Getting a driver’s licence as a Serb in northern Kosovo, a game of chance

Although the right to transfer a SFRY or FRY  licence into a Kosovar document is foreseen  by Kosovo law, a number of Serbs from the north struggle to obtain the vital document.

For residents of Kosovo who possess a Serbian driver’s licence or a permit issued during the former Yugoslavia, obtaining a driver’s licence issued by Kosovo’s Ministry of Internal Affairs a real game of chance. Kosovo mandates that all those residing in Kosovo acquire licences issued by Kosovo, which is regulated by the Administrative Instruction 22/2015 and 11/2013, which provides that these licences can and should be replaced.

In the field, this does not necessarily always function as foreseen in these instructions.

While many Serbs in Kosovo have been hesitant to trade in their Serbian documents for Kosovo ones, a Kosovo driving licence is the only way for a Serb living in Kosovo to legally drive around.  A number of people BIG DEAL contacted have tried and failed to get one.

Sasa Popovic, President of the Municipal Assembly of Zvecan (in the Kosovo system), has an old driver’s licence issued during Yugoslavia in 1986, as well as a new licence issued by the Republic of Serbia. For three years, he has been trying to get a Kosovo driver’s licence but to no avail. He says he is familiar with the legal requirements but that in practice it turns out different.

“Aside from the old driver’s licence and an ID card issued by Kosovo institutions, they [officials in the municipality of south Mitrovica] asked me for a certified confirmation of an authorized municipal authority. When I asked which body that would be, they told me they do not know,” said Popovic.

Given the fact that the municipalities in northern Kosovo still lack centers to issue the documents, Popovic tried his luck in the municipality of south Mitrovica, where he was told that the municipality does not issue any document, and that he must seek that service through Kosovo’s Ministry of Interior.  

Popovic’s quest took him to Prishtina next. There he received a similar response – he could not get a Kosovo licence. At the Ministry of Interior he was told that his documents could not be verified because of the lack of sufficient information provided to the Kosovo Ministry by the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Popovic says he knows he is not alone.

“I know some 15 to 20 people who have also tried, and failed, to get their licences,” he says. “The only people who managed are those who had the UNMIK or the new Serbian driver’s licence, or those who have passed the test after 1999.”

This is at odds with what the ministry of Infrastructure, which deals with transport related issues, told BIG DEAL. A spokesperson for the ministry said that anyone who had a valid licence before June 10, 1999 could simply convert the licence without the test.

G.D. from Leposavic had more luck than Popovic. Having heard “enough stories of how to obtain a licence,” he decided to try his luck in the municipality of south Mitrovica. Using his new licence issued by Serbian institutions, within a little more than a month he managed to get a new Kosovo licence.

“I think every single permit must be checked, whether it has the driving record upon which to decide whether to issue a licence or not. They do it in cooperation with the authorities in Serbia,” said the Leposavic resident on the possible reasons for his success.

During the same period, his colleague from north Mitrovica also managed to get a licence, while friends from Zubin Potok failed. G.D. says he is not asking why his colleague was rejected because he was pleased to finally have a permit.

“My licence is valid for five years, while some of my Albanian colleagues’ are valid for 10 years or even don’t have an expiry date,” says G.D. “I do not know why there are these differences, maybe it is because it is the first time I got my licence here.”

BIG DEAL also contacted the Ministry of Interior to inquire about the procedures for application. Despite the variety of experiences that can be heard in the north of Kosovo, and according to the response of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kosovo, there are no problems with this procedure.

“All citizens of Kosovo, regardless of ethnicity, can get a driver’s licence of the Republic of Kosovo, in accordance with the criteria and the laws in force,” replied a spokesperson.

There is an added element: even once a Kosovo driving licence is successfully obtained, it can be hard to move around without Kosovo registration plates, which were not foreseen in the 2011 agreement on freedom of movement between Kosovo and Serbia. In practice so far, this means that it is easier for residents of Belgrade easier to come to Prishtina, than for those living 40 kilometers from their capital.

05/05/2016 - 10:24

05 May 2016 - 10:24

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.