New war in Europe? What Kosovo and Serbia are arguing about and what is now threatening

The situation has become tense after militant Serbs erected barricades in northern Kosovo on Sunday.

The situation has become tense after militant Serbs erected barricades in northern Kosovo on Sunday.Image: picture alliance/dpa/TV7News / Festim Beqiri

Watson answers

08/01/2022, 19:1808/01/2022, 19:22

Anne Kathrin Hamilton

Barricades and gunfire – tensions between Kosovo and Serbia rise again.

Serbian activists set up barricades in northern Kosovo last Sunday. According to the news agency dpa Unknown persons fired shots in the direction of Kosovan police officers. There were no injuries, reports the police to the dpa.

What happened? Why do the two European countries keep clashing and is there a risk of a new war in Europe? Watson summarized the key answers.

What happened?

Dispute over entry papers

The reason for the aggression is said to be the new entry regulations for Serbs in Kosovo. The Kosovan authorities no longer wanted to recognize Serbian identity documents at the border crossings from Monday (0:00 a.m.). Instead, Serbian citizens should be given provisional documents at the border that would allow them to enter the neighboring country.

Trucks block the road near the Jarinje border crossing in Mitrovica, Kosovo on Monday.

Trucks block the road near the Jarinje border crossing in Mitrovica, Kosovo on Monday.Image: picture alliance / AA / Erkin Keci

According to the dpa, this measure is based on reciprocity: Kosovar citizens must also have a provisional document issued when entering Serbiabecause the Serbian authorities do not recognize the Kosovar papers.

Trouble with license plates

In addition, new rules should apply to the number plates of Serbian car owners in Kosovo.

“The current conflict began a year ago, when Kosovo demanded that Serbian car license plates be exchanged for provisional Kosovar ones upon entry”, Florian Bieber explains to watson. Bieber is a professor of story and Politics of Southeast Europe and head of the Center for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz. Serbia has been demanding the same from Kosovo for years.

He says:

“As a compromise, it was agreed in October 2021 to only cover the country symbols on number plates when cars cross the border and a new solution has since been negotiated.”

As part of the compromise, all previous Serbian license plates in northern Kosovo, which is predominantly Serb inhabited, should be replaced with Kosovar ones. The deadline is originally August 1 and, according to Bieber, led to the blockades at the border.

“There are always tensions between Serbia and Kosovo.”

Florian Bieber, Head of the Center for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz

Kosovo’s response to the blockades

Kosovo responds to the unrest by postponing new plans for border control and car number plates. Above Twitter Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced that his government would put the project on hold for 30 days. In return, all barricades are to be removed in order to restore complete freedom of movement.

Where does the potential for conflict come from?

“There are always tensions between Serbia and Kosovo,” says Bieber. He sees the reason in that Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state.

Kosovo and Serbia are located in south-eastern Europe, where identity and border issues remain unanswered to this day.

Kosovo springs from the heritage of the former Yugoslavia, which was once a kingdom and a Socialist Federal Republic after World War II.

Socialist Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, leaving Serbia and Montenegro, among others, which remained in one common state until 2006. Formally, this also included Kosovo before the country declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Kosovo is now recognized by a majority of states, but is still disputed.

“I don’t think an armed conflict is imminent.”

Florian Bieber, Head of the Center for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz

Since the collapse of Yugoslavia, identity, border and status issues have dominated the regionexplains Marie-Janine Calic to the Federal Agency for Civic Education. The professor of East and Southeast European history at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich goes on to say that the Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian and Albanian national issues are still unresolved. To this day, the ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo have not recognized the government of the young republic.

Vladimir Đukanović, a Serbian MP from the ruling party, tweeted on Sunday: It seems to him that Serbia will be forced to start denazification of the Balkans. Denazification – a term used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to justify his illegal war of aggression against the Ukraine has used. Serbia has traditionally maintained close ties with Russia, which also does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Germany, the United States and most Western nations, on the other hand, see Kosovo as independent.

Can the situation escalate further?

“I don’t think there’s a threat of armed conflict,” Bieber assesses the situation. NATO units are still stationed in Kosovo as part of the KFOR peacekeeping mission. These can prevent an escalation if necessary.

Bieber further explains:

“Since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, there have always been such crises, which were often deliberately provoked by one side or the other, in this case by Serbia, in order to heat up nationalist sentiment.”

On Sunday evening, the NATO mission KFOR announced via Twitter that the security situation in northern Kosovo was tense. She is monitoring the situation closely and is ready to intervene if stability is threatened. The NATO-led mission focuses every day on ensuring a safe environment and freedom of movement for all people guaranteed in Kosovo.

How should the EU react now?

“The EU has been promoting dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo for over ten years, but no fundamental rapprochement on the issue of recognition is foreseeable,” says Bieber.

“A solution is possible when the EU takes a more serious look at the Balkans.”

Florian Bieber, Head of the Center for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz

According to Bieber, the EU needs to put more pressure on the governments on both sides, and especially in Serbia, not to artificially fuel these crises. In Serbia in particular, media that are close to the government – ​​or are controlled by it – keep spreading dangerous fake news and heating up tensions. “A solution will be possible when the EU takes a more serious look at the Balkans and offers real membership prospects,” says Bieber.

Josep Borrell Fontelles welcomes Kosovo’s response of postponing measures. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy wrote on Twitter that he expects Serbia to remove all blockades immediately. unresolved Problems should be resolved through EU-mediated dialogue. A normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is essential for their way into the European Union.

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