Kosovo tense as Serb minority protests - GulfToday

Kosovo tense as Serb minority protests

Kosovo Serbs take part in a demonstration against Kosovo’s refusal to allow them to vote in neighbouring Serbia’s upcoming elections. File/AFP

Kosovo Serbs take part in a demonstration against Kosovo’s refusal to allow them to vote in neighbouring Serbia’s upcoming elections. File/AFP

In 1998-99, NATO had intervened in the Kosovo war to support the Albanian-majority in Kosovo and check the belligerent Serb nationalist let loose by then Serb nationalist president Slobodan Milosevic. The United Arab Emirates had run a large refugee camp for the Kosovars who had fled Serb persecution at Kukes in Albania. But NATO attacks brought Milosevic to the negotiating table but he refused to honour his commitments to the ethnic Albanians. Kosovo remained under NATO supervision, and it became independent in 2008. But as the ethnic Albanians were once a minority in Serbia, in northern Kosovo there remains a Serb minority. The latest flare-up has been caused by the Kosovo government asking the Serbs to change their pre-1998-99 number plates of their cars and other transport vehicles to be changed to one issued by the Kosovo government. But the Serbs in Kosovo perceive this as an attempt to stamp out their ethnic identity as it were. Serb judges, policemen and other officials resigned in protest. The Serbs have blockaded the roads in north Kosovo.

Surprisingly, Serbia is supporting the stand of the Serbs in north Kosovo. Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic said on his Instagram page that “there will be no surrender” but that Serbia will continue fight with all legal means for peace.” He even said that he would seek NATO’s KFOR to let Serbia deploy troops and police in Kosovo. Responding the Vucic, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said, “We do not seek conflict, but dialogue and peace. But let me be clear: the Republic of Kosovo will defend itself – forcefully and decisively.” He also said that he was waiting for KFOR to help clear the barricades. He said, “We call KFOR to guarantee the freedom of movement (and remove roadblocks)…KFOR is asking more time to finish this…so we are waiting.” In many ways, Kosovo is defending its sovereignty, and it would not be right for Serbia to step in support of Serbs in northern Kosovo.

It is indeed quite inexplicable that Serbs in north Kosovo want to display number plates on their vehicles in Belgrade when Kosovo was part of Serbia. Now that Kosovo is an independent state, Serbs in Kosovo can fight for their democratic rights within Kosovo, but cannot claim something connected with Belgrade, which sure has a sentimental value for nationalist Serbs, but it has no legal legitimacy.

It is one of the contentious issues in the Balkans where each country has minorities within its borders. What can settle the issue is for every minority in each of these countries to enjoy democratic rights and constitutional protection. But there cannot be claim for extra-territorial claims. That is, Serbs in north Kosovo cannot derive judicial rights connected with Belgrade, which is now the capital of Serbia and not Kosovo. And it is also not right that Serbia should say that it would defend Serbs in northern Kosovo by deploying forces. It shows that Serbia as well as Serbs in Kosovo have not yet reconciled to the existence of an independent Kosovo which became necessary because Milosevic was indulging in ethnic cleansing in driving out ethnic Albanians from Kosovo where they – ethnic Albanians – were in a majority. NATO would have a tough time in resolving the crisis because the Serbs seem to have adopted an intransigent stance. Former Yugoslavia, which included Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo, broke up after the death of the communist leader Broz Tito, and Milosevic became a belligerent Serb nationalist. It would be tragic if Serbia were to precipitate a fresh crisis on the basis of assertive Serb nationalism.

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