With the influence of Turkey’s conciliatory stance and mediating role in the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, there has been no conflict between the parties since 2008.
the professor. Doctor. Irfan Kaya Ulger wrote the reasons for the tension between Kosovo and Serbia and the solution scenarios in 3 questions for AA analysis.
- Why the recent tension between Kosovo and Serbia?
The recent tension between Serbia and Kosovo has stemmed from legislation by the Kosovo government providing local Serbs with official identification cards, driver’s licenses and license plates. Provoked by Serbia, the local Serbs concentrated in the Mitrovica region of Kosovo opposed this change. The implementation of this legal arrangement made by the Albin Kurti government in July 2022 has been postponed to November because Serbs living in Kosovo protested the border crossings and roads by erecting barricades. Meanwhile, in the region where Serbs live, 4 Serb mayors resigned from their posts in protest of the decision.
Tensions rose again in November when the Kosovo government began imposing penalties on those who broke the law. And while Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, acted with restraint against the provocations and outbursts of local Serbs, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic tried to provoke Kosovo Serbs. Vucic put forward the proposal for Serbia to send 1,000 policemen to the region to protect the Serbs of Mitrovica and to ensure security in the region. He also claimed that under international law, the state of Kosovo does not exist and is part of Serbia. The last statement of the Serbian administration is that “the army is on alert.”
On the one hand, Kurti called on the international community to prevent Serbia from interfering in its internal affairs, and on the other hand, he postponed the elections scheduled for December 18, 2022 in 4 Serbian regions of Kosovo to April 2023 in order to reduce tension. Barriers erected by Kosovo Serbs at road and border crossings to rebel against the central government were lifted on the last day of the year, with the intervention of mediators.
- Where does the tension arise between Kosovo and Serbia?
At the heart of the conflict between the two countries lie claims of Serbian nationalism over Kosovo. This understanding, which also affects Serbia’s foreign policy, is based on the myth that Kosovo is the home of Serbs. According to Serbian nationalists, “The medieval Serbian kingdom was destroyed in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 by the Ottoman Sultan Murad I. This is a development in history. However, this event has been repeated recently. On February 17, 2008, with the independence of Kosovo with the Ahtisaari Plan, it was Serbs home for the second time. The myth of Kosovo, which is based on the subjective foundations of Serbian nationalism, is implicitly or overtly accepted among Serbs.
In the second Yugoslavia, founded by Josip Broz Tito in 1946, Kosovo was an autonomous region under Serbia. In 1989, the President of the Federal State of Serbia, Slobodon Milosevic, terminated the status of the autonomous region of both Vojvodina and Kosovo, despite the violation of the federal constitution. Kosovo, with a population over 90 percent Albanian, was under pressure from Serbs during the Bosnian War. In 1995, prior to the Dayton Agreement, Milosevic wanted to resettle the Serb minority that had been deported from Croatia to villages in Kosovo. In this way, the Serbs would have increased their population in Kosovo, which they considered their home. The increase in the Milosevic administration’s attacks against the Albanians in central and villages of Kosovo, reaching dimensions of ethnic cleansing, has mobilized the international community.
NATO intervened in the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo in 1999, and an interim administration (UNMIK – UNMIK) was established there under the umbrella of the United Nations. With the support of the OSCE, the European Union, and Council of Europe organizations apart from the United Nations, Kosovo remained under the administration of the international community until 2008. On February 17, 2008, Kosovo’s independence was proclaimed on the basis of the Ahtisaari Plan. According to the plan, an independent Kosovo will not be united with another country and will not be divided. The Serbian administration did not recognize Kosovo’s independence. Under pressure from the European Union, dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina began in 2011, and soon after, accession negotiations between Serbia and the European Union began in 2014. However, Serbia did not give up its claims on Kosovo.
- In what term and how can tension end?
There is no miracle formula for an immediate solution to the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia and normalization of relations. First of all, expansionist, hegemonic and irredentist Serbian nationalism must be kept in check. Serbian nationalism, also influencing Serbian society and being stirred up by Russia from abroad, strives for a “Greater Serbia” utopia. Although it has no factual foundations, today this utopian ideology envisions the union of the Serb region of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo with Serbia, as well as the incorporation of the Serb-inhabited regions of Croatia into “Greater Serbia”.
This point of view also influences Serbian politics today. Opponents accuse Vucic of not taking up the Serbian cause. This situation causes Vucic to make statements denying its existence while implicitly committing to recognizing Kosovo on the other hand. Serbia’s initiation of full membership negotiations with the European Union in 2014 prevents Belgrade from supporting the expansionist approach towards the Kosovo Serbs and Republika Srpska. The Belgrade administration understands that after some step, negotiations with the European Union will be completely interrupted and Serbia will be excluded. Therefore, Serbia’s accession as a member of the European Union is considered a factor that may have an impact on resolving the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia in the coming years. On the other hand, moving Kosovo’s relations with the European Union to the nomination and negotiation stages will also ease tensions. As a matter of fact, the administration of Kosovo applied for candidacy for EU membership on December 23, 2022.
Turkey’s conciliatory stance and its mediating role in the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo also had a significant impact. In fact, there has been no conflict between the parties since 2008. Further progress in Turkey’s economic and trade relations with the countries of the Western Balkans in the coming period will also be reflected in the political conflicts in the region and contribute to peace. Under the current conditions, Turkey’s influence in the Western Balkans is at least at the EU level.
Another factor hindering the aggressive stance of the fanatical Serb nationalists in Mitrovica and Serbia is the security units of the international community operating in the region. Currently, 134 police personnel of the European Union (EU Mission of State of Law) and 3,500 peacekeepers of NATO (KFOR-KFOR) work in Kosovo.
[Prof. Dr. İrfan Kaya Ülger, Kocaeli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü Öğretim Üyesi]
* The ideas expressed in the articles belong to the author and may not reflect Anadolu Agency’s editorial policy.
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