Iveta Homolová and Ivan Iliev

The violence in north Kosovo recently has shown that the European Union and the United States can criticize Kosovo elites. However, they must be meticulous, as not everything in this situation is Kurti’s fault.

When the license plate crisis in Kosovo erupted last November and was later resolved by Kosovo’s postponement of this new law, many believed that the north of the country could stay secure and peaceful, at least for a while.

However, when Albin Kurti, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, ordered to police-escort newly elected Albanian majors to their local government buildings in four north Kosovo municipalities (Zvećan, Zubin Potok, Leposavić, North Mitrovica), populated mainly by Serbs, turmoil erupted again. Today, we can safely state that the tumult we observe today is comparable to the 2011 “barricade “crisis and the 2022 license plate issue and will probably have political consequences in the relations between the EU, US and Kosovo. 

Brussels and Washington put all the blame for the unrest on Kosovo elites, especially Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who, as already mentioned, ordered to place of new Albanian majors into positions under police control (where they were elected because of the boycott of elections from local Serbs). Unfortunately, this move could impact the EU’s and US’s position towards Kosovo or the current government in a more optimistic scenario. 

It is because PM Kurti decided to place the majors into their position without consulting with Kosovo’s two most important and influential international partners, the European Union and the United States. Moreover, the unhappy step was done despite the prior warning of the Quint countries (UK, France, US, Germany, Italy) that it could spark violence and cause trouble. 

As a result, the international community, especially the EU and US, are furious, as they simultaneously consider Kurti’s behaviour an act of recklessness and provocation. Consequently, not only has it caused damage to the troubled Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, led by the EU, but it has also decreased the support and trust of EU and US politicians in Kurti’s ability to secure peace and stability in relations of Kosovo Serbs and the majoritarian Albanian population. 

Statements of all mentioned confirm it: EU officials, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and current US Ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, who all labelled Kurti’s action as unnecessary, causing damage to development in Kosovo-Serbia relations and ceasing efforts to assist Kosovo in their quest to be recognized by states around the world. Rationally, no other response could be expected, as Brussels and Washington have supported Kosovo since the declaration of independence in 2008. 

Therefore, the EU and US attitudes towards Kosovo could change. In addition to all the mentioned facts, the US decided to halt Kosovo’s participation in Defender 23 military exercise, which brings together NATO countries and partners on joint military drills. Thus, this move will impact Kosovo’s ambitions to become a NATO member (and EU). 

However, blaming Kurti and Kosovo could have serious consequences. It is undeniable that the current Kosovo Prime Minister shares a part of the blame. His decision caused turmoil with severe consequences. A rational and adequate critique of Kurti is necessary in this situation. Washington blaming the country that the US has supported for more than 20 years is the moment that Serbia and Russia have also been waiting for years, giving both arguments for their de-recognition effort. Therefore, anyhow the US (and the EU) have been furious and frustrated about the chain of events in Kosovo; they must both, in this case, be careful how they will deliver the critique. It is essential to criticize Kurti and responsible Kosovo officials in a way that does not harm Kosovo’s international reputation. Too much has been done by the US, EU and Kosovo to bring the country into the position which is still not the best one, but more promising than in 2008. Consequently, the complaint of the international community must be persuasive but productive and must help Kosovo; otherwise, years of effort could be lost, and the faith of Kosovars in the US and the European Union could fade. That is the scenario that neither the US nor the EU has the comfort to allow, as it could be the final blow to the EU’s alleged aspiration to get all the Western Balkan countries in the EU – and to US’ effort to keep Kosovo as a partner in the region.

The recent escalation of tensions in Kosovo demands our immediate attention and a firm commitment to upholding the rule of law. The Prime Minister’s call to halt attacks by violent extremists and criminal groups against security bodies, journalists, and international peacekeepers reflects the situation’s urgency. In particular, the recent attacks against journalists are profoundly troubling and must be vehemently condemned. The freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and any assault on journalists undermines the values we hold dear. Ensuring the safety and protection of journalists is crucial in fostering an environment that encourages open dialogue, transparency, and accountability. It is a plea for the international community to join forces in ending the violence and ensuring the prosecution of those responsible.

For Kosovo to pave the way toward early, free, democratic, and fair elections, the pre-election campaign must maintain an atmosphere of peace and respect. Candidates and voters should be able to participate without fear or threats, guaranteeing a level playing field for all. By prioritizing order and legality, we can reduce the need for a heavy police presence in the northern municipalities, fostering trust and confidence among the local population.

Albanian Prime Minister Rama’s belief in creating an Association as a gateway to international recognition for Kosovo resonates with the aspirations of its people. It is a call for unity and solidarity, driven by the desire to ensure that Kosovo’s voice is heard and acknowledged globally. Despite not seeking personal gain, Rama’s dedication to Kosovo’s welfare is admirable and speaks volumes about his commitment to his nation.

The issue surrounding the mayors in the northern municipalities is not merely a matter of politics; it is a matter of constitutional integrity and the rule of law. Respecting the constitution and providing essential services to citizens who have endured a six-month absence of municipal support is crucial for the population’s well-being. It is a reminder that government should prioritize the needs and rights of its citizens above all else.

In their high-level meetings, Escobar and Lajčák have demonstrated the international community’s determination to stabilize the situation in Kosovo. Considering the violent clashes between Serb protestors and NATO peacekeeping troops, the imposition of viable solutions is imperative. Violence can never be an acceptable means to resolve differences, and a political solution must be urgently pursued. Lajčák’s recognition of the necessity to end attacks on security forces by violent extremists and criminal groups highlights the urgency for peace and stability.

The demands put forth by protestors regarding the use of municipality buildings and the presence of Kosovo Police officers underscore the complexities of the situation. The mass withdrawal of Serbs from Kosovo institutions has become a significant hurdle that Serbia must address in its quest for stability. However, it is essential to find a delicate balance that respects the rights and aspirations of all communities within Kosovo.

As tensions continue to rise in Kosovo, international support and adherence to the rule of law are vital to restoring peace and stability. It is crucial that all parties engage in constructive dialogue to find mutually beneficial solutions, enabling the region to progress toward a future of shared prosperity and harmony.