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Serbia - Relations with Kosovo

For many Serbians, Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Kosovo is Serbia's cradle, stronghold, center of the most important things for the country.

Serbian President Aleksandar announced on 26 May 2023 that he had placed the Serbian armed forces on high alert following clashes between police and protesters in three majority-Serb towns in Kosovo earlier that day. The unrest broke out after the election of an ethnic Albanian mayor in a vote boycotted by the town’s Serb residents. Around a dozen people were injured after police from Pristina fired stun grenades and tear gas at the protesting Serbs, local media reported.

Vucic also said that he ordered an “urgent” movement of Serbian troops to the border with Kosovo. “An urgent movement [of troops] to the Kosovo border has been ordered,” defence minister Milos Vucevic said in a live TV broadcast. “It is clear that the terror against the Serb community in Kosovo is happening,” he said. Media reports also said that because of “violence” against Kosovo Serbs, Vucic demanded that NATO-led troops stationed in Kosovo protect them from the Kosovo police.

Blerim Vela, chief of staff of Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani accused “Serbia’s illegal and criminal structures” for escalating tensions and actions against law enforcement bodies. “Violence will not prevail. Serbia bears full responsibility for the escalation,” he said in a statement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the police action, saying that it was taken against the advice of Washington. “These actions have sharply and unnecessarily escalated tensions, undermining our efforts to help normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia and will have consequences for our bilateral relations with Kosovo,” Blinken said in a statement. “We call on Prime Minister Albin Kurti to reverse course and on all sides to refrain from any further actions that will inflame tensions and promote conflict.”

Chris Murphy, a US Democratic senator and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who recently visited Kosovo said he was “caught … by surprise” by the incident. “As a friend of Kosovo I am caught totally by surprise and he [Albin Kurti, prime minister of Kosovo] should end this provocation immediately,” Murphy wrote.

An aggravation of the situation is coming, because the "prime minister" of the self-proclaimed republic, Albin Kurti, is trying to become a local Vladimir Zelensky, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said 28 May 2023 on TV Pink. :I think that the most difficult situation is ahead in Kosovo and Metohija. Something that we have not seen so far, and all because of the provocative statements and the terribly irresponsible behavior of Albin Kurti ... I am afraid of major clashes, because Kurti dreams of being Vladimir Zelensky and the Serbs can't take it anymore," he said. Kosovo and Serbia agreed 04 September 2020 to normalise economic relations. But because they do not formally recognize each other, the two sides appeared to sign parallel statements of intent rather than a formal bilateral agreement. The administration of Donald Trump touted the US-brokered deal as a major diplomatic success — but which left political normalisation on hold. The two sides signed a statement in the White House Oval Office committing to a raft of measures to improve transport infrastructure and border crossings, cut trade tariffs and share energy and water resources, and to implement earlier agreements on opening highway and rail links. They also agreed, as part of their commitments, to improve their relations with Israel. Serbia will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while Kosovo, a majority-Muslim country, will formally recognize the Jewish state. In turn, Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, gained formal recognition from Israel.

President Joe Biden weighed in 24 February 2021 on the long-running dispute between Serbia and Kosovo with letters urging the two countries’ leaders to normalize relations based on “mutual recognition.” The letters represent a shift from the policy of former President Donald Trump, whose administration had tried to set aside the nettlesome issue of recognition while urging economic cooperation as a way of building confidence between Serbia and its breakaway province. The issue had special resonance for Biden, whose late son Beau once served as a legal adviser in Kosovo. In his former capacity as vice president, Biden visited Kosovo in 2016 and attended the naming ceremony of the Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III Highway. But analysts say that by taking on one of the last unresolved disputes in Europe’s backyard, Biden is also signaling that his administration intends to be more involved in matters of concern to America’s European allies.

Belgrade continues to claim that Kosovo is part of Serbia. The October 2009 National Security Strategy of the Republic of Serbia statets that "Separatist aspirations in the region are real threat to its security. By its level of difficulty and complexity, as well as negative implications for the internal stability of countries in the region and their security situation, the attempted secession of a part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia based on the unilateral declaration of independence by the provisional institutions of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija is a particularly distinguished problem. Recognition of the so-called Republic of Kosovo by some states in the immediate environment of the Republic of Serbia, as well as a number of countries in the world, adversely reflects on strengthening measures of trust and cooperation, and slows down the process of stabilization in this region."

