In a recent development, clashes occurred between Serbian protesters and NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, marking the most severe outbreak of violence witnessed in the region in over a decade.
What is the Cause of the Current Tension?
- Northern Kosovo often has conflicts because the people there, who are either Serbian or Albanian, have different backgrounds and political beliefs that lead to disagreements.
- Ethnic Serbs, who form a majority in northern Kosovo, attempted to block Albanian mayors from taking charge of local councils.
What is the Kosovo-Serbia Conflict About?
The Kosovo-Serbia conflict refers to the longstanding dispute between Kosovo, a region located in the Balkans, and Serbia, a neighboring country. The conflict revolves around issues of sovereignty, ethnic tensions, and territorial disputes.
Kosovo is a small landlocked region that lies to Serbia’s southwest. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood.
Historically, Kosovo has been inhabited by both ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs, each with its own cultural and religious identities. The majority of Kosovo’s population is ethnically Albanian. Of 1.8 million people living in Kosovo, 92% are Albanian, and only 6% are Serbian. Serbs are primarily Eastern Orthodox Christians, while Albanians in Kosovo are predominantly Muslim. Kosovo holds deep historical and cultural significance for both ethnic groups, with Serbs considering it the birthplace of their nation and Albanians considering it an integral part of their identity.
The disintegration of Yugoslavia
The conflict escalated following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as Yugoslavia, a country that comprised multiple republics including Serbia, began to disintegrate.
The conflict reached its peak in the 1990s during the Kosovo War. The war was fought between Serbian forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an Albanian militant group seeking independence for Kosovo. The war resulted in a significant loss of life and displacement of people, leading to international intervention by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces. Ultimately, Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo, and the region came under the administration of the United Nations.
Kosovo, an autonomous province within Serbia, sought greater autonomy and ultimately declared independence in 2008. However, Serbia rejects Kosovo’s statehood and continues to consider it an integral part of its territory.
Kosovo’s independence is recognized by a significant number of countries, including the United States, the majority of European Union member states, Japan, and Australia. However, countries like India, China, and Russia do not recognize Kosovo as a separate nation. Presently, approximately 99 out of the 193 United Nations (UN) member countries acknowledge Kosovo’s independence.
Now, let’s talk about the resolution talks. Over the years, Serbia and Kosovo have had discussions and reached around 30 agreements, mostly about technical matters. But since 2015, there hasn’t been much progress in making new agreements or implementing the existing ones.
In 2018, the former presidents of Kosovo and Serbia suggested redrawing borders and exchanging territories to improve their relationship. However, the European Union rejected this idea, fearing it would create more territorial disputes in Europe.
The talks were put on hold in 2018 when Kosovo imposed tariffs on Serbian goods in response to Serbia’s efforts to block Kosovo’s membership bid in Interpol.
In February of this year, Serbia and Kosovo tentatively agreed to a plan proposed by the European Union. The plan included Serbia stopping its opposition to Kosovo’s participation in international organizations like the United Nations. In return, Kosovo was supposed to create an association of municipalities with Serb majorities. Both sides were also supposed to open representative offices in each other’s capitals to help resolve ongoing disputes. However, they couldn’t finalize this deal because of opposition and criticism within their own countries.
Serbia’s close ties with Russia are also a concern. Kosovo’s current leader and Western countries worry about Serbia’s historic and military connections with Moscow. This concern has grown stronger due to the conflict in Ukraine. There are fears that Russia’s influence could spill over into the Balkans, as warned by Kosovo’s Prime Minister. Serbia relies on Russia for diplomatic support against Kosovo’s efforts in the United Nations, giving Moscow a position of influence.
Efforts to reach a resolution and normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia continue, with diplomatic negotiations and international mediation playing a significant role.
The Kosovo-Serbia conflict has had profound social, political, and economic impacts on the people living in the region. It has shaped national identities, strained inter-ethnic relations, and influenced the development of institutions and governance structures in Kosovo. Resolving the conflict and achieving long-term stability remains a significant challenge that requires continued dialogue, compromise, and engagement from all parties involved.