When push comes to shove it appears that Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti buckled under pressure from the EU and US, finally announcing both that new elections will be held for four ethnic-Serb dominated districts in North Kosovo and that the presence of ethnic-Albanian dominated Kosovo police forces will be rolled back.
The announcement—not without some caveats—came on the back of ever-heightening tensions and at times sharp criticism from even the EU high representative on dialogue, Josep Borrell, who had been clearly frustrated with what appeared to be a never-ending standoff on both sides.
Pundits may, however, argue that 1) the sides agreed to new elections a year ago at the prodding of Borrell and that 2) Serbia buckled first, with a judge releasing three Kosovo police officers who allegedly strayed across the border with weapons to be promptly arrested by Serbs. With regard to No. 1, talk is talk—although it is promising that Kurti restated the offer on Thursday, June 29. With regard to No. 2, that may well be true even though the Serbian government had previously and repeatedly harped on arbitrary arrests by Kosovo police in Kosovo—and whether arbitrary or not there is history there of former ethnic-Serbian Kosovo police being recently detained.
For his part, Kurti had decried the arrests of the Kosovo police officers, stating that they had been kidnapped. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had responded that the “Rubicon” had been crossed and threatened armed intervention—while also pointing out that Kosovo was arming itself to the teeth with modern weapons the Serbian army likes in preparation for war.
It probably goes without saying that all of the above is the last thing the EU and the US needs, considering the ongoing Ukrainian-Russian war. Both sides have thus repeatedly been called on the carpet, but of late it appears that much Western frustration has been vented Kurti’s way.
Hence the… move toward de-escalation. That said, Kurti’s decision did, as mentioned, come with a caveat, as he required a petition with at least 20 percent local support in order to initiate new elections.
This may still rankle local ethnic Serbs, who following the past 12 months of government decision, protests, barricades and mutual acrimony, may refuse to sign anything of any kind ordered by Kurti.
That said, the move to de-escalation will be clearly welcomes on all sides. But what does this mean for true “normalization.”
Here the jury is still out.
Photo of the high representative for EU dialogue, Josep Borrell, by European University Institute from Italy, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.