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Pivoting to the Serb community in southern Kosovo
To develop lasting, concrete influence in Kosovo and the wider Balkans, the EU should pivot its focus towards the Serb community in southern Kosovo
The recent violent protests and riots in Mitrovica in northern Kosovo between persons from the Serb minority and NATO-force KFOR soldiers have been reported in several European media. After the recent local elections, the situation is seen as a new example of violence, hate, and ethnicised political tensions.
The Serbian government even used its military by activating combat readiness, which can be seen as a sign of diplomatic tool towards the EU and NATO but also due to the upcoming elections in Serbia.
Northern Kosovo, or even Kosovo in general, is often mentioned and described negatively. The conflict is seen as one of the last remains of the (post)-Yugoslav conflicts since the early 1990s. In general, one of the main problems is that while Kosovo is recognised by most of the EU states as a sovereign nation, Serbia still needs to politically recognise Kosovo and see the territory as part of Serbia.
It should be noted that despite all the political changes in Serbia since the fall of the autocratic government of Slobodan Milosevic in 2001, the Yugoslav and later Serbian state has promoted its nationalist identity politics and influence on Serbs living in Kosovo.
In several ways, Serbia maintains the same or similar behaviours as during the 1990s in Croatia and Bosnia by creating pro-Serbia separatist and parallel institutions. Therefore, the northern part of Kosovo remains a place of tension and political tribalism. At the same time, Mitrovica is still a divided city similar to Jerusalem or Nicosia.
According to estimates based on 2010 and 2013 OSCE data, 146,128 Serbs were living in Kosovo, making up 7.8 per cent of the total population. Around one-half of the Serb population lives in North Kosovo, while the second half lives in southern Kosovo, with ten municipalities where Serbs are a majority.
The situation regarding relations and interactions between Serbs, Albanians, and others in southern Kosovo is more different compared to the more violent and unstable north.
The southern part of Kosovo is geographically further away from Serbia and closer to the capital of Prishtina. The UN-led and later EU-led peacekeeping mission has been more successful in the south regarding inter-community relations, respect for the rule of law, and fostering democratic processes regarding elections.
A small but symbolic example is that while many Serbs in northern Kosovo use Serbian license plates on cars, in southern Kosovo, most Serbs use Kosovar license plates.
A larger political example is the history since the end of the Kosovo War 1998-1999 of many Serbs in Southern Kosovo feeling abandoned and betrayed by Serbia.
Several cases of Serbs in Southern Kosovo have been expressed in the media during the last ten years about how the Serbia governments are “rewarding” Serbs in the north while ignoring those in the south. Such behaviours have made more Serbs in southern Kosovo distrust the governments in Serbia.
The Serbian governments have been using Serbs in the north in order to create tensions and conduct popular support at the national level through ethno-nationalist identity politics. It should also be noted that the situation in southern Kosovo is far from optimal since many citizens with Serb identification still need to accept Kosovo as a sovereign and political nation.
Therefore, while the media in Europe should continue reporting about what is happening in northern Kosovo, more media focus should be brought on the southern parts of Kosovo.
It is important to describe and highlight more positive examples of everyday relations between Serbs and Albanians, as well as Serbs who harbour negative feelings towards the government in Serbia and are trying to integrate more into Kosovo’s already poor and conflict-ridden society.
For the EU, it is even more important to show in practice what the ideas of Europe are regarding values and factors such as minority rights, diversity and unity.
By showing more support and care for the members of the Serb community in Southern Kosovo, the EU can attract more support and develop a strong legitimacy that can be used as an example for narratives and actions towards the Serbian government and society.
After all, a better functioning Kosovo is essential for the Balkan region as a future part of the union.
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