WEBINAR: Clashes between Serbia and Kosovo

On October 25, 2023, Strategic Analysis organized the eighth online webinar this year with our Young Leaders‘ Programme members. The discussion focused on clashes between Serbia and Kosovo.

Serbia and Kosovo have been embroiled in major political and diplomatic disputes over the past few decades in the Western Balkans and Europe.

Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country, is facing serious challenges with Serbia, who views it as its territory and has blocked its efforts to join international organizations and obtain recognition from other states.

Meanwhile, Serbia, which for centuries considered Kosovo the cradle of its civilization, has been making efforts to protect its own people who are facing pressure from Kosovo’s authorities in Pristina and also claims the world is turning a blind eye to the issue, which is not much different than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Most recently, on September 25, people in the region woke up to the news that a clash between an armed group and Kosovo police broke out in the village of Banjska in northern Kosovo near the Serbian border. A group of armed Serbs blocked a bridge leading to Banjska with two trucks lacking license plates. A shootout erupted after the group opened fire on police, who went to the scene to investigate the issue. A large number of security forces were dispatched to the region, and the Brnjak border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia was closed.

“There are at least 30 heavily armed persons, professional military or police forces, who have been surrounded by the Kosovo Police and whom I invite to surrender to our security authorities,“ Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti said after meeting with the country’s Security Council. A clash between the police and gunmen left one police officer dead and another injured.

Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led peacekeeping mission operating in Kosovo since June 1999, said it is closely monitoring the situation in the country’s north with its troops on the ground and is ready to respond.  Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addressed the public and said the armed individuals who attacked Kosovo police were not from Serbia and are local Kosovo Serbs. Kurti had claimed that organized criminal groups with political, financial and logistical support from Belgrade were behind Sunday’s attack. Vucic condemned the killing of the Kosovo police officer and said that three ethnic Serbs were also killed in the clashes and that there is a possibility that one more may die. He accused Kurti of trying to drag Serbia into a conflict with NATO. According to Vucic, the Kosovo police officer was killed because NATO forces did not intervene.

The tension was de-escalated after three of the armed ethnic Serbs were killed and several others who were injured had been detained. Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani decided to declare a national day of mourning for the slain officer and the one who was wounded.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have persisted since Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. Despite recognition of its independence by over 100 countries since then, Kosovo continues to lack UN membership due to a Russian veto.

Kosovo has a population of nearly 1.8 million people. Albanians constitute the vast majority, but it also includes various minority groups such as Turks, Bosniaks, Serbs, Goranis, Roma, Ashkalis and Egyptians.