European Union-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia to settle their differences have stalled. Tensions have escalated, as Pristina imposed a 100 percent tariff on all Serbian goods in November 2018 in retaliation for what it said were Belgrade's efforts to undermine the young republic on the international stage. The United States and four Western European countries on August 13 called on Serbia and Kosovo to restart the talks “with urgency,” saying the current status quo is "simply not sustainable." The governments of Britain France, Germany, Italy, and the United States said in a statement “After years of stagnation, the time has come to finally end the conflicts of the 1990s and provide a secure and prosperous future for the people of Kosovo and Serbia”.

Between 1991 and 1992, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia all seceded from Yugoslavia. On April 27, 1992, in Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro joined in passing the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (F.R.Y.). Kosovo's peaceful resistance movement failed to yield results, and in 1997 the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began an armed resistance. The KLA's main goal was to secure the independence of Kosovo.

In late 1998, Milosevic unleashed a brutal police and military campaign against the separatist KLA, which included atrocities against civilian noncombatants. For the duration of Milosevic's campaign, tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians were either displaced from their homes in Kosovo or killed by Serbian troops or police. These acts, and Serbia's refusal to sign the Rambouillet Accords, prompted 79 days of bombing by NATO forces from March to June 1999 and led the UN Security Council (UNSC) to authorize, through UNSC Resolution 1244 (June 10, 1999), an international civil and military presence in Kosovo under UN auspices. The resolution called for UN interim administration of Kosovo and authorized the international civil presence to facilitate a process to determine Kosovo's status. Following Milosevic's capitulation, international forces--including the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the NATO-led security force KFOR--moved into Kosovo.

Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs continued to have opposite views on final status. In one poll in 2005, some 93% of Albanian respondents and 87% of non-Serb minority respondents were in favor of the independence of Kosovo, while 92.8% of Serb respondents supported Kosovo remaining an autonomous province within Serbia

In mid-2007, the UNSC deadlocked on a way forward on Kosovo status and how to act on UN Special Envoy Maarti Ahtisaari's Kosovo status proposal. On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence following a 120-day last-ditch effort by the European Union (EU)-Russia-U.S. Troika to facilitate an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on the latter's status. The United States officially recognized Kosovo's independence the following day.

Serbia's bilateral relationships with many countries were strained following Kosovo's independence in February 2008. In the days following Kosovo's independence, rioters in Belgrade attacked the embassies of several countries, including the United States, causing significant property damage. Serbia recalled its ambassadors for consultations from all countries that formally recognized Kosovo. Serbia returned its ambassadors to EU countries in July 2008 and to the remaining countries in October 2008. During his May 2009 trip to Belgrade, Vice President Biden clearly stated that the United States and Serbia have "agreed to disagree" over Kosovo's status.

The Serbian government under Prime Minister Kostunica engineered a policy of full ethnic separation in Kosovo, physically intimidating local Serbs into abandoning jobs in Kosovo's once multi-ethnic police force and municipal administrations. Serbia held its own illegal municipal elections in Kosovo despite warnings from the UN that such a move violated UNSCR 1244 and moved rapidly to emplace parallel institutions in Serb-majority areas throughout Kosovo. Serbia also backed open violence by the thuggish and criminalized Serb leadership in Kosovo's north, which ordered the destruction of two northern border gates and the subsequent March 17, 2008 attack on UN and KFOR peacekeepers.

In October 2008, Serbia requested an International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Written briefs were presented by 36 countries in April 2009 and by 14 countries in July 2009, with oral statements offered in December 2009. The ICJ released the advisory opinion on July 22, 2010, affirming that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate general principles of international law, UN Security Council Resolution 1244, or the Constitutive Framework. The opinion was closely tailored to Kosovo’s unique history and circumstances.

The need to deal with the flow of problems stemming from Belgrade's policy opened the Kosovo leadership to venomous opposition accusations that the government is not doing enough to establish its own authority in response to these Serbian moves, particularly in Kosovo's north, and it distracts from the real requirements of responsible governance in Kosovo -- expanding economic growth, eliminating corruption, and enhancing the transparency and effectiveness of major social institutions. Indeed, the north has become a proxy battleground for two differing visions of the region's future: for Serbs and for Belgrade, it represents that part of Kosovo most likely to be retained by Serbia in a partition scenario as a precursor to Serbia's accession into the EU, while for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, retention of the north remains the symbolic key to proving Kosovo's legitimate sovereignty.

Eighty-four nations had recognized Kosovo as of October 2011. Serbia rejected its former province's independence, and the Serbian Government challenged the legality of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which issued an advisory opinion in July 2010 stating that Kosovo's declaration of independence was in accordance with international law and did not violate UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Following the ICJ advisory opinion, Serbia agreed to engage in an EU-facilitated dialogue with Kosovo on practical issues, which began in Brussels in March 2011.

