Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic ordered troops to the Serbian-Kosovo border together with an order to achieve “full combat readiness” over the Nov. 24-25 weekend, and now with the sounds of shooting—real or imagined—Serbia and Kosovo are seen as being on the edge of armed conflict.
The state of combat readiness comes after a tumultuous series of events over the past months, which have included Kosovo attempting to force the 120,000-plus ethnic Serbs in the country to re-register Serbian license plates for Kosovo plates; protests by Serbs and a walk-out of Serbs from Kosovo institutions; a rescinded order to re-register license plates (following the intervention of Brussels); the arrest of ethnic Serb former police officers in Kosovo and the erection of barricades by ethnic Serbs in some locations in North Kosovo, which has clearly enraged the Kosovo government.
Both sides have traded barbs, albeit with the strongest language aimed at local constituents. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has reportedly called ethnic Serbs in Kosovo “criminals,” with various news sources attributing various Serb politicians as labeling the Kurti government as “terrorist scum.”
Yet there is no doubt that, ugly rhetoric aside, tensions were heightened as the West celebrated Christmas—although there again may be more emotion in provocative headlines than what is truly happening on the ground.
First, despite the state of “combat readiness,” it is unclear as to just how much further Serbia has “readied” troops on the border, as they have ostensibly been in a heightened state of readiness of for weeks if not longer. Second, reports of a gunshot or shots fired at the barricades in North Kosovo were vaguely reported, with Kosovo denying that they happened at all and with no injuries reported.
And behind the scenes (or at the forefront, depending on reporting) there was much at play. Serbia’s Vucic previously requested KFOR to allow the insertion of 1,000 Serb troops into Kosovo to protect ethnic Serbs, which he (and much of the Serb population) sees as harassed. And despite the reaction of the Western press, a series of undeniable moves by the Kosovo government would seem to bolster this argument. These included an attempt to force through local elections following the ethnic-Serb protest walk-out—which would have resulted in fully ethnic-Albanian local governments—not to mention the arrest of former ethnic-Serb policemen, including the triggering arrest of Dejan Pantic and the fact that he was held at an unknown location minimum of 11 days without legal representation and with this location even beyond the knowledge of EULEX representatives.
Yet request to send in troops was actually legal (and clearly symbolic) appeared to be lost on the Western press. Meanwhile, Kosovo’s Kurti lobbied for KFOR forces to move in to dismantle barricades, with the prime minister coming out of an emergency meeting claiming that KFOR had agreed that “freedom of movement” must be guaranteed.
And in the background (or foreground) Serb outlets reported “fighting” at the barricades in the Zubin Potok area.
KFOR summed up the matter as follows: “KFOR is investigating an indirect fire incident on 25 December in the close proximity of a NATO/KFOR patrol. The incident involved unknown armed people in the Zubin Potok area.”
The following was released by the government of Kosovo, although KFOR and EULEX press releases were checked with no concurring release seen at press time:
“There [was talk] about the activities of the criminal structures in north Kosovo, which are seriously affecting the security situation in the country,” said the release, as cited by rs.n1info.com. “An agreement was reached at the meeting to continue the close inter-institutional cooperation and coordination of activities, in the service of peace and safety for all Kosovo citizens, which is a common goal and priority of Kosovo’s institutions, KFOR and EULEX.”
Which means nothing of substance has yet been said… by anyone. And that hopefully, that the tensions on all sides are no more than an unnerving bluff.
Or in other words, perhaps (mere) posturing continues.
PHOTO: Serbia has never recognized Kosovo independence. The photos of Serbs protesting Kosovo independence in 2008 courtesy of White Writer, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.