From the archives, 06 November 2022: A motorist takes off stickers covering the national markings on his Serbian car license plates in Northern Mitrovica, Kosovo, 06 November 2022. Kosovo Serbs protested after a dispute over license plates and personal documents that triggered a Serb walkout from their jobs in institutions of Republic of Kosovo. EPA-EFE/DJORDJE SAVIC

Surge in Requests for Kosovo License Plates Signals Shifting Dynamics Among Local Serbs

Kosovo Government revealed a recent surge in the number of local Serbs opting to change their car plates to Kosovar ones. Analysts view this as a positive step towards the integration of the local Serbs in the northern part of the country

Two weeks after the government’s decision to extend the deadline for re-registration of illegal Serbian license plates in Kosovo, over 1,600 citizens have submitted requests to re-register their vehicles, the Ministry of Internal Affairs told BIRN.

According to data from November 15 from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the highest demand for registration is in the municipalities of North Mitrovica with 555 requests and Leposavic with 533 requests. Zubin Potok and Zvecan have over 400 requests.

The Minister of Internal Affairs of Kosovo, Xhelal Sveçla, on November 5, declared that this is happening because criminals in the north are no longer as powerful as Millan Radoicic, Llune (one of the leaders of the terrorist group ‘Civil Protection’), Rusi (arrested by Kosovo police for the attack against KFOR in May), and similar figures used to be.

“The fact that most of them were involved in crime and contraband is also evidenced by the involvement of former police officials, not only in the case of Banjska,” the minister emphasized on Facebook.

According to the Kosovo Government, the new decision stipulates that after December 1, 2023, owners of vehicles bearing the plates “PR,” “KM,” “PZ,” “GL,” “UR,” “PE,” “DA,” or “ĐA” from June 10, 1999, to April 21, 2022, will no longer have the opportunity to register these vehicles with Kosovo plates, nor will they be allowed to enter or circulate within the territory of the Republic of Kosovo with the old plates.

The government emphasized that it decided to extend the deadline in response to numerous requests it had received.

On November 14, the car of Leposavic’s vice president, Dragana Miletic, was caught in flames. Such incidents were frequent during the last year, to local Serbs who converted their car plates to Kosovar ones. However, Kosovo Police has not made a statement that this particular incident may be related to the registration of license plates.

The President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, has said that such an action is a criminal act that aims to spread fear among the local Serbs and prevent their integration into the institutions of Kosovo.

“The authors of this cowardly and disgusting act will face justice,” said Osmani.

In 2022, when the government initiated the registration of cars in northern Kosovo, numerous incidents occurred involving the deliberate destruction by fire of vehicles belonging to citizens who had consented to participate in this registration process.

All this had instilled fear in many local Serbs and caused the process to stagnate.

Political Analyst and journalist Imer Mushkolaj, in a statement to Prishtina Insight, has considered this process as coordinated between the parties.

“It is not coincidental that the government has made this decision to postpone the registration deadline, and on the other hand, we have an extraordinarily large response from Serbian citizens. Therefore, it appears overtly and clearly as a coordinated action, but on the other hand, it can also be considered as a kind of initiation of the implementation of any agreement it may be,” Mushkolaj stated.

According to him, if there had been any order from Belgrade for the Serbs in the north, either through the Serbian list or the Kosovo office in the Serbian government, this would not have happened.

“I see it as something that can be used as a goodwill gesture to somehow integrate Kosovo Serbs in terms of switching tables,” Mushkolaj further emphasized.

Meanwhile, Mazllum Baraliu, constitutional law expert, considers the positive response in this process as awareness of citizens in the north that it is time to integrate.

According to him, with the recent attack on the police in Banjska, Zvecan, the Serbian List and Belgrade have been compromised.

“This is the awareness of citizens who have been frightened, manipulated, and blackmailed because in the process of the last year, cars of those who were registering were burned. They have realized that it is the right time to integrate since the Serbian List and Belgrade are compromised in front of the Serbian community and the international community with preparations for war and occupation in Kosovo,” Baraliu declared.

He emphasized that this decision is a continuation of the implementation of the Brussels agreements.

“Belgrade has consistently created obstacles by instrumentalizing the population and working parallel with the agreements. In Rashka, they have provided certain services for the release of the registry tables for Kosovo cities. The government’s decision is correct because this process has stagnated several times at the request of the international community, but also due to the situation on the ground,” Baraliu added further.

The issue of removing the plates that Serbia issues for Kosovo’s cities has caused a series of crises in the past two years. In July 2022, barricades were erected in the north of Kosovo due to the license plate issue, and in November of the same year, Serbs withdrew from Kosovo’s institutions in the north.

From the archives,01 November 2022. : A woman walks in front of posters that read in Serbian language ‘Welcome to Community of Serb municipalities’ in the northern, Serb-dominated part of ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo. The Government of Kosovo will begin implementing a plan to eliminate the usage of Serbian car license plates. All owners of vehicles with Serbian number plates are warned and requested to visit any of the Vehicle Registration Centers and register their vehicles with RKS license plates. In the Serbian community of Kosovo, the RKS license plates are seen as unacceptable as they suggest the recognition of independence of the Republic of Kosovo. EPA-EFE/DJORDJE SAVIC

On November 23, 2022, in negotiations, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement on the plates issued by Serbian authorities for cities in Kosovo. Serbia agreed not to issue new plates, and Kosovo waived the penalties outlined in the plan for vehicle re-registration.

However, this agreement was interpreted differently by the two countries.

In the initial deadline for this re-registration, many Serbian citizens in northern Kosovo had their cars damaged or burned.

According to some estimates, as of October 2022, there were about 10,000 vehicles with “KM” plates in the northern municipalities of Kosovo.

16/11/2023 - 17:02

16 November 2023 - 17:02

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.