merit. For years local NGOs have noted that the ethnic Serbs that have stayed have plenty of cause for concern. There are tales of harassment, intimidation, beatings and yes, murder. Bearing in mind that the year is now 2022—and that the local instigators of violence from the war time days have likely moved away, are certainly no longer young or are even dead, it can be assumed that the majority of the enclave Serbs are simply what they say they are: people who want to be left alone and live in peace.
This means freedom of movement. The right to fair representation. The right to be served by police interested in the well-being of communities that are in actuality minority communities in a greater state.
After all, the fundamental rights of minorities are key to any democracy?
Are they not?
Yet Kurti’s hard line and moves of Kosovo police—which have ranged from license plate registration demands to the seemingly naming of all ethnic Serbs in Kosovo as “criminals” to orders (or someone’s orders) to place special police on the edges of protests or barricade areas (such as special units allegedly at the bridge in Bistrica) should make one wonder.
Yet Serbia has instead faced still greater criticism (with some of the most pointed criticism coming from Germany). Possibly, a request by Vucic to KFOR to send 1,000 Serb personnel into the area to protect ethnic Serbs was a step to far. Yet this was within guidelines and regulations set down by NATO and Brussels back in 2015. In contrast, Pantic, now reportedly accused of committing a terrorist act, was held incommunicado for close to two weeks without access to a lawyer.
Let’s make no bones about it: if there are grounds to charge Pantic, hold him under proper arrest and try him in court.
But after all, pretty is as pretty does.
And democracy must go both ways.
Or so Serbia has so often been told.
Current protests ironically mirror Kosovo Albanian protests of the past, with this photo showing US soldiers in the year 2000 attempting to deal with crowds of Albanian Kosovo residents demanding the release of four Albanian Kosovo citizens brought in for questioning. Photo by DoD photo by Spc. Sean A. Terry, U.S. Army., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons