Kosovo celebrates 15 years of independence, amid tensions with Serbia and dialogue with the EU

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Kosovo celebrates 15 years of independence from Serbia: it was February 17, 2008 when the Pristina government adopted the unilateral declaration with which it detached itself from Belgrade. However, not all Kosovar citizens will celebrate the anniversary. Those who live in the North of the country, for example, will not do it (THE REPORTAGE), in the municipalities with a Serb majority that are beyond the river Ibar, where Belgrade, which has never recognized the independence of Kosovo, continues to exercise its influence and its jurisdiction. The last few months have not been easy. The European Union has been trying to mediate between the two countries for some time. The latest agreement proposal for the normalization of relations, drawn up by France and Germany, provides that Serbia undertakes not to hinder Kosovo’s attempts to join international organizations from which it is still excluded, from the Council of Europe to NATO, up to the EU and the UN. On the other hand, however, Pristina should agree to the creation of an association of municipalities with a Serb majority.

The Kosovo War

Between 1998 and 1999 one of the bloodiest wars that have marked the recent history of the Balkans was fought on the ground of Kosovo. It all began with the death of Tito and with the increasingly marked emergence of nationalist impulses among the territories of Yugoslavia, such as precisely those of the populations of Kosovo, on one side the Albanians and on the other the Serbs. After years of constant tensions and conflicts, the UCK (Kosovar-Albanian independence army) and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, now reduced only to Serbia and Montenegro, officially entered the war. Both sides tried to get the better of it with very violent actions: in a few months of conflict the toll is 14,000 dead. The offensive ends only after an intervention by NATO, led by the United States. Then the UN came into play, which in 1999, with the UNMIK mission, placed Kosovo under its protectorate, which in the meantime had equipped itself with a provisional government and parliament. The NATO military force, KFOR, is still operational on Kosovar territory.

The unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo

Not even the United Nations manages to calm the tensions between the Serbian and Albanian populations. This brings us to 2007. After the death of President Rugova, who had tried to carry on the fight for Kosovo’s independence with non-violent methods, the country is called to the polls. The elections were boycotted by the Serbian population and led to a coalition government led by Hashim Thaçi, former head of the UCK (later tried and convicted by the Special Tribunal in The Hague for war crimes committed between 1998 and 1999). It is with Thaçi that Kosovo proclaims itself independent.

Kosovo in the international community and dialogue with the EU

Out of 193 UN states, 98 – including Italy – have recognized the independence of Kosovo. In addition to Serbia, among the countries that have not done so are Russia, China and five EU members: Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia and Romania. Pristina has been aiming to join the Union for some time and in December 2022 it officially applied for membership. However, the process of integration will be difficult: much depends precisely on how (and if) the still active tensions with Serbia will be resolved. Belgrade, on the other hand, has begun the process that should bring it into the EU in 2009. However, European attempts at mediation between the two countries, which have been underway since 2013, have so far not led to concrete results. The agreements made 10 years ago now would see Belgrade recognizing Pristina’s authority also over the territories of northern Kosovo, however, in exchange for some form of autonomy for the municipalities with a Serb majority.

The latest proposal for European mediation

In fact, the 2013 agreements have never been implemented. The new proposal for European mediation starts from here. Pristina has said it is in favor of the creation of the association of the five municipalities with a Serbian majority only if certain conditions are met. For example, it is requested that the institution respect the Kosovar Constitution, adopted in 2008, and that before its creation, Belgrade recognizes the autonomy of Pristina. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, for his part, has made it known that he will not continue with the European negotiations until the municipalities are created.

The license plate crisis

In recent years there have been reasons for not only military but also diplomatic tension in the Northern Kosovo region. This was the case with last year’s so-called license plate crisis, which began with Pristina’s ban on Serbian license plates. It was also decided to fine all citizens who had not complied with the obligation to re-register cars with Serbian license plates. Finally, an agreement was reached, again under European supervision, in November 2022: Serbia will stop issuing license plates with the designations of the cities of Kosovo and Kosovo will cease further actions related to the re-registration of vehicles.