European Western Balkans

Russia, North Kosovo and Kosovo Serbs: What are the connections?

Church in northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo. Photo: Tiia Monto / Wikimedia Commons.

Kosovo statehood, as well as general state of economic and social affairs there, has been afflicted by frozen conflict in the north, unsettled status and disputed sovereignty of the country/ province, and still unclear relationship with neighbouring Albania. Despite official rhetoric on multi-ethnic democracy, Kosovo Albanians and Serbs are rather than together living divided along ethnic lines.

Besides, Kosovo represents an experimental site of international politics, where West-East cleavage has been manifested since 1999. Thus, it is not surprising that Russia has been presented there factually and even more in symbolical terms. Kremlin mostly vocally supports Serbian side in the conflict earning credit among Kosovo Serbs, and Serbian public and political elites in general.

As a matter of fact, derived not only from my direct field experience, pro-Russian sentiments are the most vivid outside of Serbia proper among Serbs in Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo. Perhaps one of the most Russophile populations in the Balkans can be found in Northern Kosovo or generally speaking among Kosovo Serbs. Just to remind the reader of 20 years old history, Russian troops were hailed with flowers by the local Serbs in 1999 when they arrived into the war-torn province.

In the recent years we could observe growing desire of local political leadership in the North to establish direct contacts with Russian governmental and quasi non-governmental bodies and vice versa. The dominant political party/ body of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo ‘Srpska lista’ appears to be well-connected with Russian ruling party the United Russia. Also, Russian top officials have repeatedly expressed strong and exclusive support for Srpska lista in municipal and parliamentary elections.

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) represents another influential pro-Russian factor in religious and cultural terms but also highly respected ethno-national institution. The SOC maintains very exclusive fraternal relations with its Russian counterparts as manifested in upcoming ‘raskol’ in the world Orthodox community, that has very clear geopolitical connotations. Concerning the disputes on church order in Ukraine, the SOC stands side by side with Moscow and not with the Ecumenic Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Serbian state-controlled, local and Russian media remain the main source of information for the Kosovo Serb population. Needless to say, these info channels have got rather negative attitude towards the Western neoliberal order and often tend to portrait Russia as the alternative.

It isn’t surprising that the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities as anticipated by the Brussels Agreement from 2013 (and most likely controlled by Srpska lista) is seen by Kosovo Albanian powerholders and also by the general public as potential Serbian and Russian Trojan Horse comparable to the role Republika Srpska plays in Bosnia. However, it seems interesting that (regardless of often heated rhetoric) Aleksandar Vučić who commands the Srpska lista is via the party currently a junior coalition partner in the Kosovo government led by former UCK commander Ramush Haradinaj.

It is important to acknowledge that, Kosovo Serbs, not only in the North, have never really been consulted on important political issues since decisions on their fate are made in Washington, Brussels, Berlin, Belgrade, Pristina etc. In fact, we can clearly observe astonishing lack of democratic right to decide about their own future, first of all regarding the right for self-determination and self-governance. When it comes to the decision whether to be a national minority in a hostile Albanian nation-state and one of the poorest countries of Europe or to be part of relatively prosperous Serbia, where they actually belong according to the dominant ethno-national logics, the Serbs of North Kosovo shall certainly opt for their kin state.

After all, the popular support for the ‘Eastern option’ among many Kosovo Serbs is nothing to wonder about since they fought the war with NATO and Western forces are still widely seen as occupiers of their homeland. A suitable path on the way towards resolution of the dispute could perhaps be giving voice to the ones who have been so far ignored by Belgrade and Pristina as well as by the great powers. Granting large-scale autonomy to Kosovo Serbs, especially but not only in the north, might possibly be a small but, considering the symbolical meaning of Kosovo in international relations, important contribution to badly-needed ‘new détente’ in Europe.

This article was written as part of the project ‘Western Balkans at the Crossroads: Assessing Non-Democratic External Influence Activities,’ led by the Prague Security Studies Institute.


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