Against the backdrop of the eighth straight week of protests—in which protesters increasingly called for the ouster of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic—tensions between Kosovo and Serbia ratcheted up still higher, with both sides trading barbs and accusations and ostensibly readying for conflict.
This escalation has hardly gone unnoticed by the EU, with EU High Representative for Dialogue Josep Borrell decrying the futility of talks on Thursday, June 22, in a Friday tweet.
“Very alarmed by situation in north of Kosovo: extrajudicial arrests of K-Serbs & Kosovo Security Forces marching in South Mitrovica; followed by heavy rhetoric from Serbia. Despite yesterday’s crisis meeting, escalation continues and is becoming dangerous,” Borrell said. “We will not tolerate it.”
Tensions rose in May and early June, following elections in Kosovo that were banned by local Serbs, but which proceeded anyway to the tune of 3.5 percent participation. The lack of participation was ignored by the Kosovo government of Prime Minister Albi Kurti, who attempted to use ethnic Albanian Kosovo police to “guarantee the rule of law” and ensure that newly elected mayors and their staff could take up shop.
This was met with violent protests, but under pressure from the EU and the US Kurti promised to rerun elections. Yet he also tossed in the twist of upping the Kosovo police presence in the region.
Since then there have been both the “arbitrary arrests” alluded to by Borrell, but also the arrest of three Kosovo police officers that Serbia claims crossed the border into Serbia for terrorist purposes. The EU has called for Serbia to release said officers, who are currently being investigated by Serbian prosecutors—also under the law.
Meanwhile, Kosovo police claimed they had foiled a Serbian terrorist plot in Zvecan, the site of much unrest, by discovering a vehicle full of explosives and weapons. Vucic called the seizure a plant and claimed the car was on record as having been stolen three years previous.
He also railed against the build up of arms in Kosovo, which he noted were of high quality and supplied by Turkey.
“Serbia must be careful,” he stated on national TV, stating that, while the Serbian army larger than Kosovo forces, the Kosovo army is equipped with more modern and better weapons.
Yet although the threat of war does tend to unite at least some citizens, the aforementioned protests continue. The protests, which began after a school massacre and drive-by have turned on the government due to the alleged glorification of violence in the media. That said—and Serbia always does seem to have yet another paradox—a gun amnesty program initiated by Vucic after the massacre has been met with unprecedented success, as Serbs have now turned in more than 100,000 weapons.
Photo by Voice of America, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Please note that this is a file photo from the protests on June 17, 2023.