Fear and loathing in Kosovo

The conflict over the north has been – and remains – zero sum. No matter what the Kosovo Albanians say to their internationals, the local Serbs do not believe that they will be allowed to remain in possession of the land, water and border with Serbia in the north should they be forced to accept Pristina law and control.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

After decades of difficult relations between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, the Quint has given them two months to reach an historic accommodation. Brussels has convoked the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo to meet again because “swift implementation” of the recent agreement is “of key importance.” Key importance to whom? Serbia for sure. The German parliament will vote on June 27 whether Berlin can support giving Serbia a date for the start of EU accession talks. The Germans are looking for the agreement on “parallel structures” to be implemented by then. Serbia is being asked to flee from the Kosovo issue before the Germans and Brussels mandarins burn down its EU house. The Quint seems to be still following the strategy of painting Belgrade into a corner and leaving it to enforce surrender on the north Kosovo Serbs. This is crazy, and dangerous.

The Kosovo Albanians are starting to get pushy again. Pristina “expects” a timeline for implementation by next week and the Kosovo government was in north Mitrovica celebrating the anniversary of its Potemkin office there. The Serbian government has been desperate to get the northern Serb community to accept the deal that it agreed with Pristina. The leaders of the northern municipalities have met with the government in Belgrade and Deputy Prime Minister Vucic visited the north. The talks reached no substantive agreement but both sides have made an effort to appear to remain on speaking terms. The mayor of Zvecan pointedly noted that the Serbs do not have a “spare state.”

In public, Vucic said there would be no use of force against those in the north who disagree with the government’s intention to implement the agreement but called on everyone to act in the interest of all Serbia. In private he may not have been so polite. In any case, his meetings in the north left most everyone there disappointed, bitter and afraid. The conflict over the north has been – and remains – zero sum. No matter what the Kosovo Albanians say to their internationals, the local Serbs do not believe that they will be allowed to remain in possession of the land, water and border with Serbia in the north should they be forced to accept Pristina law and control. Indeed, the Ahtisaari Plan as written gives Pristina a significant role in sensitive areas – choice of local police commanders and judges, funding from Belgrade – and it’s silent about returns. Nothing has been agreed on the boundary of North Mitrovica or the disposition of Trepca North. Resolving these issues in a way that could be peacefully implemented in the north would require time and a focused effort by all the parties, something that no one appears to be working on.

Some believe that the northern Serbs will eventually have to accept the inevitable – or be pushed aside – as Serbs were elsewhere in the Balkans. Some also talk about how the southern Kosovo Serbs have accommodated themselves to rule by Pristina, suggesting that after the bluster, the northerners will too. Mention is often made – including these days by Belgrade – of those rejecting the agreement for partisan reasons. No doubt some in the north may be thinking of leaving and some may be playing politics. But the great majority simply refuse to accept rule from Pristina because they see it as eventually being used against them. They don’t trust NATO and the EU to remain and protect them.

NATO is warning against anyone in the north trying to defend themselves with guns. The northern Serb resistance so far has been almost entirely peaceful. Perhaps KFOR is simply more aware of the tensions in the north as the locals feel that they have been abandoned by their government as the price for EU admission.

The bottom line seems this: There is no ground for mutual trust between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo. The Albanians have the upper hand and the northern Serbs fear for their survival. Fear and loathing are not a proper ground for the quick and peaceful change being demanded by the EU.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010.

To read TransConflict’s policy paper, entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here. If you are interested in responding to this article, please do not hesitate to contact us by clicking here.

To learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s reading lists series by clicking here.

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30 Responses

  1. Fadil

    “The Quint seems to be still following the strategy of painting Belgrade into a corner and leaving it to enforce surrender on the north Kosovo Serbs. This is crazy, and dangerous.”

    This is nonsense and ridiculous phrase, repeated so many times so it became too moldy. I think, Gerard, you forgot to recalling what Vucic said something very important as “every year Serbia is loosing ONE northern Kosovo”, which is true. Vucic did not say, however, that Kosovo, at the same time is having almost one norther Kosovo more. So one may realize who is in advantage and how ridiculous is such a claim as “dangerous” situation in the north of Kosovo.