Serbia and Kosovo met several times in 2011 under the auspices of the EU-facilitated dialogue, reaching tentative agreements on several outstanding technical issues. This progress was mitigated by Serbia's rejection of a customs stamp agreement in July, which resulted in the imposition by Kosovo of a reciprocal embargo on trade with Serbia. After a spike in tensions over the summer, during which Kosovo deployed its police to the two border crossings with Serbia in northern Kosovo, agreement on a customs stamp was reached at a session of the dialogue in early September. This agreement also stipulated that both countries would lift their mutual trade embargoes. It did not impact the presence of Kosovo officials at the two northern crossings, who remained in place.

Serbia will never recognize the independence of Kosovo and calls on the international community to accept the reality- that without an equal treatment of all those who live in the province and without condemnation of all crimes and perpetrators, there can be no reconciliation and progress, the Serbian government's Office for Kosovo announced on February 17, 2013, “Serbia has not and will not recognize the so-called independence of Kosovo. Anything that was built on injustice cannot rule in line with the law,” reads the release issued on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the declaration of Kosovo's independence.

Since 2011, the European Union (EU) has facilitated a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo on practical issues to improve the lives of citizens and advance them in their European perspectives, a process which the United States supports. On April 19, 2013, the Governments of Kosovo and Serbia concluded a landmark first agreement on normalization of relations, which affirms the primacy of Kosovo’s legal and institutional framework throughout Kosovo’s territory, and provides the basis for substantial local self-governance in Kosovo’s majority Serb north. The EU continues to facilitate talks on implementing the agreement, and on related normalization issues. On June 28, 2013, EU Member States decided to open negotiations with Kosovo on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, a key step on the path to membership in the European Union.

According to Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic on 09 September 2013, Serbia would never recognize Kosovo, and that she responded that the EU knew that and no one was asking Serbia to recognize Kosovo. There is an open communication with the provisional institutions in Pristina, and there are two points of view, the Serbian one that sees Kosovo as a substantial autonomy and the other that Kosovo is independent, he said. Nikolic said that Serbia would never abandon the Serbs in northern Kosovo. Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said that Belgrade and Pristina should continue the dialogue on all topics of interest, and not only on those that are being imposed by others, but specified that further dialogue does not mean that the agreement is heading in a direction of some legally-binding document or recognition of Kosovo's independence.

Serbia needs to cooperate fully with EULEX, the EU's rule of law mission in Kosovo; engage on practical humanitarian issues, such as property rights, return of displaced people, and employment issues; end its unregulated, non-transparent funding of Serb parallel institutions in Kosovo; remove the Kosovo Serb hardliners who are organizing violent protests; and end its embargo on Kosovo's exports.

Kosovo leaders have taken the high road and largely ignored the seemingly endless provocations lobbed their way by successive regimes in Serbia: violence in Kosovo's north sanctioned by Belgrade, the destruction of customs operations on the border with Serbia, Serbian support for parallel governing institutions and parallel elections, the continuing refusal of Belgrade to permit Kosovo Serb participation in multi-ethnic municipal administrations or in Kosovo's police and security forces, a Serbian trade embargo on Kosovo's exports, the insistence on raising a case against Kosovo's declaration of independence in the International Court of Justice, and efforts by Belgrade to target prominent Kosovo figures for prosecution in Serbia and extradition from any Western country where they may travel. Though the pro-Western government of Serbian President Boris Tadic was an improvement on its predecessor in many ways, the general parameters of Serbia's Kosovo policy remained unchanged under the single-minded focus of Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and his Foreign Ministry cohort.

Land SwapBy 2018 the two countries were led by former enemies: Aleksandar Vucic was the Serbian information minister during the Kosovo War, while Hashim Thaci was the leading warlord of the Kosovo-Albanian militia UCK. Shpetim Gashi of the Council for Inclusive Governance in Pristina said "... they are the products of a conflict and remain in power because of this conflict. They create a conflict in the morning, in order to have something to resolve in the afternoon".

The sanctity of state borders is a jewel in the crown of European state law. Serbia and Kosovo are gearing to redefine their borders amicably between themselves. On 04 August 2018, Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci said "Kosovo's border with Serbia needs to be redefined, or corrected," in an interview with VOA's Albanian Service. "In the process of our future dialogue with Belgrade, we will work together with the international community to define the Kosovo-Serbia border," he said. "I want to emphasize that Kosovo will not be divided; I want to forcefully stress it. Belgrade cannot bring to the table the division of Kosovo, a thing that they have asked for in the past."

