Western Balkans: Shots in the border region: why Kosovo and Serbia don't get along

In the border area between Kosovo and Serbia, tensions between the neighbors have been manifesting themselves for years.

Western Balkans: Shots in the border region: why Kosovo and Serbia don't get along

In the border area between Kosovo and Serbia, tensions between the neighbors have been manifesting themselves for years. The situation came to a head again at the weekend when Kosovo Serbs set up barricades with trucks and other heavy vehicles on the border with Serbia and, according to the authorities in Kosovo, unknown persons fired shots at the police. No one was injured, but the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings were temporarily closed.

The background to the escalation was the announcement by the Kosovar authorities that they would no longer recognize Serbian identity documents at border crossings as of this Monday. Serbs with such papers would have had to have a provisional document issued at the border instead. In addition, Kosovo Serbs with Serbian license plates should replace them with Kosovar license plates within two months.

The government in Pristina justified its actions with the fact that Kosovar citizens have had to have a provisional document issued when crossing the border into Serbia for a long time because the Serbian authorities do not recognize the Kosovar papers. It is a reciprocal measure, said Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Sunday. However, after talks with representatives from the USA and Europe, he agreed to postpone the start of the new regulations until September 1st.

The Foreign Office has been warning on its website for a long time about possible "difficulties up to and including refusal of entry" when entering Serbia from Kosovo. "It is only possible if you have entered Kosovo by land from Serbia and the total travel time does not exceed three months," writes the authority. Kosovar entry stamps are mostly invalidated by the Serbian authorities. Travelers who do not want a Kosovar entry stamp in their passport can notify the Kosovar border police upon arrival. In addition, there could be "tensions" in the border region.

The conflict between Kosovo and Serbia is deeply rooted in the neighbors' past. In the Middle Ages, the Kosovo region was the seat of the religious and political center of Serbia. As the Ottoman Empire continued to expand into Europe and occupied the area in 1389, the Christian Serb population began to migrate and Muslim Albanians followed. Eventually, in the 20th century, the Albanians became the largest population group and the Serbs an ethnic minority.

After the First World War in 1918, against the will of the Albanian majority, Kosovo became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which also included the constituent republic of Serbia. In 1974 the area was declared an autonomous province of Serbia. Fifteen years later, then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomy and sent troops to quell protests.

The dispute over the status of Kosovo finally culminated in the 1998-1999 war between the Yugoslav army and Serbian paramilitary forces on the one hand and the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) and, from 1999, NATO forces led by the USA on the other . During the war, the Kosovan and above all the Kosovar-Albanian civilian population became victims of systematic raids, expulsions and mass murders. The UÇK was also guilty of serious human rights crimes. The war finally ended with Serbia's withdrawal from Kosovo. The province was placed under UN administration and NATO stationed the KFOR protection force there, which also includes the Bundeswehr. Around 200,000 Serb residents and non-Albanians fled Kosovo's attacks.

In 2005, Kosovo's interim parliament, installed by the United Nations, voted to establish an independent state. As a result, the UN launched a mediation mission about the future status of the Serbian province, which was declared a failure two years later. Kosovo then unilaterally declared independence on February 17, 2008. To this day, Serbia does not recognize this independence and claims Kosovan territory as a central element of religious and national consciousness.

More than 110 states consider Kosovo's secession from Serbia to be legitimate and have recognized the Republic of Kosovo - including Germany and the USA. Russia and China, which reject the right of peoples to self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter for domestic reasons, see the independence of Kosovo as a violation of Serbian sovereignty in violation of international law.

Within the European Union, the attitude towards Kosovo is inconsistent: In addition to Germany, 21 other EU countries recognize Kosovo as independent. However, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania do not. The background here is also the autonomy efforts of minorities in these countries, such as the Catalans in Spain.

Since 2011, mediated by the European Union, talks have been held on normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Serbia is a candidate for EU membership and Kosovo is considered a potential candidate country and the EU has linked the accession prospects for the countries to reforms and substantial progress in overcoming interstate and internal conflicts. "But as long as influential EU states like France block the admission of new members, there is a real danger that the willingness to reform in Kosovo and the other states in the region will flag," writes the Federal Agency for Civic Education. That is why Kosovo is the western Balkan country which is still the furthest away from possible EU accession.

However, postponing EU membership indefinitely not only reduces the willingness of Pristina and Belgrade to implement the agreed reforms and continue their dialogue under EU mediation, it also opens the door to other powers such as China, Turkey and the Gulf States , so the BpB. Russia is also trying to reactivate its traditionally strong presence.

The conflict between the neighbors is also increasing resentment among the population and deepening the divisions, writes the Bundeszentrale: Kosovo Albanians, who make up around 87 percent of the population, and around eight percent of the Kosovo Serbs live largely separately in their own neighborhoods and villages . Serbs, but especially the smaller minorities—Montenegrins, Turks, Bosniaks, Roma, Goranci, Ashkali, and Jews—suffered from discrimination in areas such as land and property purchases, education, and job-hunting.

Sources: Federal Foreign Office, Federal Agency for Civic Education, State Agency for Civic Education Baden-Württemberg, European Parliament, AFP, DPA

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