A slow breakdown

In north Mitrovica, the Kosovo Special Police raided a hair salon and arrested a suspect in the violence against KFOR two weeks ago in Zvečan. This led to a mass of people on the street and tear gas from the Special Police floating through the air. Three Kosovo Special Police were also either caught deep in Serbia, according to Serbia’s Ministry of Interior, or kidnapped by Serbia, according to Kosovo’s government last week as well.

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As of Wednesday, 14 June, prime minister Albin Kurti has still not pulled back the Kosovo Special Police as the US and the European Union have demanded by the purported deadline of last Friday. 

The EU has begun creating lists of restrictive measures, including holding back significant funds in the wake of the US’ imposed sanctions (although according to US deputy secretary of State, Gabriel Escobar, said these are “consequences”). Albania has canceled the joint meeting between both governments. Prime Minister Edi Rama invited Kurti to a smaller, focussed meeting on why Kosovo has disengaged itself from the Euro-Atlantic partnership. But this, like Rama’s draft for the contentious Association of Serb Municipalities, has been rebuffed by the Kurti government.

Meanwhile, in north Mitrovica, the Kosovo Special Police raided a hair salon and arrested a suspect in the violence against KFOR two weeks ago in Zvečan. This led to a mass of people on the street and tear gas from the Special Police floating through the air. Three police were injured. 

Goran Rakić, head of the Srpska Lista, was attacked by angry Serb citizens. Anti-Vučić chants were heard and afterwards, reportedly, a message threatening people was sent out on mobile phones of some Kosovo Serbs telling them to refrain from any anti-Vučić or anti-Serbian government protests. The message was shown to New Perspektiva (NP) in Gračanica and included violent threats.

The Kossev news portal has reported that masked men intimidated ethnic Serbian journalists and told them, “to stop recording them and let them get on with their work.”

On Wednesday, thousands of people from the north marched in Mitrovica demanding the release of arrested Serbs.

Kosovo Serbian opposition politician, Aleksandar Arsenijević, took flags of all the minority communities in Kosovo and demanded they be placed in front of one of the government buildings in Prishtina. He was stopped by the police.

On Saturday, 17 June, two Serb teenagers, 15 and 17 were allegedly beaten by Kosovo Special Police in a village outside of Zvečan. The police deny this.

Marko Milenković of the New Social Initiative NGO told Serbian broadcaster N1: 

“The Serbian list is losing the authority it had in previous years. We no longer have local leadership. People are protesting because they betrayed their demands. When we set up the barricades, the Serbian List did not persist in our demands, but left the barricades after consultations with President Vučić. Since then, their authority has been lost. And the latest events are not in their favor because the people did not support their moves. Citizens no longer trust anyone, neither them, nor the international community, which does not send clear messages, nor Priština, which does not even take those messages into consideration.”

Three Kosovo Special Police were also either caught deep in Serbia, according to Serbia’s Ministry of Interior, or kidnapped by Serbia, according to Kosovo’s government last week as well.

KFOR said in a release to the media on Friday, 16 June, that ”b​ased on available input, it remains unclear where the Kosovo Police officers were at the time of the arrest.”

The Kosovo government has now barred all Serbian license plates from entering Kosovo and barred the entry of all Serbian goods. 

According to the Gap Institute, a research based NGO, Serbia is the fourth largest importer into Kosovo in 2022.

The Kurti government has also revoked Klan Kosova TV’s license because “there are suspicions about the officials responsible for misuse of official duties, as well as misuse of economic authorizations.”

The Association of Kosovo Journalists calls this, “a direct attempt by Kurti and Vetevendosje to control the media.”

In Prishtina, some Kosovo Albanians have begun to worry about where Kurti is taking them. One former Prishtina municipal MP from an opposition political party told NP that Kurti cared about himself and not the state. A local Kosovo Albanian teacher questioned Kurti’s actions but also wanted to know why were the US and EU supporting Vučić? 

Escobar said in the online press conference to the media, on Friday, 16 June, that the US has supported Kosovo over the last 90 days.

“Serbia did not want Kosovo’s application to the Council of Europe to go ahead, we supported it. Serbia wanted Kosovo to cancel the elections, but we supported them, Serbia wanted the elections to be declared illegal due to the low turnout, we supported them, Serbia did not want the legitimacy of the mayors to be recognized, we recognized them. And I challenge everyone to find something that we have done that has not been good for Kosovo.”

Meanwhile in the Bosnian mahalla, businesses are closing for good or temporarily out of safety. The majority of these businesses are owned by Albanian, Bosnian and other minorities.

Ramush Haradinaj’s AAK party has already begun preparing a no confidence vote but nothing has come of this yet.

In Leposavić, minister of environment Liburn Aliu reportedly tried to visit Lulzim Hetemi – the mayor who refuses to leave the municipality building –  only to find himself pummeled by eggs from protestors. The Minister of Local Government, Elbert Krasniqi, also tried to make a visit and was attacked with his car vandalized.

Last Thursday, NP spoke with one of those protestors while the US KFOR contingent took down the barbed wire around the municipality building. Ivan Milojević, once worked for the Kosovo government in the office of community affairs. He explained that the elected mayor had 1% of the vote (after the Serb boycott of the elections) “and who was he going to represent?” So the protestors, who had chairs laid out in front of the municipality, and took turns watching the building, would stay until the mayor left. 

As we sat with him, we watched the Kosovo Special Police linger by the door of the building. The majority of other protestors were municipal employees; the former mayor, Zoran Todić, gave an interview to the international press.

Meanwhile, work continued on revitalizing the center with new pavement being put in.

Milojević said he would go back to work in a Kosovo government to be the “bridge” as he saw himself between the minorities and the majority.

When I asked how Leposavić kept their protest peaceful rather than have the outbreak of violence that Zvečan saw, another protestor said “we are a peaceful people.” Protestors had held municipal games with the US KFOR and were also holding other events such as graduations as well. Life went on and just began to include the protest. 

This was a few days before the attack on ethnic Albanian journalists where an RTK cameraman was attacked and others from different outlets  were also assaulted; one had a broken arm afterwards, in Leposavić. Video showed the journalists being chased down the street while being kicked and punched.

KFOR said in a media statement on Saturday, 17 June, that it condemns the attacks on journalists but it is up to the Kosovo police to ensure the rule of law across Kosovo. KFOR is the third security responder in Kosovo. First is the Kosovo Police, the second is EULEX.

Milojević, said that the protestors had no animus towards KFOR or EULEX but the Kosovo Special Police had to leave. “KFOR should have been there Friday when they came in.” And, like protestors in Zvečan said, the Kosovo Special Police had been in the municipality buildings for some time. 

Milojević said what people wanted was the same as everywhere, political and economic stability.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Escobar, in the online press conference said: “Although it is true that Serbia has not progressed to the level we wanted, in terms of establishing peaceful relations with Kosovo, I can say that much of what has been happening since November has been due to the unilateral actions of Kosovo, to find solutions, for which it has not been coordinated with the international community.”