Unrest in Kosovo (II)

Unrest in northern Kosovo prompts NATO to bolster its troops in the region. The German Bundeswehr is also bogged down in what had been Yugoslavia, while taking up positions against Russia and China.

BELGRADE/BERLIN (Own report) – Almost a quarter-century after the illegal war of aggression had de facto split Kosovo from Yugoslavia, serious unrest is again flaring up in the region. The flareup began when the Priština government tried to inaugurate Albanian-speaking mayors in four majority Serb-speaking administrative districts in northern Kosovo. This was preceded by a fierce conflict over the formation of an association of municipalities with a Serbian majority in Kosovo endowed with autonomous rights, which the Kosovo government had already officially promised in 2013, but had been de facto sabotaging ever since. The conflict escalated into violence late last year and had merely been provisionally calmed down, only to re-escalate into violent clashes on Monday, with at least 50 demonstrators and around 30 NATO soldiers injured, some seriously. NATO has announced another increase of its troops in Kosovo. This also leaves the German Bundeswehr bogged down in what had been Yugoslavia – at a time when it seeks to reserve all its forces for the West’s power struggle against Russia and China.

No Autonomous Rights

Already late last year, tensions had seriously escalated in northern Kosovo. Since Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, the situation has remained precarious due to the fact that the Serbian-speaking part of the population, constituting the majority in the region’s north, does not recognize the secession – not only in line with Serbia, but also with nearly half of the other countries world-wide, including five EU member states.[1] To improve the situation, an agreement was reached already in 2013, under EU pressure, to form an association of municipalities in Kosovo endowed with autonomous rights, that would comprise a total of ten administrative districts, four of them in northern Kosovo. However, the Priština government has since been refusing to permit this important association to be officially established. Instead, it had stepped up its pressure on the Serbian-speaking part of the population last fall, by declaring that Serbian license plates, still widely used in northern Kosovo, would no longer be valid and that anyone using them would face a fine. Taking such steps in an already very tense situation are enough to dangerously escalate the situation.

Resignation in Protest

This happened in November 2022. Placed under uncompromising pressure by the Kosovo authorities, the Serbian-speaking mayors of all four administrative districts in the north and other Serbian-speaking public office holders – judges, police officers – resigned from their posts. Priština continued to escalate, scheduled new elections for December and, breaching previous agreements, began dispatching Albanian-speaking police officers to majority Serbian-speaking territories in the north of the region, without the required accord of the Serbian-speaking authorities. Protests quickly erupted, with some involving roadblocks. Citing UN Resolution 1244 from 1999, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić announced that, in case of physical attacks on the Serbian-speaking minority, he would deploy Serbian soldiers to northern Kosovo for their protection. Only massive pressure from Brussels and Washington induced the Priština government to at least postpone new elections in the North until April 2023, thus preventing further escalation at the last moment.[2] EU-negotiations with Priština and Belgrade seemed to provide a solution in early 2023, which has now proven a momentous illusion.

Voter Turnout: 3.47 Percent

The current escalation was sparked by the new elections on April 23. Because Pristina was still unwilling to allow the formation of the Association of municipalities with a Serbian-speaking majority and the withdrawal of all Albanian-speaking special units from the north,[3] the Serbian-speaking population had boycotted the elections. Of Kosovo’s approximately 45,000 eligible voters, only 1,567 cast their ballot. The voter turnout was at just 3.47%.[4] The four newly elected mayors – all Albanian-speaking – could rally only a few hundred votes each, and are, therefore, supported by only a small portion of the population, having more than 90 percent of the area’s residents against them. This obvious potential for escalation prompted the EU and the United States to warn the Kosovo government against further provocation. Pristina ignored the warnings of its Western protectors and, last week, publicly inaugurated the newly elected mayors in three of the four northern administrative districts into office. Even then, the expected protests required security measures on a larger scale. On Friday, Serbian-speaking protesters set up barricades, and violent clashes erupted with the police.[5]

Dozens Injured

On Monday, the situation escalated further. In Zvečan, one of the northern administrative districts, Kosovo police attempted to clear a path for the new mayor to his office through a large gathering of protesters. Violent conflicts ensued. Units of NATO’s KFOR – with a presence of around 300 soldiers in the area – intervened. Around 30 Italian and Hungarian soldiers and over 50 demonstrators were injured, some seriously.[6] Yesterday, the protests continued in several localities in northern Kosovo. Already at the end of last week, Serbia had once again concentrated some of its troops near its border with Kosovo. Official warnings were issued, not only to Serbia, but to Pristina as well by the four particularly heavily involved nations in Europe (Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain) as well as by the USA.[7] Yesterday, NATO additionally announced it will again increase its KFOR units. It is currently unknown, whether this also pertains to its Bundeswehr units, which, according to information from the Bundeswehr, has around 90 soldiers stationed in Kosovo. Late last week, the Bundestag had extended the German KFOR mission’s mandate by another year. The upper limit is 400 soldiers.

The Bundeswehr is Bogged Down

With the recent escalation of the conflict, the prospects of being able to terminate the Bundeswehr’s Kosovo mission – soon to reach its 25th year – in the foreseeable future, is receding into a more distant future. Moreover, just last summer, the German armed forces had to resume an already completed deployment, in what had been Yugoslavia – their deployment in Bosnia-Herzegovina. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[8]) The Federal Republic of Germany was able to successfully crush Yugoslavia, which had potentially represented a strong pocket of resistance to its hegemony.[9] Today’s Serbia is likewise resisting German dominance in Southeast Europe, but it cannot match up to its much more powerful predecessor state in terms of influence. Nevertheless, Berlin has not managed to control the incessant unrest in Yugoslavia’s successor nations. The result is that the Bundeswehr is still operating in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina and is incapable of preventing an uncontrolled escalation, at a time when it would need to reserve its forces for defending global western dominance against Russia and China.


[1] By the end of 2022, only 99 of the 193 members of the United Nations had recognized Kosovo as a sovereign country. 94 nations refuse, including EU-members Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Greece and Cyprus.

[2] See also Unrest in Kosovo

[3] Alice Taylor: Serbian List confirms boycott of local elections in Kosovo. euractiv.com 21.03.2023.

[4] Alice Taylor, Bojana Zimonjić Jelisavac: North Kosovo elections trigger harsh words, criticisms from Belgrade. euractiv.com 24.04.2023.

[5] Alice Taylor: Kosovo steadfast over mayor action despite international criticism. euractiv.com 29.05.2023.

[6] Mehrere Verletzte bei Zusammenstößen. tagesschau.de 30.05.2023.

[7] Joint Statement on Violence in the North of Kosovo. state.gov 26.05.2023.

[8] See also Back to Square One

[9] See also Palatable Slogans and .Auf die Flucht getrieben (IV).