Kosovo crisis in the past month

June 2023

As part of the Regional Initiative in Combating Disinformation “Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: Exposing Malign Influences through Watchdog Journalism”, we present you a new monthly analyses of fake news and disinformation narratives.

Kosovo crisis in the past month

The reason for the current crisis followed the ban on the entry of vehicles with Serbian license plates into Kosovo, the problems surrounding the formation of the Community of Serbian Municipalities and the organization of illegitimate elections in the territory where the majority Serb population lives by the authorities in Pristina. The response to the organization of these elections, which were boycotted by the Serbian people, was accompanied by a month of riots and demonstrations.

Timeline

On November 5th, three days after Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti stated in Berlin that there is no obligation to form the Community of Serbian Municipalities, which the Brussels Agreement foresees, and that Serbs living in Kosovo will have to accept that their vehicles will have Kosovo license plates, as a sign of protest, the representatives of the Serbs from Kosovo announced that they were withdrawing from all institutions of the Pristina government. “This decision remains in force until Pristina begins to respect the agreed agreements, which means until it withdraws the decisions on re-registration of vehicles and until the Community of Serbian Municipalities is formed in accordance with the Brussels Agreement and other agreements,” stated on Saturday, 5th November, Goran Rakić, leader of the Serbian List, the strongest political grouping of Serbs in Kosovo. On November 23rd, 2023, Belgrade and Pristina reached an agreement on license plates, confirmed Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security. The agreement reached was that Serbia would stop issuing license plates with the names of Kosovo cities and that Pristina would suspend further operations with the re-registration of vehicles. Four months later, on April 23rd, the leaders of the Pristina authorities announced local elections in four municipalities in the north of Kosovo: Severna Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zubin Potok and Zvečan, to fill the seats vacated after the departure of the Serbian representatives from the institutions. On April 21st, the leaders of the Serbian List called for a general boycott of the elections. The Central Election Commission (CEC) announced that 141 voters or 1.06 percent voted in Leposavic; 385 voters or 5.78 percent in Zubin Potok; 204 voters or 2.92 percent in Zvečan, and 837 voters or 4 in North Mitrovica 62 per cent. Due to the Serbian boycott of the elections, there were only candidates from Albanian parties on the ballots, even though Serbs are the majority population in these four municipalities. Out of the ten candidates for mayor, there was only one representative of the Serbian people as an independent candidate: Slađana Pantović. She was appointed as the vice president of the municipality of Zvečan. Elections were also organized in prefab facilities secured by the police.

Preliminary results of the Central Election Commission in the mayoral race:

  • Northern Mitrovica: Erden Atić (Self-determination) 66.5 percent (519 votes), Taulant Keljmendi (Democratic Party of Kosovo) 23.8 percent (186 votes), citizen group candidate Taulant Keljmendi 9.6 percent (75 votes).
  • Zvečan: Iljir Peci (Democratic Party of Kosovo) 60 percent (114 votes), Fetah Peci (Self-determination) 37.4 percent (73 votes), independent candidate Svetlana Pantović 2.6 percent (five votes).
  • Zubin Potok: Izmir Zećiri (Democratic Party of Kosovo) 52.1 percent (196 votes), Fljatron Hasani (Self-determination) 47.9 percent (180 votes).
  • Leposavić: Ljuljzim Hetemi (Self-determination) 73.5 percent (100 votes), Aljbuljena Hetemi Behlulji (Democratic Party of Kosovo) 25 percent (34 votes). The candidate of the Party of Kosovo Serbs, Aleksandar Jablanović, was also on the ballot, who withdrew his candidacy before the election, but still received two votes.

The newly elected mayors of the municipalities in North Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Zvečan and Leposavic, where the majority Serb population lives, entered their offices on May 26th, confirmed the Minister of Internal Affairs of Kosovo, Xhelal Svecla. After groups of local residents in these municipalities objected to their entry into offices previously used by Serbian officials, police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the gathered protesters, who retaliated by pelting police with rocks and setting several cars on fire. On the same day, the members of Quint condemned the move of the authorities of Pristina due to the forcible entry into the municipalities. They also called on the Pristina authorities to “immediately withdraw and de-escalate the situation” and to cooperate closely with EULEX and KFOR. The authorities in Belgrade responded to this event by raising combat readiness to the highest level, according to Kossev.

Manuel Saracin, Germany’s envoy for the Western Balkans, said on May 27th: “We condemn Kosovo’s decision to forcibly enter municipal buildings in the north and the violent reactions to this decision.” On his Twitter account, he announced that he was in Kosovo to assess the situation, and at the same time added that he would speak with representatives of EULEX, KFOR, the Kosovo government, but also with the Serbs from Kosovo. On May 28th, the rapporteur for Kosovo in the European parliament, Viola von Cramon, said that she understands that the new Albanian mayors of the municipalities in the north of Kosovo, inhabited by the Serbian majority, may have the right to perform their functions. However, she also declares for Radio Free Europe that if their entry into municipal buildings will be carried out only with the presence of heavily armed police forces, then they “de facto have no legitimacy”.

