Kosovo is back in crisis. This time around, it is because of local elections.
Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs make up around 6% of the country’s 1.8 million population and live mostly in the four northern provinces of Zvecan, Zubin Potok, Leposavic and Mitrovica. They object to being part of an independent Kosovo and have not accepted being separated from Serbia.
Troubled flared over Kosovo authorities' ban on the use of Serbian-issued number plates by Kosovo Serbs about a year ago. Mayors of the four majority Serbian municipalities resigned in protest at the Kosovo authorities.
On 23 April, local elections were held to elect new mayors in place of those who had resigned.
Serbs boycotted the elections. Voter turnout was just 3.47%, with 1,566 ethnic Albanians and only 13 out of 45,095 eligible Serbian voters.
The newly elected mayors are of Albanian origin and moved into their new offices under the protection of Kosovo’s special police force. Amid protests from Serbs, troops from Nato’s KFOR deployment in the Balkans intervened. The ensuing riots led to a fresh episode of crisis.
Serbia-Kosovo tensions and EU engagement
At the beginning of this year, leaders of Serbia and Kosovo verbally agreed on a plan to normalise ties via an EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue process.
The 11-point plan covers a number of major issues. It includes mutual recognition of respective documents and national symbols, a pledge from Serbia not to object to Kosovo’s membership of any international organisations and Kosovo offering an appropriate level of self-management for its Serbian community.
Originally built on the initiative of Germany and France, the plan is an EU initiative to defuse a potential conflict in the midst of Europe. It has long struggled with how to deal with the Balkan crisis and is very engaged with its Western Balkans policy, with a special representative there.
The EU is active here despite its own internal divisions on the issue. Five EU nations – Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia – have not recognised Kosovo. These countries have their own ethnic minority issues and regard Kosovo as a potential precedent for their cases.