Alperen Kürsat Demirbag
Is the Second Kosovo War on the Way?
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia have started to rise in the past months. The main reason is a change in Kosovo's license plate law. According to the change, only Kosovo license plates will be used within the borders of Kosovo. However, this change affected many Serbs living within the borders of Kosovo. Serbs live as a majority in the northern part of Kosovo.
Previously, the Kosovo Government's increased security measures in the Northern region had disturbed the Serbs. The Kosovo administration decided to remove the license plates that Serbia had printed for the Serbs living in this region and print their own license plates.
As a result, approximately 600 Serbian police and judicial officers resigned altogether.
There were also protests by Serbs in Northern Kosovo. Local Serbs put up barricades in many places on the Northern border. Despite many warnings and explanations, local Serbs continued to stand guard at the barricades they pulled.
So where is the root of this tension? During the 1998-99 war, NATO intervened in the country to protect the Albanian population against Serbia. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 with the support of NATO and the West. About 117 countries will recognize Kosovo in 2022. Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo. Serbia considers the region as the Autonomous Region of Kosovo and Metohija.
Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash
As can be understood, the license plate issue is an event that rekindles the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia from the past. But there are a few situations that prevent this tension from turning into a conflict. The first of these is the Kosovo force. The Kosovo Force is a NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force tasked with maintaining security in Kosovo. It is a resolution adopted by the UN Security Council on 10 June 1999.
KFOR entered Kosovo because of this decision. The existence of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo also prevents the possibility of conflict. EULEX is the largest civilian mission ever launched under the European Union's Common Security and Defense Policy.
The attitude of the European Union and the United Nations does not seem to have resolved the tension yet. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Relations and Vice-President of the EU Commission, Josep Borrell announced on his Twitter post on November 24, 2022, that both sides were open to negotiations, but the parties could not reach an agreement.
Referring to the tension between Kosovo and Serbia, Josep Borrell announced that the EU proposes to send reinforcements to the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo. Stating that the tension between Kosovo and Serbia continues, Borrell said, “There are important security problems. Attacks against EU forces, EULEX and Kosovo police are unacceptable. Barriers should be removed, and dialogue should be returned to those who want to join the EU. In this context, I suggested sending support to EULEX and our EU member states support it. With the support of the UN, we hosted Serbian and Kosovo representatives and presented our suggestions. Our suggestions about plates and other problems should be considered immediately. I am very pleased to have the support of the ministers. These suggestions were not only mine, but also the suggestions of 27 EU members. I will also inform the leaders about the latest developments,"  he said. In a tweet he shared on 11 December, Borrel stated that Serbian groups should remove the barricades.
The Serbian Administration's approach to tension, on the other hand, contains some contradictions. Alexander Vucic stated that he will do his best to preserve the environment. However, he shared on Twitter that "There is no surrender and will not be".
On the other hand, the Kosovo government claims that they have been threatened by the Serbian administration for days. On the other hand, the Director of the Kosovo Office of the Serbian Government, Petar Petkovic, made a statement on the situation and stated that the news of possible attacks against RTS, KFOR, and EULEX are just Kosovo propaganda, and this will be an excuse to blame the Serbian people and to attack the north of Kosovo even more intensely.
US State Department adviser Derek Chollet was going to go to the region on a trip to the Balkans and work on reducing the tension between the two countries. However, in a tweet he shared on December 12, 2022, he stated that he postponed this trip to next year due to a positive test for COVID-19.
As you can see, the EU, NATO, and the USA are working to reduce the tension. But the main problem that is being solved here is the license plate license. Pressure is exerted on both countries to make concessions on the issue and maintain peace. But the underlying problem is not the license plate law.
The real problem is that the local Serbs oppose it because they do not recognize the sovereignty of Kosovo.
Therefore, even if this license plate issue is somehow resolved, the fact that Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's sovereignty will eventually cause another problem. If options such as Kosovo's call for NATO intervention or Serbia's request to deploy troops in northern Kosovo are accepted, this will only make worse the conflict.