As Ukraine War Rages, Serbia and Kosovo Envoys See Old Feud Risk New Crisis

In feedback shared with Newsweek, the ambassadors of Serbia and Kosovo have warned {that a} resurgence of their decades-long feud fueled by ethnic and territorial divides dangers the eruption of a brand new disaster in a continent already beset by Russia’s battle in Ukraine.

The frictions have their roots within the tumultuous breakup of Yugoslavia, a socialist multiethnic federation in Southeast Europe that collapsed within the Nineties into the trendy successor states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia, with the standing of Kosovo remaining a matter of worldwide dispute because it declared independence in 2008. A razor-thin majority of United Nations member states, together with the United States and most of NATO and the European Union, view Kosovo as an impartial republic, whereas practically half the world doesn’t think about Kosovo to be a separate political entity from Serbia.

A fragile peace has been held up by numerous worldwide accords, however none have managed to resolve these hostilities nonetheless plaguing the guts of the Balkans.

Kosovo has a big ethnic Albanian majority, but in addition consists of numerous minority communities, together with Bosniaks and Serbs, which Serbian officers have alleged are focused by Kosovar authorities pursuing discriminatory practices. In one of many newest incidents, the dismissal final month of a Kosovar Serb police officer over his refusal to change out his outdated Serbian license plate for a brand new Kosovar one sparked mass resignations amongst Kosovar Serb officers and lawmakers.

Turmoil worsened this month with the arrest of one other Kosovar Serb police officer accused by Kosovo authorities of terrorism, and stories have emerged of gunfights between assailants and police, in addition to assaults on European Union personnel. Amid this unrest, Serbia has overtly thought of deploying troops to Kosovo.

“Belgrade has been and always will be the constructive participant in the dialogue, advocating for peace, stability and compromise,” Serbian Ambassador to the U.S. Marko Djuric instructed Newsweek. “Pristina, for its part, continuously carries out provocative and unilateral acts in violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and the EU-facilitated Brussels Agreement, as well as measures that represent an existential security threat to the Serb population and their rights, thus endangering peace and further increasing inter-ethnic mistrust.”

“Therefore, we seek the release of all arrested Serbs and strive to find ways to de-escalate the situation and calm the tensions in the north of Kosovo and Metohija,” he added. “Lamentably, 2022 is a record year by the number of ethnically motivated incidents, unlawful and ungrounded detentions, attacks on Serbs, their property and Serbian religious, historical and cultural heritage.”

And but, he stated that “Serbia remains committed to the process of dialogue conducted with EU facilitation, without prejudice to the future status of the southern Serbian province, and with the aim of resolving concrete issues important for life of all people in Kosovo and Metohija.”

NATO, soldiers, patrol, roadblock, Kosovo, amid, tensions
NATO-led Latvian troopers head to examine vehicles at a roadblock on one of many fundamental roads to the border crossing level with Serbia on December 11, 2022, close to Zubin Potok, Kosovo, which is claimed by Serbia to be a part of its sovereign territory.
Ferdi Limani/Getty Images

Speaking from Kosovo’s embassy lower than two miles from its Serbian counterpart in Washington, D.C., nevertheless, Ambassador Ilir Dugolli argued that “what we are witnessing is the latest in the long list of attempts by Serbia to destabilize Kosova.”

“The autocratic regime in Belgrade is engaged in continuous efforts to cause unrest,” Dugolli instructed Newsweek, “and they are doing this not only in Kosova but in other countries like Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Dugolli asserted that “the main drive for these efforts” could possibly be discovered within the lingering affect of former Serbian and Yugoslav chief Slobodan Milosevic, who resisted the breakup of Yugoslavia and backed Serb nationalist revolts throughout the Balkans within the midst of bloody wars that drew in direct intervention by NATO. Milosevic was in the end overthrown in 2000 and transferred to The Hague to face battle crime costs however died in his cell in 2006.

The Kosovo ambassador additionally defended latest legislation enforcement actions, saying “the arrest of a former police officer who is suspected to have carried out a terrorist attack against premises of Municipal Election Commission, is only a pretext for these attacks” being threatened by Serbia.

“Belgrade is, clearly, interested to sabotage the agreement on normalization of relations at the center of which should be mutual recognitions between Kosovo and Serbia, something that a number of leaders and institutions—from President [Joe] Biden to the European Parliament—have made very clear,” Dugolli stated. “Furthermore, it is important to note that this is a tactic by the Serbian side to put additional barriers to Kosova’s integration in the EU.”

The EU has thought of Kosovo a possible candidate for accession and Pristina formally utilized for membership on Thursday towards the backdrop of worsening tensions with Belgrade.

“The false sense of urgency created through misinformation and manipulation of the media shapes a perception of ethnic tensions, as if Kosova is putting its ethnic Serb citizens at risk,” Dugolli stated. “Yet, this narrative has no grounds in reality, and is only a tool to gain sympathy from the international community.”

“In reality, Belgrade has made sure to threaten and not allow local Serbian leadership in Kosova that strays from the politics of [President Aleksandar] Vucic,” he added. “On the other hand, there are no documented instances of a systematic violation of the rights of Kosova Serbs by the Kosova government.”

