Written by Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts
Amid an ongoing crisis, on October 21, US Special Representative to the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar, and European Union (EU) envoy Miroslav Lajcak, accompanied by top diplomats from Germany, France, and Italy, met with Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina and later with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade. They urged both Serbia and Kosovo to resume dialogue towards de-escalating tensions.
On October 18, EU parliament passed a resolution that condemned the Serbian army’s military build-up after 30 paramilitary Serbian gunmen attacked Northern Kosovo police forces on September 24, setting off a daylong gunbattle. This is thus far the worst clash since Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti accused Belgrade of sending the paramilitary attackers. Serbian President Vucic in turn denied such an accusation, describing the men as Kosovo Serbs who had enough of “Kurti’s terror”. The Serbian population in Kosovo, largely Orthodox, is primarily concentrated in North Kosovo.
Kosovo is a partially recognized country which unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008. Serbia claims all of Kosovo as its territory, in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1244, of June 10, 1999 (which called for “substantial autonomy and meaningful self-administration for Kosov”, not secession).
The historic conflict has political, ethnic and religious roots. Ethnic Albanians make up most of Kosovo’s population. Serbs in turn are South Slavs, predominantly Eastern Orthodox Christans.
During Ottoman rule of the wider region of Kosovo, the Turks encouraged the settlement of Muslim Albanians. Formerly, ethnic Albanians of Kosovo were mostly Christians and co-existed peacefully with Serbs. As part of a political alliance, Albanian chiefs converted to Islam, which paved the way for mass conversions and thus elevated the status of such chiefs. During the 19th century, amid the turmoil of ethnic nationalism that shook the Balkans, such tensions came to be framed locally as a wider struggle between Musliam Albanians and Christian Serbs.
After the 1941 Axis invasion of then Yugoslavia, most of Kosovo’s lands were assigned to Italian-controlled Albania, while the remaining ones ended up being controlled by Bulgaria and Germany. In the ensuing conflict, Albanian collaborators persecuted Montenegrin and Serbian settlers, with most historians estimating that about 10,000 Serbs and Montenegrins were killed, while almost 100,000 Serbs and Montenegrins were deported to Serbia as part of a policy to Albanianize Kosovo. During Yugoslavia’s socialist years, such frictions remained.
Then, following the chaotic collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, interethnic tensions between Serbians and Albanians grew, for a number of reasons, culminating in the 1998-1999 war in Kosovo that cost over 10,000 lives and left more than 1 million homeless. During the 1990s, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a separatist militia, played a major role in promoting Albanian nationalism among Albanian Kosovars. It supported the creation of a Greater Albania and used narcoterrorism to finance its struggle. The group was responsible for multiple war crimes, including massacres of Serbian civilians, the setting up of prison camps, and the destruction of religious and cultural heritage sites. NATO cooperated with such a terrorist organization during the war, famously regarding it as “freedom fighters”.
With the entry of NATO-led Kosovo Force, according to the 2017 Amnesty International report called “Wounds that burn our souls”: “murders and rapes began as the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) embarked on revenge attacks against Kosovo Serb and Romani civilians; women from those communities were raped, as were Kosovo Albanian women perceived as collaborator.” In late 1999, the KLA was disbanded, but its former members entered the Kosovo Protection Corps.
Calls for retaliation, in post-war years sparked further unrest, and wounds pertaining to violence on both sides remain unhealed. NATO peacekeepers are still stationed in Kosovo and their failure in avoiding the escalation of tensions is evident inasmuch as NATO bears part of the responsibility for the situation today, considering the aforementioned history.
It is no wonder Serbs do not feel safe in Kosovo. According to the OSCE most recent report: “Security incidents affecting members of non-majority communities continue to occur.” At the same time, retaliatory acts may trigger cycles of violence.
Post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav states (be they fully recognized or not) must secure the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, who otherwise might become the target of ethnic retaliations and persecution. Unfortunately, the political West often fails to take such matters seriously (as we have seen in Donbass), pushing the issue of human rights only insofar as it suits its geopolitical goals. The new crisis in the Balkans today also illustrates the failure of EU diplomacy.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Desperate To Survive NATO Encirclement, Serbia Joins Kiev Regime’s Crimea Platform
- Kosovo, Turkey And Ukraine: A Human Organ Trafficking Network?
- Military Situation In Kosovo On September 25, 2023 (Map Update)