GRAZ – The escalation of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia suggests that the negotiations by the EU have little restraining effect, which is unsurprising considering the state of EU policy towards the region, assesses Florian Bieber, Professor of Southeast European History and Politics at the University of Graz for European Western Balkans.
“This means that such tensions are more likely. It is a way to create attention in Brussels and Washington”, says Bieber, also a coordinator of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), commenting on the anti-smuggler police raids in Kosovo on Wednesday which caused protests in the Serb-populated north. Multiple citizens and policemen were injured, while one Kosovo Serb was shot and underwent a surgery.
Serbian authorities vocally condemned the action, while President Aleksandar Vučić met with the representatives of Kosovo Serbs in Raška municipality in southwestern Serbia on the same day.
The event came less than two weeks after a temporary agreement was reached on the dispute over licence plates, which saw barricades on the crossings of Jarinje and Brnjak, as well as the aircrafts of the Serbian Armed Forces flying over the area. Together with the events on 13 October, they represent the most serious deterioration of stability in Kosovo-Serbia relations in years.
Florian Bieber says, furthermore, that the Government of Albin Kurti has shown that it is more willing to challenge Serbia and not accept the Serbian positions to the degree some of its predecessors did.
“The main challenge is walking the tightrope between asserting sovereignty in Kosovo, and also overacting and thus contributing to an esclation. Excessive reliance on strong displays of forces might go down well with Kosovo Albanian voters, but might created more instability and push some Kosovo Serbs back into Vučić’s arms”, Bieber says.
He warns about risks of tensions like this getting out of hand in the future.
“Currently, I don’t see a clear strategy how to increase Kosovo’s leverage internationally, so I am afraid with EU neglect in the region, one incident can get out of hand, if a solider, a police officer or a criminal fire a shot”, Bieber concludes.
Some commentators, including Milica Andrić Rakić from Mitrovica-based New Social Initiative, interpreted the raid as a part of the election campaign, with Kosovo scheduled for local elections on 17 October.
High Representative of the Union Josep Borrell tweeted on Wednesday that the violent incidents in the north of Kosovo need to stop immediately and that any unilateral and uncoordinated actions that endanger stability are unacceptable.
On the other hand, Kosovo Government stressed that the action was a part of the efforts to fight against organised crime. The Embassy of the United Kingdom to Kosovo issued a statement of support to the fight against organised crime and preserving the rule of law in Kosovo and also condemned the reported intimidation of journalists. Luan Dalipi, chef-de-cabinet for PM Albin Kurti, charaterised the violence as instigated by few hooligans orchestrated by Belgrade, Balkan Insight reports.