President Vucic. | Photo: AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic.

A game of fear

Northern Kosovo is awash with conspiracy theories and scenarios of ending up in a new war. But who benefits from all this fear-mongering?

Once you spend just a bit of time outside of Kosovo, you begin to wonder if anything you hear in the news is true. For better or worse, the beginning of last week for me meant going back home.The very first piece of news that welcomed me on the local bus as we went across the border was about the so-called “working obligation” – a concept of mandatory extraordinary work prescribed in times of war, natural disasters, and other large-scale emergency situations. The question “Did you hear about that they reinstated the ‘working obligation’ again?” permeated the bus.

I smiled to myself, as I normally do in these kinds of situations, because it is simply ludicrous to believe everything you hear. However, my homecoming confirmed that this was more than mere bus gossip – the working obligation really had been in effect for some time now. When you say those two words in Northern Kosovo, this primarily means that public enterprise employees are unable to go on vacation or be away from work due to precaution and potential danger.

“It sounds like 2011,” I thought. In 2011, Serbs from the North faced another working obligation and spent their time in barricades all over the area. The main reason was the halt in negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, which resulted with Kosovo’s decision to impose the embargo on goods coming from Serbia. The situation escalated when the Kosovo Police Regional Operational Support Unit, ROSU, entered the North in order to seize control of the two border crossings in Jarinje and Brnjak,  and one of the ROSU members was killed.

Well, if nothing else, this bus journey reminded me of the situation from seven years ago. Interestingly enough, even the time of year is the same. Although it seemed like nothing more than a bad joke and mere gossip which makes its way round, this work obligation thing was more than just a back-alley discussion. It spread among journalists, and members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who had warned of the possibility of new conflicts.

The story, however, does not end there. After having spent only four days in Northern Kosovo, I heard at least ten scenarios of a new war. Everyone had their own version and was convinced it was their version that was to follow. Some of these included the entry and arms distribution by the Serbian Armed Forces, while others spoke of a purported occupation of Lake Gazivoda from both sides, all of this plus partition in Mitrovica. Some versions spoke of an autonomy for the North, with the story spiralling into an armed conflict. The media, naturally, made sure that the stories went beyond the realm of local gossip. The Serbian press had kept a detailed account of nearly every one of the war scenarios, published it on its front pages, exacerbating the panic further.

As with any story, the politicians could not afford to be left out. Let’s be real, they are the ones who started this whole ordeal. While Kosovo President Hashim Thaci spoke of fake news regarding the partition of Kosovo, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic kept calling for peace. Naturally, the letter of President Vucic to the Kosovo Serbs cannot be ignored either. In the letter, Vucic called upon the Serbs not to act. After that, naturally, the head of the Serbian office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, said in a statement that Serbs will do nothing.

All of this happened, of course, the day before D-Day, when the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities was to be formed on August 4. On the one hand, the Serbs had no plan to take action, but on the other, they receive the working obligation from their superiors, who in turn have direct orders from the government of Serbia. Who are the Serbian officials calling upon to not take any action?

While regular Kosovo Serbs did not want, plan, nor intend to do anything, the possibility of a war was imposed upon them. They were hence called to peace by the very same people – an insane and terrible fact of life. To make things worse, the governments of both Serbia and Kosovo had convened their Security Councils one day before the final deadline for the formation of the Association, thereby contributing to a growing fear and panic.

D-Day came and went in a state of war – fortunately, only a media war. This was nothing but a war of statements, with yet another round of negotiations, accompanied by a new Association establishment date, most probably in September. To complement the festivities, the Serbs who dared to respond to the Belgrade authorities, who tried to present the situation in Kosovo in at least a somewhat realistic manner, are called out and defamed.

As this war announcement is hopefully behind us, the question still remains – what is the purpose of all this? What good is another round of living anxiety, another proclamation of war, another harassment of the population for petty political goals? The answer can be found in the old, well-tested practice in Northern Kosovo: fear. As long as people are afraid, they are easily manageable. The situation does not appear to be coming to an end. The reasons to be afraid might be different, but the situations that cause the fear remain relentless. Serbs have still not accepted the fact that no one has made progress in solving the murder of Oliver Ivanovic six months later. Instead, those not afraid to state the truth are receiving a whole host of new things to fear. As politicians buy time to make a decision on Kosovo, for an average Serb resident of Kosovo this becomes daily life. They become constant puppets of the political system in a game of fear. It is insane, abnormal, and beyond dangerous.

What remains contradictory is that the very formation of the the Association remains as a possibility of warfare, i.e. calling upon all Serbs not to react on the fateful August 4. I don’t think Serbs want to go to war anymore, especially for the Association. Although it would become a certain kind of safety mechanism for the Serbs, the lack of respect for the formation of the said Association means nothing to Kosovo Serbs, or at least not so much. This is primarily because they are not aware what the formation of the Association means to them. They only know that it is important because the media told them so. No one needs a new conflict, and certainly not over this.

The prospect of conflict, and a week spent in fear, has been imposed through that which the theory of journalism calls spin doctoring. One thing is certain – nothing good will come from this for the population of Kosovo. It remains in the domain of speculation as to who does benefit. It might be obvious, but that is up to the reader to decide. In any event, the Kosovo Serbs are left to wait for a new spin, a new fear, a new call to arms, as politicians say, “in the name of the people.”

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

09 August 2018 - 11:26

Nevena Radosavljevic

09/08/2018 - 11:26

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.