In the wake of recently-held elections, ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo caused a stir on Friday when they confronted local police forces in a bid to hinder elected officials from accessing municipal buildings. These disturbances, as per sources, led to the police resorting to tear gas for crowd control. The violence escalated to such an extent that several vehicles were set on fire during the confrontations.
In response to the growing tensions and violence, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has issued a statement raising the alert level of the military. He further directed an “urgent” deployment of Serbian troops to the border with Kosovo, intensifying the atmosphere of unease in the region. Vucic’s comments were broadcasted on the state-run televison.
Serbian President’s Rally and Demand for NATO’s Protection
In addition to handling the escalating crisis in northern Kosovo, President Vucic is also expected to attend a rally in support of him in Belgrade, scheduled in response to the twin mass shootings that shook the nation earlier this month. The tragic incidents resulted in the death of 18 individuals and left 20 more injured.
Highlighting the apparent “violence” against Kosovo Serbs, Vucic has called upon the NATO-led troops stationed in Kosovo to safeguard them from the Kosovo police. Meanwhile, the Kosovo police have justified their enhanced presence in the north in a bid “to assist mayors of the northern communes of Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok to exert their right of work at the official objects.”
Protests and Sirens: A Struggle for Autonomy
The protests have been marked by smaller groups of Serbs barring the entrance to the municipal buildings, effectively preventing the newly-elected mayors from entering. These Serbs kept their hands up at the entrance of the municipalities, in an apparent show of peaceful intent, as reported by the Albanian website indexonline.net. Clashes with police were reported in Zvecan and Leposavic, where public spaces were blocked with cars and trucks.
Alarm sirens were set off across the four communes, including the main northern Mitrovica town, serving as a rallying call and a warning sign for the Serbs. These developments follow the April 23 snap election, which saw the majority of ethnic Serbs boycotting the polls. As a result, only ethnic Albanian or other smaller minority representatives secured the mayoral posts and assemblies.
The Complex Kosovo-Serbia Relations and International Intervention
The discord in the region traces its roots to the demand for autonomy by Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs. This demand has sparked fears among Kosovar Albanians who believe it might pave the way for a new ministate similar to Srpska Republika in Bosnia. Despite a 2013 agreement between Pristina and Belgrade aimed at addressing the issue, tensions have continued to simmer, with the Kosovo Constitutional Court declaring the agreement unconstitutional.
The U.S. and the European Union are exerting increased pressure on Kosovo and Serbia, advocating for the normalization of relations to secure their intentions to join the EU bloc. With an ongoing war in Ukraine, the international community is concerned about the possibility of further instability in Europe.