Global Independent Analytics
Aleksandar Mitić
Aleksandar Mitić

Location: Serbia

Specialization: Balkans, NATO and EU policies, Strategic communications

Priština violence is a “déjà-vu” Albanian tactic

On January 6, four MPs of the Kosovo Albanian extreme nationalist opposition party were brought to trial for lobbing tear gas cannister in the Priština parliament.

It is part of a well-known tactic aimed against the Serbs.

At five minutes walk from the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, also called the “jihadi capital of Europe” and a center of world attention following police raids connected to the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, lies the neighborhood of Schaerbeek, the unofficial capital of the Albanian immigration in Belgium. Since the mid-1980s, years before the actual violent break-up of former Yugoslavia, this was the European headquarters of the Albanian immigrant groups fighting for the secession of Kosovo from Serbia, fundraising, recruiting and masterminding plans of destabilization of Kosovo. Although Kosovo Albanians in the 1980s were a fully-integrated part of the Serbian and Yugoslav state – with their own schools, universities and one of the largest autonomies seen in Europe --  every time a demonstration was organized in Brussels and other European capitals, its main message was “things cannot continue this way – Albanians must get more”.

The tactic was transferred to Kosovo itself, where violent demonstrations transformed in the mid-1990s into the formation of the “Kosovo Liberation Army” (KLA), an armed extremist group carrying out attacks against Serb civilians and police in Kosovo. The goal of the KLA – to provoke a reaction of the Serb police and subsequent NATO bombing campaign against Serbia – was achieved and NATO de facto occupied Kosovo.

The maximalist goal of the Kosovo Albanians was not autonomy, but full independence. In order to set the international agenda, former KLA leaders who turned “prominent politicians” organized in 2004 three days of violence against the remaining Kosovo Serbs – dozens were killed, hundreds of Serbian medieval churches burned, houses burnt, and more than 4,000 Serbs were expelled from their homes. But the goal of the violence was achieved. The message was “if you don’t give us what we want, we will explode in violence” and Western countries immediately launched talks on the status of Kosovo.

Every time the process towards full independence was stalled for some reason – like trying to find a compromise solution which would at least have some connection with international law – violence occurred and the compromise would be put aside. Simply put, despite thousands of NATO soldiers on the ground, the West was bowing to Kosovo Albanians’ threats of violence. Bit by bit, Kosovo Albanians – encouraged by Washington to be fair – became self-confident enough to proclaim unilateral secession from Serbia. Despite a complete breach of international law, and warnings that it could lead to a domino effect in other secessionist regions of the world, the US and leading EU countries recognized the Kosovo Albanian entity. The Kosovo Albanians got everything they wanted.

But wait. It was not enough for them to get “their own state” thanks to NATO muscle and Western diplomacy. The 100,000 remaining Serbs, roughly a third of the pre-war population and most of them living in enclaves surrounded by hostile Albanian communities, had to be completely integrated in Kosovo Albanian structures and any links with Serbia completely severed. Again, demonstrations and violence were sent as a warning to the West to give the Albanians what they wanted. The tactic became well-known. A group of young demonstrators associated with the ultranationalist political party “Vetevendosje” (Self-Determination) would stage violent acts followed by maximalist demands, but with the ultimate goal of achieving a compromise that would advance their cause. The West would react by “worrying” about the violence and, every time, which was followed by the very concessions that Kosovo Albanians were demanding. The violent demonstration tactic turned out to be a superb negotiation tool.

Belgrade, under pressure by the West, but also bound by its decision to pursue EU integrations, had to completely close all of its structures in Kosovo and strike a deal called “Brussels Agreement” which many Serbs saw as “treason.” As part of Belgrade’s face-saving effort, the so-called “Community of Serbian Municipalities” was accepted during a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo-Albanian leadership in Brussels. The Community of Serbian Municipalities was supposed to link geographically dispersed Serbian municipalities in a structure which would at least help them maintain minimum cultural rights in Kosovo, the cradle of Serbian culture, religion, and statehood. They would, however, still be part of the Kosovo legal system and ruled by Kosovo Albanians. 

Again, this was not enough. Violence erupted again on several occasions since September. The EU responded by giving Kosovo a “Stabilization and Association Agreement,” the first step towards EU integration, contravening internal rules since Kosovo is not recognized by five EU members. Not enough, again. Violence continued. The Kosovo Constitutional Court suspended clauses related to the “Community of Serbian Municipalities.” More violence. The Vetevendosje leaders, such as Albin Kurti, keep on dropping tear gas, throwing paint and pepper spraying in the parliament. They get arrested, then released, a few glasses get broken in and around parliament. Hundreds of demonstrators clash with police in controlled violence.

Four MPs of the “Vetevendosje” movement will be brought to court on January 6 on the accusation of throwing tear gas in Parliament and carrying dangerous substances. A new round of violent protests is expected during the process.

Is it possible that the trick will work again? Is it good enough to “scare off” Western politicians who do not want another crisis in the middle of the refugee crisis and instability in Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina? Brussels also has its credibility at stake in the Brussels  Agreement since its brokering is one of the rare “success trophies” of the EU common diplomacy, which is being slammed on all fronts due to its incapacity to formulate joint policies on most other sensitive issues. Furthermore, the recent vote in Paris on Kosovo’s UNESCO membership showed that Serbian diplomacy still has some powerful allies on the Kosovo issue  - Russia, China, India, Brazil, but also Spain – which was a worrisome diplomatic defeat for Washington and Brussels.

In reaction, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, clearly stated that “recent incidents and obstruction in the working of the Parliament are unacceptable.” In New York City, at the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon presented a report on Kosovo in which he condemned “the use of violence and intimidation” and “unacceptable physical attacks by opposition activists”. And on a recent trip to Kosovo, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said parliament "is not a place for tear gas.”

Faced with the negative context, the Kosovo's Constitutional Court reversed on December 26 its suspension of the agreement on the creation of the “Community of Serbian Associations”. Maybe the Kosovo Albanian scarecrow tactics might not work this time.

Or maybe they already have? The Kosovo Constitutional Court changed its decision a day after the U.S. Ambassador to Belgrade Michael Kirby --  in what the Belgrade press sarcastically called “Christmas present” to Serbian leadership --- said the implementation of the Brussels agreement will be complete only after Serbia accepts Kosovo as member of the United Nations, which is the next target of both the Kosovo Albanian leadership and its Western sponsors. 

A statement, which is sure to make the MPs of “Vetevendosje”, is waiting for their trial with a smile.

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