What is the problem between Serbia and Kosovo?

Vivek Mishra
Vivek MishraDec 28, 2022 | 13:14

What is the problem between Serbia and Kosovo?

The rising tensions between Serbia and Kosovo remind us of the war between the two nations in the late 90s. The fighting killed thousands and NATO had to interfere to finally end the war. On February 17, 2008, Kosovo formally declared independence. Serbia, backed by Russia, called the declaration illegal.

What's happening now? The ethnically divided city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo is at the centre of controversy this time. After weeks of escalation between the two countries, Serbia on Tuesday (December 27) said it has put its army on the highest combat alert.


Hours after this announcement, protesting Serbs in Mitrovica erected new barricades.

Russian connection? Kosovan Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla on Tuesday said that Serbia, under the influence of Russia, was aiming to destabilise Kosovo by supporting the Serb minority who have been blocking roads and protesting for almost three weeks, reported Reuters.

"It is precisely Serbia, influenced by Russia, that has raised a state of military readiness and that is ordering the erection of new barricades, in order to justify and protect the criminal groups that terrorize… citizens of Serb ethnicity living in Kosovo," Svecla said in a statement.


Serbia-Kosovo history: Kosovo got its independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a guerrilla uprising against Serbia's rule. Serbia, however, still considers Kosovo to be an integral part of its territory and accuses Pristina of trampling on the rights of minority Serbs.

Ethnic Serbs, who do not recognise the Pristina government or Kosovan state institutions, account for 5% of Kosovo's 1.8 million people, with ethnic Albanians making up about 90%.

About 4,000 NATO-led peacekeepers have been stationed in Kosovo since the war which ended with Belgrade losing control over the territory.


What led to the current escalation: The Serbs in the region have been attacking the police and have refused to pay Kosovo's power operator for the electricity.

  • But the situation has escalated since December 10, when Serbs in Mitrovica erected multiple roadblocks and exchanged fire with police after the arrest of a former Serb policeman for allegedly assaulting serving police officers, reported Reuters.
  • Months before this, there were escalations over car licence plates. Serbs in the region still use Serbian car license plates, but Kosovo, in order to assert its authority, wants to issue Kosovo number plates.
  • Serbian President Aleksandar claimed that Pristina is preparing to attack Kosovo Serbs in the north of the country and remove by force several of the roadblocks that the Serbs have put up.

What do the Serbs want? Serbs in Kosovo want to create an association of majority-Serb municipalities that would operate with greater autonomy.  But Kosovo's PM Albin Kurti is against the idea. He believes it would result in a mini-state within Kosovo controlled by Serbia.


What happens next: NATO-led international peacekeeping forces in Kosovo and the European Union have asked Pristina and Belgrade to show restraint and avoid provocations. If Serbian armed forces intervene in Kosovo, it would likely result in a clash with NATO forces.

NATO has said it would intervene in line with its mandate if stability in the area were jeopardized. The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), which arrived in 2008, still has around 200 special police officers there, reported Reuters.

Last updated: December 28, 2022 | 13:14
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