• Balkans Tension in the final stretch of the "license plate war" between Serbia and Kosovo

If last year the license plate war revived the powder keg of the Balkans, this summer it is the hangover of the municipal elections that has triggered - again - the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo. An attack in northern Kosovo on Sunday left four dead and six arrested. The EU, the arbiter in the dispute between Pristina and Belgrade, has condemned the events in the strongest terms. A few words that do not seem enough for the Kosovar authorities, who feel that Brussels is turning towards Serbian partisan postulates.

According to local media, early Sunday morning a group of about 30 armed Serb men set out to ambush a Kosovar police patrol in the northern village of Banjska with grenades and gunfire. In the flight they would have locked themselves for hours in a nearby Serbian Orthodox church, a fact that made the outcome difficult since the Kosovar authorities needed a special permit to access the monastery.

From Pristina they hold their neighbor directly responsible. "We condemn this criminal and terrorist attack. Organized crime with the official political, financial and logistical support of Belgrade is attacking our state," said Albin Kurdi, Prime Minister of Kosovo, through his Facebook profile. In Belgrade they dissociate themselves from the attack. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic blamed the attack on Kosovo Serbs who "don't want to suffer Kurti's terror anymore."

In the midst of this crossfire, which is already the worst clash between the two in recent years, the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, known by the acronym of KFOR, assured that its troops are in the area and "ready to respond if necessary". For his part, Josep Borrell, head of European diplomacy, has issued a statement demanding the de-escalation of tension in the north of the country. That yes measuring each word and avoiding pointing with names and surnames put a label to the facts.

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the horrific attack perpetrated by an armed gang against Kosovo police officers in Banjska/Banjskë in northern Kosovo (...) The facts surrounding the attack must be established. And those responsible must be brought to justice," said the head of European diplomacy. Soon after, the former Spanish foreign minister spoke by telephone with both Kurti and Vuric to ask them for "the restoration of calm and stability."

Discontent with Brussels

The lukewarm reaction of the European Union has raised dust in Kosovo. "Really, Mr. Borrell? Terrorists kill the police and you make a call to all actors? Not a word about supporting the police? None against terrorists? Did you also refer to the terrorist attacks in Spain as hostile? What a shame," reacted through X (the former social network Twitter) Donika Gervalla-Schwarz, Kosovar Foreign Minister.

Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine 19 months ago, Pristina feels that a change of script and priorities is taking place. Their sense is that one of the great concerns of Europeans in the Western Balkans is that Serbia, the country in the region closest politically to Russia, ends up succumbing to Moscow's seduction. And the Kosovar authorities reproach that, in this chess game, the Europeans are taking off the suit of neutral arbiter in favor of their opponent.

Days before the eruption of the current wave of violence, Kurti already accused Miroslav Lajcak, the EU's chief negotiator in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, of not being "neutral" and of positioning himself in favor of Serbia. The reproaches came after the failure of the last round of dialogue, held on September 14 in Brussels, where Borrell directly accused Kurdi of the lack of progress for his insistence on the Serbian recognition of his country, independence in 2008.

With talks that add up to two decades leaving minimal results and droppers, the European position is increasingly complicated and frustrating. At this juncture, voices calling for a greater U.S. presence are growing. "We need to hold more consultations with Brussels, Washington and other actors to get back on track," the Kosovar said at the time. Former Foreign Minister Meliza Haradinaj has recently advocated abandoning the Brussels-led dialogue altogether and letting the United States take the reins of the diplomatic initiative. Such a move would be a slap in the face to European diplomacy and credibility and a failure in its strategic neighbourhood and in a region whose ultimate goal is to be part of the Community club.

The EU has sponsored the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina since 2011. It is the only official channel open. Last March, timid progress was made with a plan for the normalization of Balkan relations, but these months progress has not transcended paper. Europeans insist that good relations are a non-negotiable requirement for EU membership. While Serbia is one of the best positioned in the race to Brussels, Kosovo – which five European countries, including Spain, does not recognize – does not even have candidate status.

  • Serbia
  • United States
  • Russia
  • Moscow
  • Josep Borrell
  • NATO
  • Ukraine
  • European Union