Kosovo is the ‘heart of Serbia’
- Recently, clashes broke out between Serbs protesting in North Kosovo and the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFor), leaving about 30 NATO soldiers and 50 Serbs injured.
- Djokovic said Kosovo is the ‘heart of Serbia’.
Roots of the conflict:
- Both Kosovo and Serbia lie in the Balkans, a region of Europe made up of countries that were once a part of the erstwhile Republic of Yugoslavia.
- Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, unilaterally declared Independence in 2008 and is recognised as a country by about 100 nations including the U.S. and a number of EU-member countries.
- However, Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty and continues to consider it as a part of itself despite having no administrative control over it. Serbia sees historic significance in Kosovo.
- Recently in 2022, violent clashes broke out in the northern region over the issue of Kosovo asking Serbian drivers to use temporary Kosovo number plates for their vehicles when in the country, just like Serbia requires Kosovo vehicles to change number plates when they pass through or travel in Serbia.
- In April this year, Kosovo held mayoral elections in municipalities. These elections were boycotted by ethnic Serbs in the northern municipalities and saw only about a 3% turnout, as a result of which ethnic Albanian mayors got elected in these municipalities.
- Thus, with the support of the Kosovo police, ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo’s Serb-majority area and faced protests by Serbs.
- The Serbian Empire had gained control of Kosovo in the 12th century, and the latter went on to become the heart of the kingdom with several Serb Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries of significance being built in Kosovo.
- Serbia lost Kosovo for 500 years to the Ottoman Empire in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo.
- During the Ottoman Rule, the ethnic and religious balance shifted in Kosovo, leading it to become a majority ethnic Albanian region with Muslims.
- After five centuries of Ottoman rule, Kosovo became part of Serbia in the early 20th century and post the Second World War, it was eventually made a province (with autonomy) of Serbia, which was then one of the six republics of Yugoslavia.
- Serbia considered this the rightful return of Kosovo, but the ethnic Albanians, who currently make up 90% of Kosovo’s population, considered it unfair.
- In the late 1990s, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), consisting mainly Kosovo Albanians, led an insurgency against the Serbian rule of Kosovo.
- Serbia responded by cracking down on the rebellion by deploying heavy forces in 1998 and 1999.
- Nearly 13,000 lives, mainly of ethnic Albanians, were lost during this period.
- However, in 1999, NATO intervened by carrying out air raids and bombardment of Serb targets, forcing Serbia to end hostilities and pull out of Kosovo.
- Subsequently, NATO deployed 50,000 peacekeepers and through the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1244, a transitional UN-led administration began to head Kosovo.
- Currently, an ethnic Serb minority of more than 50,000 resides in multiple municipalities in the northern part of Kosovo bordering Serbia, making up about 5.3% of the country’s population.
- The Kosovo Serbs do not recognise Kosovo state institutions, receive pay and benefits from Serbia’s budget, and pay no taxes either to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo or Belgrade, the Serbian Capital.
- Since 2008, clashes have broken out on and off in Kosovo’s northern region, either when Serbs have clashed with Kosovo’s police or due to the larger issue of Serbia not recognising Kosovo’s independent status.
- Meanwhile, Kosovo cannot become a member country of the UN without Serbia’s approval as it has its diplomatic allies in Russia and China who would veto such a decision.
- In 2011, the EU, backed by the U.S, initiated talks to resolve the conflict between the two countries, offering the prospect that the two could only become a part of the EU if they bilaterally normalised relations.
- In 2013, the two reached the Brussels Agreement brokered by the EU, which included measures to dismantle Serbia-backed parallel structures in Kosovo’s north and the creation of the Association of Serb Municipalities to administratively link Kosovo’s 10 Serb-majority municipalities.
- While the agreement was not fully implemented on the ground, the participation of Serbs in elections was facilitated.
Serbia’s ties with Russia:
- Kosovo’s current leader and the West are also concerned about Serbia’s strong historic and military ties with Moscow and its political closeness with President Vladimir Putin who has maintained support for the Serbian claim.
- The concerns have intensified after the start of the Ukraine conflict and Mr. Kurti has warned of a spillover in the Balkans backed by Russia.
- Besides, Serbia’s dependence on Russia for diplomatic support to counter Kosovo’s bids at the UN puts Moscow in a position of influence.
- The Carnegie Endowment paper on the issue points out that the Kremlin also “fears that ending the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo will diminish Russia’s stature in Serbia and severely undermine its clout in the Balkans”.