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in early August that he favored having Kosovo partitioned along ethnic lines as a means of avoiding further conflicts. Vucic's plan had been supported by the heads of Kosovo's 10 Serb-majority municipalities but criticized by the Serbian opposition.

Pristina could be given the Presovo Valley, a predominantly Albanian area in southern Serbia. In return, Serbia would claim northern Kosovo, home to almost 45,000 Serbs. But the ethnic makeup of the population is not the only factor at play in the territory swap. It is also about resources and cultural monuments. Economic interests motivate both sides, but the presumable loss of Orthodox churches and monasteries also fuels nationalistic sentiment among Serbs. Kosovo — with its legendary battleground, the Kosovo field — is regarded as the "cradle of Serbian culture."

The partition was also opposed by the United Kingdom and Germany, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejecting any changes to borders in the Balkans. The European Union, in particular the United Kingdom and Germany, could eventually accept the partition of Kosovo as a last-resort solution to the conflict if Belgrade and Pristina agree to it, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said on 19 September 2018. "The United Kingdom and Germany advocate for the inviolability of borders, but if an agreement is reached and if it becomes the only possible solution, I have no doubt that it [the deal] will be accepted. And the great EU, which mediates the [Pristina-Belgrade] dialogue, will accept it," Dacic said.

A dispute over car licence plates in September 2021 reignited longstanding tensions between Serbia and Kosovo. Kosovar drivers have to buy temporary plates while driving through Serbia. When Kosovo reciprocated, Kosovo Serbs blocked two border crossings and set government buildings on fire. Hundreds of Serbs in Kosovo had been protesting and blocking traffic with trucks on the roads leading to two border crossings. Kosovo sent special police to the area, which triggered Serbia to deploy tanks and soldiers to its side of the border. NATO peacekeepers increased patrols, while the European Union urged both sides to resume stalled talks.

Serbian troops were on a heightened state of alert after the government in Belgrade accused neighbouring Kosovo of “provocations” by sending special police units to the border. Already tense relations between Serbia and its former breakaway region had grown worse since the ethnic Albanian-led government there despatched the police units to an area mainly populated by minority ethnic Serbs, who reject the authority of the government in Kosovo’s capital Pristina.

Chief negotiators for Serbia and Kosovo have formally reached agreement to conclude the latest round of escalation. “We have a deal,” tweeted EU special representative Miroslav Lajcak after two days of “intense negotiations.” The disagreement had seen Kosovo order its police to force any cars attempting to cross the border to remove Serbian license plates, arguing that a 10-year-old deal between the nations had expired. Serbia had responded by sending military planes to fly near the border, while footage from the area showed tanks and military vehicles deployed to the area.

In June 2022 the government announced plans to implement measures reciprocating Serbia’s treatment of Kosovan-issued identification documents and requiring Kosovan residents with illegal Serbian-issued vehicle license plates to exchange them with Kosovan-issued license plates. In response, on July 31, ethnic Serbs placed barricades, mainly consisting of heavy trucks with gravel, blocking all roads leading to two northern border crossings (Jarinje and Brnjak/Bernjak). Serbs who erected the barricades removed them on August 1, after the government announced it would postpone implementation of the planned measures.

On 10 December 2022, ethnic Serbs placed new barricades blocking freedom of movement across northern Kosovo ostensibly to protest the arrests of Kosovan Serbs from the north, including a former Kosovo Police officer suspected of a violent attack on election officials and the Kosovo Police, and citing dissatisfaction with the deployment of certain police units to the north and construction of new police facilities, among other issues. On December 12, the government closed both border crossings in the north (Jarinje and Brnjak/Bernjak) for all traffic as a security matter given that travelers entering Kosovo at those crossings would immediately face illegal roadblocks. The ethnic Serbs removed the barricades between December 29-30 and the government reopened the two border crossings immediately thereafter.

In September 2022 the Kosovo Basic Court in Pristina sentenced Serbian national Nikola Nedeljkovic to eight months in prison for inciting intolerance during the June 28 observance of the 1389 Kosovo Battle commemoration (Vidovdan) at Gazimestan, Pristina. Witnesses testified Nedeljkovic wore an anti-Albanian T-shirt and chanted nationalist slogans. The law prohibits “publicly inciting or spreading…hatred, discord, and intolerance between national, racial, religious, ethnic or other groups, or based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and other personal characteristics in a manner which is likely to disturb the public order.” In December the Court of Appeals reduced his sentence to six months with a three-year ban from entry to Kosovo; Nedeljkovic was released and extradited to Serbia on 28 December 2022.

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Page last modified: 30-05-2023 19:16:10 ZULU