why did this tension change?

Fresh tensions flared Sunday on the border between Serbia and Kosovo, a former Serbian province, where barricades were erected and police fired upon. The events that repeat themselves often according to the negotiations between the two parties, if it does not lead until now to a major conflict.

More than twenty years after the end of the war, the rag is still burning between Serbia and Kosovo, its former province with an Albanian majority whose independence it does not recognize unilaterally proclaimed in 2008.

The border between the two countries was the scene of renewed tension on Sunday, July 31, as Kosovar police said they were the target of gunfire in the north while barricades were erected by hundreds of Serbs in Kosovo on the roads leading to the Jarinje crossing points. and Brnjak.

What ignites the powder? The new border policy of the government of Kosovo, which was supposed to be implemented on Monday. According to new rules from Pristina authorities, anyone entering Kosovo with a Serbian identity card must replace it with a temporary document during their stay in the country. Faced with the clashes that took place on Sunday, the government of Kosovo finally decided to postpone the entry of force in the step of a month.

Hundreds of Kosovo Serbs set up barricades on the roads leading to Jarinje and Brnjak crossings on July 31, 2022. © FMM Graphic Studio

But since the end of the war in 1999 (which caused more than 13,000 deaths, including 11,000 Albanians), peace between Kosovo and Serbia remains fragile, and there are many obstacles. In September, the north of Kosovo has already experienced strong tension, which has included demonstrations and blocking traffic at border posts, after Pristina’s decision to ban Serbian license plates on its territory.

On Sunday, Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti recalled that the new measure stems from the principle of reciprocity, with Serbia imposing the same requirements on Kosovars entering its territory.

While the Force deployed by NATO in Kosovo (KFor) warned of a “tense” security situation in the municipalities in the north of the country, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, on the other hand, spoke of a ” worn atmosphere boiling”, and added that. “Serbia will win” if the Serbs are attacked.

For his part, the Kosovar Prime Minister accused the Serbian leader of causing “trouble”, and wrote on Facebook that “the next hours, days and weeks will be difficult and problematic”.

However, specialists believe that a real increase in tensions is unlikely, the scenario repeating the same pattern over and over again.

Many sticking points and a fragile peace

“Every three or six months, we have this kind of tension because a measure is proposed by one side and rejected by the other”, explains Alexis Troude, professor of geopolitics at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin. -en-Yvelines ( UVSQ) and Balkan specialist. “On the spot, the Pristina authorities enter the municipalities of northern Kosovo, where the majority of Serbs live, and the latter put up barricades… It’s always the same scenario”, he continued.

According to the researcher, these clashes have their origins in the agreements signed in 2012 in Brussels between Pristina and Belgrade. Since then, negotiations have taken place under the aegis of the European Union and the resulting measures are not always to the liking of both parties.

Others find it hard to get to the Serbian minority, which still lives in northern Kosovo but remains loyal to Belgrade, on which it is financially dependent. The situation in Kosovo is “not too complicated” for Serbia and the Serbs living there, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday in a speech to the country.

Generally, tensions are based on a misunderstanding. “Serbians believe that the 2012 agreements [qui stipulent que pour que le Kosovo soit reconnu, Pristina doit assurer l’autonomie de trois municipalités du Nord, habitées en majorité par des Serbes, NDLR] not respected”, develops Alexis Troude. “However, the authorities in Pristina, who never considered this option, continued to say for several weeks that this point is no longer available and that it municipalities will never get their autonomy.

For Belgrade, Kosovo remains a southern province of Serbia, while Kosovo works to be recognized by the international community (currently 96 out of 193 states recognize it), and sees its efforts constantly being neutralize the Serbian neighbor since the end of the war. .

Twenty-four years ago, tensions between the Albanian Muslim majority and Kosovo’s Serb minority escalated into violence, leading to Serbian military intervention.

Heavy repression against Albanian civilians triggered a 78-day NATO bombing campaign in Serbia, forcing Belgrade’s strongman Slobodan Milosevic to order the withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosovo. The cease-fire reached in June 1999 was followed by the deployment of major NATO forces. The region was then placed under UN administration. In 2008, it unilaterally declared its independence with the support of the United States and most Western countries. What was never accepted by Serbia, supported by Russia and China.

A “geopolitical game” is also being played by Russia

Relations between Belgrade and Pristina have not been normalized. When Kosovo’s independence is now recognized by most Western countries, Serbia refuses to do so, as does Russia, which is seen as “political support for Serbia”. That is why Belgrade is now the only European capital that has supported Vladimir Putin since the start of the war in Ukraine.

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In this context, the interests at stake in the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo are perhaps not small. On Twitter, Mark Urban, a BBC journalist, raised the possibility “that Serbia has raised the stakes in the context of a geopolitical action coordinated with Russia”.

For his part, Alexis Troude evokes “a geopolitical game” in which on the one hand the United States and the United Kingdom strengthen the authority of Pristina, and on the other Belgrade, supported and stronger by Russia and China.

These two powers have always made it a point of honor to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, which declares Serbia’s borders inviolable. For about two years, they also regularly invested in Serbia, which brought them with a stronger influence over the authorities in Belgrade.

For Alexis Troude, “Vladimir Putin has realized what he announced in 2002”. Twenty years ago, the Russian president detailed his theory of “near abroad” which corresponds to Moscow’s historical sphere of influence, which includes Serbia, the closest Russian state to Hungary.

If the main (financial) investors are French, German or American, the specialist in the Balkans remembers that the Chinese and the Russians use geostrategy by investing in two important sectors: energy and transport. “At a time when Moscow cut off the gas tap in Western Europe, the Turkstream gas pipeline worked for the Serbs, which helped win the Russians many favorable opinions.”

“NATO is here and has intervened”

All the elements leading to the current rise in tensions are very serious among NATO countries. In a press release issued on Sunday night, the Force responsible for establishing peace and ensuring stability in the region since 1999 (KFor) said it is ready to intervene if required by an order from the United Nations Security Council.

“Today, KFor is still helping to maintain a safe and secure environment in Kosovo and to preserve freedom of movement there for the benefit of all,” he recalled, saying that he was “ready to intervene if the need arises -on will be threatened” in the north of the country.

“NATO is already there and has intervened,” explained Alexis Troude, who recalled that KFor was involved in border control and security in the region.

Kosovo is also home to Camp Bondsteel, which is the largest NATO base outside the United States, says the Balkan specialist. “Bondsteel, 8,000 men are permanently in the heart of Kosovo”.

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