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European Western Balkans
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The Kosovo Crisis: A risky all-or-nothing game

Miroslav Lajčak, Albin Kurti and Aleksandar Vučić in Berlin; Photo: Twitter / @MiroslavLajcak

On Saturday, Serbs from the north of Kosovo officially submitted their irrevocable resignations from all political, judicial and administrative positions in the institutions of Kosovo. The resignations remain in effect until Priština “begins to respect international law and all agreements signed in Brussels.” In order to return to the institutions, Serbs from the north, who are close to the authorities in Belgrade, demand from Government led by Albin Kurti to withdraw the decision on re-registration and establish the Union of Serbian Municipalities (CSM).

Although withdrawing from the institutions was an “ace up the sleeve” for Serbs from the north to dissuade the Priština authorities from certain actions during previous crises, that idea was dropped six times before, always at the request of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić. This time there was no such request, and it was the resigning from institutions that made the current crisis in Kosovo more serious than before.

The last straw this time was the decision of the Kosovo authorities to suspend the director of the police of the northern region, Nenad Đurić, after Đurić refused to implement the plan of the Kosovo government on re-registration, which entails the delivery of warnings and fines to those vehicle owners who have not yet switched to “RKS” license plates.

The Director of the Institute for Territorial Economic Development (InTER) Dragiša Mijačić believes that the situation in the north of Kosovo is incredibly serious, especially if the fact that police officers of Serbian nationality have left the Kosovo Police Service is taken into account.

“This created a security vacuum that cannot be filled by members of KFOR because they do not have a mandate to perform police duties, and it is dangerous to fill it with police officers of Albanian nationality because the local population will perceive it as a provocation and an act of hostility,” says Mijačić for the European Western Balkans.

According to him, if the situation is not resolved quickly, it will be difficult to preserve peace in the northern municipalities, and that is why an urgent reaction of the international community is needed, “and not at the level of announcements, but in concrete steps that will stabilize the situation in the north.”

The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) has not taken over policing responsibilities in northern Kosovo, although it increased mobile reconnaissance patrols in the north this week and maintains close coordination with the Kosovo Police and KFOR.

What are the reactions of the international community?

Regardless of the assessment many agree with — that the latest events in Kosovo have in practice canceled everything that has been achieved by the Brussels Agreement — the reaction of the international community seems to be more lenient than expected. Apart from the already well-known statements calling on the two sides to refrain from raising tensions, no concrete plan or solution has been offered yet.

The Head of Diplomacy of the European Union, Josep Borrell, assessed that the events of the Kosovo-Serbia relation endanger years of hard work and all that was achieved under the framework of the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština. In a statement published on November 5, Borrell calls on both sides to refrain from any unilateral actions that could lead to further tensions.

Borell assessed that the withdrawal of Serbs from Kosovo’s institutions is not a solution to current disputes and called on Serbia and Serb representatives to respect their commitments from the dialogue and return to Kosovo’s institutions, including the police, judiciary and local administrations.

At the same time, the Priština side was invited to comply with its obligations without delay, which means to prolong the process of re-registration of vehicles and suspend any punitive action against owners of “KM” license plates. Priština is also urged to immediately take steps towards the establishment of the Community of Serbian Municipalities (CSM). Similar demands were made by the representatives of the USA in Serbia and Kosovo, as well as the American envoy for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, Gabriel Escobar.

In a written statement for European Western Balkans, Dragiša Mijačić says that the EU and the US have been asking Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti not to take unilateral actions not coordinated with international partners, especially those that can lead to violent actions and destabilization.

“The credibility and sincerity of the EU, the USA and other QUINTA countries are questioned, having in mind that Kurti did not adhere to these demands. Therefore, the EU and the USA must operationalize their statements and, by a quick reaction, prevent any possible conflict in the north of Kosovo, and then make the negotiating parties cooperate and agree on disputed issues. The alternative is conflicts, which will not bring anything good to anyone, apart from troubles ,” believes Mijačić.

Regardless of the demands by the international community, the Prime Minister of Kosovo said that the process of re-registration continues, and that the number of warnings issued has exceeded 900. He said that issuing fines of all those who did not switch to “RKS” plates will begin on 21 of November, as planned.

At the Government session held on Wednesday, Kurti stated that the problem for the Serbs is not the decisions of the Kosovo government, nor the deadlines, but the pressures. “Their problems are the bombings, burnings of cars and houses, pressures and endless threats from those who have a problem with the law,” Kurti said.

Regarding the Community of Serbian Municipalities, the biggest obstacle for the two sides in the dialogue formany years, Kurti said that he is against the formation of such a “mono-ethnic” community.

One more problem for Kurti at the moment is the opposition, which demands full coordination of actions with international partners, primarily the United States of America.

Meanwhile on 9 November, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, honored the former director Nenad Đurić of the North Mitrovica Police Regional Directorate and Aleksandar Filipović, the head of the Regional Operations of that Directorate. Đurić was awarded the First Class Order of Merit for Defense and Security, and Filipović was awarded the “Miloš Obilić” Gold Medal for Courage at the Presidency of Serbia in Belgrade for refusing to implement the Kosovo Government’s decision on the re-registration of car plates.

What are the consequences of withdrawing from the institutions?

As KoSSev writes, resignations of Serbian MPs could lead to Kosovo Parliament becoming completely paralyzed when it comes to adoption of acts for which a majority vote of the deputies of non-majority communities is required, according to the Priština constitution.

When it comes to local authorities, the resignation of Serbian councilors qualifies them as non-functional according to the Priština Law on Local Self-Government, so it is possible that those assemblies will be dissolved, after which local elections could follow, as reported by KoSSev.

Dragiša Mijačić says that if the decision to leave institutions is permanent, one of the consequences of such a decision could be conflicts between citizens and the police, as we had in the past.

“If it is a temporary measure, then the question is how long it will last, that is, what conditions must be met in order for the Serbs to return to the institutions and how long will it take for those conditions to be met. It is also unknown whether the return of Serbs back to the institutions will be unconditional, or whether there will be demands from the Government of Kosovo that will constrain the return of certain persons, for example police officers who refused the command”, says Mijačić.

According to him, the following days will provide some answers, but the more time passes, more difficult it will be to solve this issue in a peaceful way. He notes that this requires an urgent reaction from the international community, because every day brings new uncertainty.

Mijačić believes that it is necessary to speed up the process of reaching a comprehensive agreement, because all that is happening is a consequence of the fact that the dialogue lasts a long time and, as the time passes, the negotiating parties are less and less ready to fulfill the previous commitments.

“At this moment, the most important thing is to stabilize the situation in the north so that there is no conflict between the local population and the Kosovo police. At this moment, the only solution is for KFOR, at least temporarily, to prohibit the movement of Kosovo’s special police forces in the northern municipalities, and for police officers to return to work to perform basic police duties until the situation is resolved. In the meantime, it is necessary to work intensively on reaching a comprehensive agreement that would resolve the issue of plates, CSMand all other open issues between Serbia and Kosovo,” says Mijačić.

The impression is that both Belgrade and Priština play an all-or-nothing game. At this moment, backtracking on the steps taken could have serious consequences for domestic reputation of both Vučić and Kurti. This fact reduces the optimism of all those who believe that the solution to the Kosovo crisis could come quickly and easily.

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