2018 for Kosovo Serbs was marked by fear, intimidation, and uncertainty, and 2019 does not look like it is going to be any different.
Slobodan Petrovic, leader of Serbian Liberal Party, SLS, and an MP in the Kosovo Assembly, said to BIRN on Friday that he was intimidated and subjected to questioning by Serbia’s Security Agency, BIA, as part of a Serbian campaign to intimidate the rivals of Lista Srpska, the Belgrade-backed party in Kosovo.
This, unfortunately, is nothing new.
The last year for Serbs living in Kosovo can be summed up easily: this was the year of fear.
Petrovic’s run-in with Serbian officials kick started 2019’s political drama for Kosovo Serbs, and it seems that very little about Serbia’s politics will change for them in the next 12 months.
While problems between Serbia and Kosovo Serbs existed long before last year, it has never been quite so intense, or so evident, as through the events that unfolded during 2018.
It all started with the murder of Oliver Ivanovic, leader of the Civic Initiative Party, SDP, in January last year.
After he was killed, an uncomfortable silence spread among Serbs that had never been seen before. On that day, fear became a fact of everyday life, and the fight against it almost nonexistent.
Nowadays, one can rarely find Serbs from Kosovo who are ready to confront the silence and say out loud how the situation really stands, or admit the kind of political manipulation that Serbs have had to live with.
Since January 2018, almost every week, political representatives from Belgrade and Prishtina have created an atmosphere in which the fear is reinforced, repeated and normalized.
Simply trying to remember sum up all of the events of last year is a challenge.
After the murder of Ivanovic, many things followed. Kosovo celebrated 10 years of its independence, while Serbia, in particular the Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dacic, dug up countries from the farthest corners of the world to recall their recognition of Kosovo as a country.
The previous year was also a turbulent one for the Director of the so-called Office for Kosovo and Metohija in Belgrade, Marko Djuric, who crossed the border between Kosovo and Serbia without the permission of the Kosovo authorities. Djuric was arrested by a special unit of the Kosovo Police in the North, brought to Prishtina and then was returned back to Serbia in the space of one day. The individuals involved the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia are the same being arrested for moving between the two countries.
To many people, this was a stunt by authorities from both countries, intended as a warning sign to Brussels that the situation between Kosovo and Serbia was escalating.
Serbia created a reality show, with Kosovo as its main topic, and its next episode saw the visit of Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, to Kosovo.
During his two-day visit, Serbs in Kosovo were promised new jobs, a better economic situation and help with their everyday problems. Of course, this turned out not to be true. Even after appearing live on Serbian national television while visiting Kosovo to make these pledges, Vucic barely implemented a thing that he had promised. Honestly, it’s not as though anyone expected anything different, but even though people are used to not trusting politicians, these people still carry some hope.
Summer ended following Vucic’s show, and it was only a matter of time before the next actor would provoke a new drama. And of course, more than one drama followed: territorial exchange became the main topic in Serbian and Kosovar media; Kosovo President Hashim Thaci visited Gazivode Lake as protests against Thaci’s proposal reached their peak; Kosovo didn’t get membership in Interpol; Kosovo expanded the mandate of Kosovo Security Force, inching closer to an army.
The year finished with the introduction of the 100 per cent customs tariff on Serbian goods by the Kosovo Government, and this shows no sign of changing as it continues into the new year.
Almost all of these situations led to urgent meetings of a high political level in Serbia. Furthermore, each drama created one reason more for some media and politicians to call for a ‘new war.’
Summing up the last year is definitely not the easiest thing to do. It was long, outrageous and each event so manipulated by politicians, that people felt like each month alone lasted a year.
Regardless, the essential questions remain. Where do Kosovo Serbs stand going into 2019? Moreover, will this year bring something different, or perhaps even better for them?
Judging by how 2019 is going so far, it is hard to believe there will be any improvement. The pessimism begins with the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Serbia in January. What exactly went wrong there? Besides making a circus of his arrival, the Serbian Government decided to bring people not just from all over Serbia, but also from Kosovo to Belgrade, to show love and respect for Vladimir Putin.
There was no sense to it – even though Serbs from Kosovo were not the only ones filling the buses and traveling many hours to greet the Russian president, the fact is that everyone working in the public sector in Northern Kosovo, or hoping to get a job there, was obliged to go to Belgrade.
Photos of local political representatives show Serbs from Kosovo as in the majority at this shameful and ridiculous gathering organized for Putin. To make the situation even worse, on the day of Putin’s visit, billboards thanking Russia appeared all over the North.
The year behind us was full of fear, manipulation, and questions without any answer. Clearly, the one before us hasn’t started any differently. People are still doing what the politicians want, just in order to survive the month, keep their family safe and have some economic security.
After a year as shocking as 2018, the position of Kosovo Serbs remains at a standstill: in between Serbia and Kosovo, a bit here and a bit there, trying to understand, but still being used as puppets for political goals. And surely, still, in fear.
The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.
28 January 2019 - 14:56
In its first two years in government, Vetëvendosje has back-tracked or done nothing on almost all the issues it promised to prioritize and reform in opposition.
This Saturday, I will convene a high-level meeting of the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue. This time is different from previous meetings. Not just because I will meet President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić and Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti in the region, in Ohrid, North Macedonia, instead of in the familiar halls of the European External Action Service in Brussels. But also, because we will focus our discussion on the Implementation Annex of the recent EU Agreement that will result in far-reaching normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Both together will, in essence, result in normalisation of life of people in the region and open Kosovo’s and Serbia’s respective path towards joining the EU.
Prime Minister Kurti and President Vucic have a chance to lead their countries towards a future they seek rather than the one they fear. If they find the courage to lead their people where they have not yet been, history will judge them kindly.
An important meeting between Kosovo and Serbian leaders is expected to take place in Brussels on Monday, and parties are expected to sign a normalization of relations agreement. We bring the opinion of Daniel Serwer on the issue, including the way in which the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities should be accepted and the outcomes that may result from Monday’s meeting.
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