Deeper reasons behind the tensions in N Kosovo
By Yang Bowen

Editor's note: Yang Bowen is an assistant research fellow at the European Department of China Institute of International Studies (CIIS). Regarding the latest tensions in northern Kosovo, Yang analyzes why Serbia suspects that the West is disrupting the situation. He also argues how unbalanced mediation by Western countries actually escalates tensions. This article reflects the author's views and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The tensions in northern Kosovo have escalated since May 26, when Kosovo authorities pushed for the "forcible inauguration" of the ethnic Albanian mayors, who were "elected" in an election boycotted by Serbs in northern Kosovo on April 23, triggering fierce conflicts between the locals and the police. At the same time, the Serbian opposition took advantage of two shooting incidents in early May to launch five successive demonstrations, turning a security-related case into a political event for demanding the resignation of government officials and even the formation of an interim government. The timing of these two events - the Kosovo crisis and the escalation of Serbia's internal situation - has made the Serbian authorities wonder if the West might be pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

A coincidence?

On May 3, the day of the shooting, the New York Times published an article accusing Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of having links with Belivuk's criminal group, which further inflamed the protests in Serbia, but the author of the article did not offer hard evidence to prove his allegations. 

Vucic accused the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency for "warning" and "blackmailing" the Serbian government to back down on the Kosovo issue. At the same time, the Kosovo authorities, with the connivance of the Western countries, are stoking tensions in northern Kosovo. The Serbian government considers the two issues to be interlinked.

The Serbian opposition's political use of security-related cases also shows signs of "color revolution." The successive shootings on May 3 and 4 were purely security-related incidents. The Serbian government has also since taken multiple measures to strengthen gun control and security at schools. However, the opposition has made use of these cases by threatening to stage weekly demonstrations until its demands are met. Some opposition lawmakers even compared this incident to the "color revolution" in Ukraine of 2014. Vucic said the intelligence agencies had warned that a "color revolution" was possibly behind these protests.

Unbalanced mediation

The Western endorsement of the radical behavior of Kurti authorities is an important reason for the outbreak of the conflict. On May 18, at a moment of rising tensions in northern Kosovo, the Quint countries (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy) released a joint statement calling the April 23 election "consistent with Kosovo's constitutional and legal requirements" but "not a long-term political solution." The endorsement of this election encouraged Kosovo authorities to promote "elected" ethnic-Albanian mayors to "forcibly assume office." In addition, the Serbian government thought Vucic had repeatedly warned the EU and U.S. representatives in mid-May that the Kurti authorities might take radical actions, but the EU and U.S. did not take any action to avoid them. Condemnation only came out after the "forcible inauguration" triggered violent conflicts, which is in fact acquiescence to the actions of the Kosovo authorities.

The unbalanced positions of the Western countries have also perpetuated the crisis. The Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) of UN clearly states that "the people of Kosovo can enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the predecessor of the Republic of Serbia)." However, the Western countries have long ignored Serbia's sovereignty concerns and demanded that Serbia recognize Kosovo's "independence" in name or in fact when mediating the so-called Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue process.

In addition, the Western countries often impose double standards. The turnout of 2022 Serbian general election was over 58 percent. But since the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) coalition, which insisted on the subjectivity of Serbia, was finally elected, the election was regarded by the Western media as questionable. On the contrary, for the election in northern Kosovo, which was boycotted by the Serbs and saw the turnout of just 3.5 percent, the Western governments considered it legitimate. 

Meanwhile, the Western countries accelerating the normalization of ties under immature conditions have also heated up tensions. Under pressure from the EU and the U.S., the two sides verbally reached "Agreement on the Path to Normalization of Relations" and its "Implementation Annex" on February 27 and March 18, respectively. But the core positions of the two sides have not been brought closer, with Kosovo unwilling to establish the Association of Serb Municipalities and Serbia unwilling to make concessions on core issues related to sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The persistent crisis in Kosovo reminds us that only by respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, gradually building mutual trust and promoting sound dialogue among relevant parties can we achieve lasting peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

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