On May 29th, the Kosovo police arrested 5 people in connection with the attack on KFOR and the police themselves, confirming that Molotov cocktails, explosive devices and firearms were used. The number of wounded KFOR soldiers rose to 30 during the unrest in Zvečan on the same day, it was reported from this mission. There are 11 soldiers from the Italian contingent and 19 from the Hungarian contingent. As specified by KFOR, they all suffered multiple injuries, including fractures and burns from “improvised explosive devices”. KFOR says that three Hungarian soldiers were wounded by firearms, stressing that their lives are not in danger. The NATO mission KFOR increased its presence in four municipalities in the north of Kosovo in order to reduce the risk of escalation.

According to the Safe Journalists network, 20 attacks on journalists and media personnel were registered in different municipalities in Kosovo. They also appealed for the protection of journalists.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, who also presides the OSCE, came out with a plan for “de-escalation in four northern municipalities”. This is the road map of this organization, which foresees nine steps for de-escalation and normalization of relations.

On June 6th, the “Workers Sports Games 2023”, which began on June 5th, continued in Leposavic. These games have been traditionally played in Leposavic for more than 45 years. The image that circulated on the Internet in those days showed the participation of KFOR soldiers in this traditional event. The American Embassy in Serbia also announced the image that was created during the tug-of-war between the soldiers and the Serbian population. The Embassy shared a video of the game on Twitter and congratulated the participants. “The only fight between KFOR and the Serbs in which everyone wins.” All the best, guys,” the Embassy said.

On June 8th, the crisis in the north of Kosovo entered its 14th day. After a peaceful night, the day began with a gathering of citizens in front of the Zvečan municipality building. KFOR soldiers were still in front of this building but in slightly smaller numbers. And just a few meters from there, the Preschool “Lane” started working after a 10-day suspension of classes. KFOR was working to establish trust with the citizens, and on that occasion, the soldiers handed out candies to children from Zvečani. The citizens of Zvečani, together with the citizens of Mitrovica, demand that the police withdraw from these municipalities, but also that the two Serbs arrested last Monday during the conflict between KFOR and the citizens be released.

On June 14th, members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia, the Anti-Terrorist Police Unit arrested three members of the Kosovo Police in the territory of central Serbia, the Ministry of Interior of Serbia announced. At an extraordinary press conference, it was said that those arrested were “in full military gear”. All three arrested were armed with automatic weapons and with GPS devices, maps and other equipment.

After the protests in the North of Kosovo, the Pristina authorities started arresting members of the Serbian population, which led to a further escalation of the protests. A man with the initials N.V. was arrested on June 16th, as announced by the Pristina Minister of the Interior Xhelal Svecla, on charges of attacking Albanian journalists from the Kallaxo agency. On the same day, members of the Association of Journalists of Kosovo (UNK) reported on new cases of attacks on journalists in the North of Kosovo.

The official Belgrade, as well as the local Serb list party announced on June 17th that members of the Kosovo Police physically attacked two minors, K.R. and D. R. in the village of Žitkovac in the municipality of Zvečan. They were, as they said, a brother and sister who were driving a quad bike on a local road. KBC Kosovska Mitrovica stated that it received two minors with injuries. On the other hand, the Kosovo Police, in their response to KoSSev, denied that their members physically assaulted minors and presented their side of the story to the public. Kossev states: “For no apparent reason, these criminals in uniform attacked a girl and a boy of Serbian nationality and beat them, causing them physical injuries, which required medical treatment at the KBC Kosovska Mitrovica,” the official Serbian list announced.

Serb N. V, who was arrested on June 16th due to an alleged attack on the media in the North of Kosovo, had been determined measures into custody. Lawyer of N. V. ,Predrag Miljković confirmed for KoSSev that his client was ordered to be detained for 30 days. He indicated that this person was sent to prison in Podujevo. On the same day, Svecla reported on the arrest along with two photos of the arrested person, along with his full name and the claim that he was an attacker of journalists. However, the friends and lawyer of this young man claim that it was a mistake and that the arrested person is not the person from the attached photos, according to KoSSev.

In a vehicle in Zvečan, on June 23rd, a significant amount of weapons were found – zolja, osa, explosives and ammunition with uniforms, which were intended for “carrying out a terrorist attack”, the Kosovo Minister of the Internal Affairs stated. In this case, the Serbian authorities claim that it is a planted weapon.

The march of members of the KBS in the southern part of Mitrovica on June 24th, which Pristina claims is a “routine exercise”, was criticized by the European Union, as well as by the director of the Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development, Lulzim Peci. And all that was met with a series of criticisms and accusations from Belgrade. In the meantime, the high representative of the EU, Josep Borrell, spoke on Twitter, stating that he is very upset about the situation in the North of Kosovo.

The three Kosovo policemen against whom the court in Kraljevo confirmed the indictment and issued a decision terminating their detention were handed over to the Pristina authorities on June 26th in Merdar, RTS correspondent reported. The officers were arrested on June 14th. From the beginning, Pristina claims that the policemen were kidnapped from the territory of Kosovo, and Belgrade that they were arrested on the territory of Serbia. The court in Kraljevo today confirmed the indictment against three Kosovo police officers for illegal possession and carrying of weapons and issued a decision on the abolition of custody, after which they were released to defend themselves, which practically freed them, because the authorities in Pristina will certainly not force them to continue the trial.

The European Union officially imposed sanctions on Pristina on June 28th, Vidovdan. The EU complied with the measures it submitted against Pristina: the IPA programs are suspended, and the steps to review the projects submitted by Kosovo for financing from the Investment Framework in the Western Balkans are also suspended.

Author: Lazar Drekić