Aleksandar Vučić and Albin Kurti, respectively President of Serbia and Prime Minister of Kosovo, met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss weeks of tension between the two countries, which had led to violent clashes that there had been serious fears about starting a new one conflict in the Balkans. The meeting was eagerly awaited, but at the same time there were not great expectations of reaching an agreement on the substance. And this is how it happened: the agreement did not materialize, but talks between the two heads of state will continue in the coming days.
The meeting was moderated by the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell. The Union has great influence on both Serbia and Kosovo, as both countries aspire to membership and normalization of bilateral relations is one of the conditions for membership.
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia run deep: Kosovo is a former Serbian province. Between 1998 and 1999, a war broke out between the Serb-controlled Yugoslav Army and the Kosovar Albanian rebels, who wanted to secede. The conflict ended after NATO intervention which bombed Serbia and forced its forces to withdraw from Kosovar territory. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, which was recognized by the United States and part of the European Union, but not by the Serbs and their allies like Russia and China.
In recent years, tensions in Kosovo between the Serb minority (about 100,000 out of 1.8 million people) and the Albanian majority have remained very strong, as has Serbia’s influence on the Kosovar Serb population, which mainly lives in the north of the country Country.
Tensions had increased especially in the past few weeks, when the Kosovar government announced that Serbian ID cards and license plates were no longer valid on Kosovar territory. The announcement sparked protests: Hundreds of ethnic Serbs had parked trucks and other vehicles near the two main border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia, forcing police to close both. NATO, which has a peacekeeping mission in the country, described the situation as “tense” and the protests prompted the Prime Minister of Kosovo to postpone the entry into force of the new rules.
– Also read: The new Kosovan license plates, which anger the Serb minority in Kosovo
Kurti also protested, as on other occasions in the past, that the Serbs living in northern Kosovo had not paid their electricity bills in protest for years. The two sides reached an agreement last June, but the Serbs continue to flout it, according to Kurti, with losses running into millions of dollars a month for the Kosovar government.
In all of this, the invasion of Ukraine helped fuel tensions between the two sides and deepen divisions. Kosovo has repeatedly accused the Serbian government of being too close to Russia: Kurti now defines Vučić as a “little Putin”. Serbia has denied the allegations but continues to refuse to join the sanctions regime the West has enacted against the Russian president.