Explained: Kosovo vs Serbia - A conflict over control

International players are hoping for speedy negotiations between the two

Kosovo vs Serbia clash Polish Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers stand guard at a municipal office in Zvecan, Kosovo | Reuters

Around 25 NATO peacekeeping soldiers were injured while defending three town halls in Northern Kosovo against Serb protesters on Monday. Tensions grew between Kosovo and Serbia, conflict is flaring up again in the region and after recent developments, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has put the army on high alert.

22-time Grand Slam winner and Serbian national Novak Djokovic following his first-round victory wrote the following message on the camera lens in his native tongue of Serbian, “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence.” This comes following the rising fears of war between Kosovo and Serbia due to disagreements over ownership of the State. 

Recent Developments

The countries have a history of conflict and recently, in November last year, multiple Kosovo Serb police officers, mayors, judges, and Members of Parliament belonging to the Serbian Minority political party Serb List resigned from government institutions. Going further, Serbs boycotted elections held in Northern Kosovo in April this year, where they are the majority.

When the newly elected ethnically Albanian mayors took over the municipal offices with the support of the Kosovo police on May 26, Serbians protested and it led to clashes with police. The police fired tear gas into the crowd to disperse them with Serbia claiming that 52 were injured. Kosovo was condemned for their actions and for using force amidst protests while Kosovo's President Vjosa Osmani accused Serbia of destabilizing them.

International players are hoping for speedy negotiations between the two, especially since both countries have applied for EU membership, and hence must normalize ties before they can proceed.

History of the conflict

The conflict dates back to the time Yugoslavia was dissolved into various states; Kosovo was dominated by Albanians, who wanted an independent state for themselves, while Serbia considered it an important part of their history and culture and did not want to part with it. Though the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Kosovo was demographically dominated by Muslim Albanians, hence, both claimed ethnic and religious ties with the region and wanted it for their own.

Soon peaceful protests grew into armed conflict, especially with the rise of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in 1996, and by 1998, Serbian police and Yugoslav armed forces clashed with the KLA leading to the Kosovo War. Atrocities were committed by both sides including instances of ethnic cleansing eventually leading to the UNSC imposing an arms embargo, yet violence continued.

Announced in 1999, the UN set up an international civil presence in Kosovo, effectively bringing the country under its administration along with deploying peacekeeping forces in the area. Yet, violence continued and the anti-Serb riots in 2004 claimed 30 lives. More than half a million people have found themselves displaced due to the conflict including Kosovans, Serbians, and other minorities.

Is Kosovo a recognized country?

In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia and it is recognized by almost 101 countries including the US, UK, and Saudi Arabia. However, Serbia, Russia and Japan still do not recognize its independence and are major players in preventing Kosovo from becoming a UN member state as they hold the power to veto the motion. Both Kosovo and Serbia desire to become members of the EU.


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