    Your mission is impossible Gerard. You are fighting with the “enemy” that was never won – the TIME. The time is not working for those you are fighting so hard. It means, you already lost the battle.

  2. PEN

    What’s depressing about this whole process is the unholy rush the Belgrade government appear to be in to acquiese entirely to the demands of Berlin and Washington for some fabled EU start date. Improving the lives of your citizens is one thing, slavishly capitulating to your detractors is something else altogether. I understand they wish to improve the lives of their people. That’s only right. But the leadership in Serbia have allowed themselves to be painted into a corner. To effectively be blackmailed by some nebulous concept of eventual EU membership. The EU is a creaking monolith in thrall to German political and economic power. There are many desperate to leave, particularly in the UK. This whole episode could have been handled in a better way. Yet again a Serbian community left adrift and at the mercy of their enemies in former Yugoslavia have been sold out. It remains to be seen how they react.

  3. Press reports suggest that the USA is sending active duty troops to Kosovo to enforce implementation of the Belgrade-Pristina agreement:

    “The Serbs living in the north of Kosovo flatly refuse to abide by the agreement reached in Brussels, which makes them deprived of the Serbia’s citizenship in favor of becoming Kosovars, or the citizens of Kosovo. Soon they will face a military force called in to guarantee the fulfillment of Brussels accords. By the end of May – beginning of June the formations of 525th US Army Battlefield Surveillance Brigade come to take part in the three-week-long exercises in Hohenfels, Germany. The brigade is using the training event to complete the final preparations before taking over Multinational Battle Group-East as a part of Kosovo Forces. The future mission includes combat planning, preventing and putting down public unrest, evacuation of wounded and interaction with civil officials.

    The brigade’s headquarters and 1st Squadron, 38 Cavalry Regiment, which originally was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, will make up the first active-duty unit deployed to Kosovo in 10 years, including the areas of: Kosovska Kamenica, Vitina, Gnjilane, Uroševac, Shtimlje, Kachanic and Štrpce. Acting alongside the KFOR and EULEX, the US will guarantee freedom of movement removing barricades mounted by Serbs on the way of Albanian police and special units built in order to deny them access to the north of Kosovo. ”

    Sources in English and Serbia:



  4. Fadil

    No need for military intervention. Serbia’s prime Dacic, today, warned, or maybe threatened, the northerners as “they who boycott elections (by Kosovo laws) will give opportunity to ‘Thaci’s Serbs'”.

    Mr. Dacic wanted to say that better option for the Serbs in the north of Kosovo is participating in implementation of the Brussels agreement than being under the rule of “Thaci’s Serbs”. That would mean being lead by those Serbs who are totally loyal to prime minister of Kosovo Hashim Thaci.

  5. Pingback : Kosovo: What role will US combat troops play in the north? | TransConflict

  6. From the press of May 31, 2013. The German parliament sets tough conditions for approving EU talks date for Serbia:

    “A well-informed source from Bundestag told Blic that only the Left Party, that has five seats in parliament, was in favor of granting Serbia a date while all others were skeptical. Five articles from the agreement need to be implemented by midnight, another five by mid-June. It would be the most important if Kosovo Serbs unblocked the bridge over the Ibar River and respected the agreement on freedom of movement and if they allowed customs officers to come to work instead of flying to border posts in a helicopter. We know it is psychologically very difficult for northern Kosovo Serbs but it would be a message that would convince us to approve a date,” the source was quoted as saying….We will make a decision on June 27 and it will depend on the implementation of the agreement. We expect a letter from Brussels that will say what Serbia has done. All obligations regarding police forces and judiciary need to be implemented by then. It is crucial for us to see whether Serbs from the north are ready to implement what has been agreed. If they are not, there will be a big question mark,” the source told Blic.”

    The Germans just don’t want Serbia in the EU, it seems.

  7. Pingback : Kosovo - November elections loom | TransConflict

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