Soldiers of the Austrian contingent of the NATO-led international peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) set up a razor wire fence in front of the building of the municipality in Zvecan, Kosovo, 31 May 2023. At least 30 KFOR peacekeepers and 52 civilians were injured after clashes between security forces and ethnic Serbs broke out in Zvecan on 30 May 2023. Tensions continue in northern Kosovo’s region, with a majority of ethnic Serbian people, which arose after ethnic Albanians mayors took offices in four towns following elections boycotted by the Serbian community. Photo: EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI

Kosovo Citizens Raise Concerns and Hold Serbia Accountable Amid North Tensions

For the citizens in Prishtina, the tensions in the north are worrying, for those in South Mitrovica this is nothing new. But they all believe that Serbia is to blame.

In the three municipalities with a Serbian majority – Zvecan, Zubin Potok, and Leposavic – local Serbs are opposing the deployment of new Albanian mayors in the municipalities after the April 23 snap elections, protesting in front of municipal facilities, despite the deployment of KFOR peacekeepers in the area. On Monday the protest escalated and left 30 KFOR peacekeepers along with around with 50 protesters, injured.

While for the residents in South Mitrovica this situation is not new, as they have lived in a divided city for a long time now, those in Prishtina have expressed concerns about what the country witnessed in the past couple of days.

They mostly blame Serbia for inciting tensions in the north, while they consider the reactions of the Kosovo institutions as just.

Mustafa Musliu, a citizen from South Mitrovica says that the developments in the north are not something new to him.

“Since I live in Mitrovica, we have always had these problems. And I think that we will always have these problem, because this is how they [the Serbs] are. For us, this isn’t anything new because I’m not surprised by them, we know them. And here Serbia is mostly to blame,” he said.

“Sometimes I think that even them [the local Serbs] are not to blame because Serbia has deceived them. Serbia has everything in hand,” he told BIRN.

Sabri Rexhepi, also from South Mitrovica, says that nothing is changing in Mitrovica.

“I don’t know what to say anymore. You ask us about this, but it is vain, because nothing is changing. Except for the bridge that divides us and unites us. These problems never stopped,” says Rexhepi, with pessimism.

Rexhepi says that the solution must be found by both sides.

“Something must be done, both from our side and theirs. We thought that the problems would be gone with the [declaration of] independence [of Kosovo], that we would be comfortable, but not. I am mostly sorry for the children” he said for Prishtina Insight.

A citizen from Prishtina blames Russia for the situation in the north. “The situation in the north is very worrisome, the inter-ethnic relations there have deteriorated, but the main culprit is Russia with its ally Serbia. It has instigated these situations only to destabilize the Balkans and the region in general,” Vesel Veseli told BIRN.

According to him, the Serbs do not want to accept the independence of Kosovo. “We know very well that they do not want the state of Kosovo, which is guaranteed by the constitution. They want to keep the northern part occupied, which does not belong to Serbia but belongs to Kosovo,” he says.

Muhamet Hyseni, another citizen, expresses his concern about the recent developments. “I was here before the war, and during the war, I know how the situation went. They only want force, what they are doing, it’s a disaster. There is no point in talking with them. They should be only be asked: Do you want to be part of Kosovo or Serbia?”

Bajram Shalaku, another citizen in Prishtina, told BIRN that he doesn’t believe that the government of Kosovo has taken the recent  actions in the north without the approval of international allies. “I’m satisfied with the decisions of Kurti government”, he told BIRN.

“The government with this action has done a lot of good work in the north, for the interest of the state of Kosovo”, he told BIRN, adding that the government should not give up.

“This is politics. The internationals want peace, but I believe that the government did not take that action without the approval of the internationals.”

“The situation is not good, but the Kosovo Serbs are to blame for attacking our police, our journalists, and KFOR. 30 troops of KFOR were injured. The European Union and the whole world should know that these are the culprits, the Serbs, and not the Albanians. It is our country, the Republic of Kosovo,” says Zahir Vitija, another citizen from Prishtina.

High-ranking American officials have condemned the violence in the north and called on Kosovo and Serbia to take immediate action to reduce tensions in northern Kosovo. The Kosovo authorities have been requested to withdraw police officers from the three northern municipalities, and the mayors of the municipalities are advised to work from alternative locations. Meanwhile, PM Albin Kurti has stated that he will not withdraw the Kosovo Police from the north as long as there are violent groups on the streets.

On Monday, dozens of protesters and NATO peacekeepers were injured in northern Kosovo as local Serbs protested against the installation of a Kosovo Albanian mayor. 30 troops of KFOR were wounded, 11 soldiers from the Italian contingent and 19 from the Hungarian contingent.

, and 01/06/2023 - 12:35

01 June 2023 - 12:35

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.