But Djuric disputed this. He known as on worldwide stakeholders to take heed of the alleged plight of Kosovar Serbs together with different minorities who he argued have been additionally beneath menace.

“Serbia continues to call on the international community and all actors within the international presence in Kosovo and Metohija to ensure peace, respect for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, legal norms and agreements reached, i.e. to prevent further endangerment of Serbs and other non-Albanians,” Djuric stated, “and to protect their human rights while providing safety and sustainable return of all refugees and displaced persons and thus enabling them a normal and dignified life of the 21st century.”

And, on the matter of worldwide recognition, he identified that “a large number of U.N. member states, including five member states of the European Union, do not recognize the unilaterally declared independence, and see it as an act threatening to create a precedent, destabilize other regions in the world and thus threaten the existing world order.”

Within the EU, the international locations that don’t acknowledge Kosovo’s independence are Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, largely resulting from these international locations’ personal present territorial disputes and considerations over sizable, restive minority populations at dwelling. A profitable bid to affix the EU would require every of those international locations to shift their place and be a part of a unanimous vote in favor of Kosovo’s aspirations.

Djuric additional asserted that “Kosovo and Metohija is an autonomous province within the Republic of Serbia, under the administration of the Mission of the United Nations (UNMIK) in line with the effective and legally binding UNSC Resolution 1244” and that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was a “unilateral act in flagrant violation of international law, the Charter of the United Nations, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) and the Helsinki Final Act.”

United, Nations, map, of, Kosovo, in, Balkans
A map by the United Nations, which doesn’t acknowledge Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, reveals the “Kosovo region” together with its neighbors within the Balkans.
Department of Field Support/Cartographic Section/United Nations

The ongoing Kosovo-Serbia dispute performs out towards the backdrop of broader geopolitical rivalries which have lengthy had a considerable influence on the Balkans. While Kosovo has made strides to construct relations with the West and its allies, Serbia has maintained shut ties with Russia, together with different international locations typically important of Western insurance policies.

“It is worth keeping in mind that through escalations and tensions, Serbia constantly seeks to distract from its activities in other areas,” Dugolli stated, “be it refusal to align foreign policy with the EU and U.S. regarding sanctions against Russia, or expanding cooperation with Iran, Venezuela and other likeminded regimes.”

Moscow has repeatedly voiced assist for Belgrade’s place, with Russian Ambassador Alexander Botsan-Kharchenk telling the outlet Soloviev Live on Tuesday that “we stand together with our friends under the ‘We don’t abandon our own’ slogan for Serbia.”

Such rhetoric has raised considerations in Kosovo, as Serbia recommended it may deploy army models to what it considers to be its personal province, one thing Dugolli stated can be resisted.

“In the territory of the Republic of Kosova, there will never be policemen and soldiers from Serbia again, and Serbia’s hegemonic dream will never come true,” Dugolli stated. “That is not to say that Serbia’s statements and actions should not alarm everyone who cares about peace and stability in the Balkans. Serbia’s threats through armed forces should outrage everyone.”

“After all, these threats are taking place against a backdrop of four wars waged by Belgrade in the region,” he added. “It is Serbia, not Kosova, through both official channels and criminal elements that is once again viciously assaulting Kosova Serb politicians who do not subscribe to Belgrade’s warmongering.”

And he too known as for worldwide motion, asserting that “Serbia is basically threatening Kosova with aggression, and we consider that any non-condemnation by the EU and the US of this rhetoric and orchestrated violence will encourage Serbia to further push for the destabilization of Kosova.”

He additionally linked the deterioration of the scenario to a different post-Cold War battle in Europe, one which has since erupted into an explosive battle ravaging the previous Soviet republic of Ukraine.

Amid considerations over Ukraine’s bids to affix NATO—in addition to the EU—and in assist of two self-declared pro-Russia separatist republics on Ukrainian territory, Moscow launched a battle towards Ukraine in February. The battle has turn out to be mired in stalemate within the months since and Dugolli asserted that “nervousness in Belgrade is in part affected by their disappointment with Russia’s failure to occupy Ukraine.”

But he stated that, “as for any attempt to compare the incomparable, legality of Kosova’s independence was sealed by the International Court of Justice in an opinion delivered upon Serbia’s initiative.” He described Belgrade and Moscow’s opposition to this opinion as “brazen,” however “not surprising.”

The 2010 ICJ opinion was the primary of its sort and located Kosovo’s declaration of independence to not be in violation of worldwide legislation. It didn’t, nevertheless, explicitly endorse the validity of Kosovo’s declare.

Djuric, for his half, argued that the one connection Serbia drew between the conditions in Ukraine and Kosovo was Belgrade’s constant assist for territorial integrity, one thing he asserted Pristina continues to violate in its quest for statehood.

“Just as it is committed to preservation of sovereignty and integrity of its own territory,” Djuric stated. “Serbia is likewise advocating respect for territorial integrity of other sovereign countries, internationally recognized within the United Nations, and the principle that borders can be changed only in accordance with the rules of international law.”

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