Why Serbs attack NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo?

Why Serbs attack NATO: In a disturbing turn of events, dozens of NATO peacekeepers were injured after being attacked by ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo. The violence erupted during protests against the installation of ethnically Albanian mayors, following a disputed election in April. The clash between Serbian demonstrators and peacekeepers highlights the deep historical rifts and tensions that have plagued the region in recent months. This article delves into the background of the conflict, the causes of the fresh violence, the reaction from various stakeholders, and the potential implications for the future.

Background: The Struggle for Kosovo’s Independence

Kosovo, once a part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia comprising present-day Serbia and Montenegro, declared independence in 2008. This move came after the 1998-99 war, during which Kosovar Albanians sought to break away from Serbia. NATO intervention played a crucial role in protecting the Albanian majority in Kosovo. However, Serbia still considers Kosovo a breakaway state and refuses to recognize its independence. Kosovo’s Serb population identifies with Serbia and views Belgrade as their capital, rather than Pristina. Efforts to normalize relations between the two countries have largely been unsuccessful, leading to ongoing tensions.

Challenges in Normalizing Relations

The majority of Kosovo’s Serbs reside in the northern regions and have increasingly demanded greater autonomy from the ethnic Albanian majority. The 2013 Brussels Agreement, brokered by the European Union, aimed to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo. According to the agreement, Serbia could establish autonomous municipalities in the northern region, but these municipalities would have to operate under the Kosovar legal system, with the Kosovar police serving as the sole law enforcement agency. However, over a decade later, these municipalities remain nonexistent, allowing disputes over the extent of autonomy for Kosovo’s Serbs to persist.

Even seemingly minor issues can trigger significant escalations. One example is Kosovo’s request for Serbs to switch their Serbian car license plates to those issued by Pristina. Last year, the government of Kosovo announced a two-month window for the plate change, but protests prompted a delay. Ethnic Serb mayors, local judges, and hundreds of police officers resigned in November in protest against the impending switch. These tensions set the stage for the recent violence.

what is happening in Serbia and Kosovo

In March, Serbia and Kosovo signed a new agreement in Ohrin, North Macedonia, with the goal of normalizing ties. However, controversial local elections in four municipalities of northern Kosovo followed shortly after. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called for ethnic Serbs in the region to boycott the elections, citing opposition to foreign “occupation.” The main political party representing Serbs in the region, Serbian List, also urged the Serb community to refrain from voting and advised their candidates not to participate, leaving the field open for uncontested Albanian candidates.

In response to potential violence, Kosovo’s central election commission changed its plans and set up mobile voting booths patrolled by NATO peacekeepers instead of placing them in local schools. Prime Minister Albin Kurti accused Belgrade of orchestrating a threatening campaign through intimidation, pressure, and criminal groups. Consequently, the voter turnout in the boycotted regions was remarkably low, with only around 1,567 votes cast across the four municipalities, representing a turnout of 3.5%. The newly-elected Albanian mayor in Zvecan won with just over 100 votes, leading to claims that his authority lacks legitimacy.

Monday’s Confrontation and Reactions

Ethnic Serb protesters launched Molotov cocktails at NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) troops and used batons to assault their riot shields as the peacekeepers defended the municipal office in Zvecan. Around 30 peacekeepers from KFOR, predominantly from the Italian and Hungarian contingents, sustained injuries. Some suffered fractures and burns from improvised explosive incendiary devices, while others were wounded by firearms.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, strongly condemned the attacks, emphasizing that there is no place for fascist violence in a democracy. Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic described the situation in northern Kosovo as extremely challenging. European leaders swiftly denounced the violence, with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, urging both parties to take immediate and unconditional measures to de-escalate tensions. France’s foreign ministry called for Pristina and Belgrade to return to the negotiating table with a spirit of compromise, promoting peace and prosperity for the citizens of Serbia and Kosovo.

While European leaders seek a delicate balance, China expressed support for Serbia’s efforts to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. China also called on Pristina to establish municipalities where Serbs form the majority. NATO announced an increase in its presence in Kosovo following the violence, underscoring the gravity of the situation.

Future Implications and Political Dynamics

The clashes in Kosovo occur at a precarious political juncture in Belgrade. Serbia recently faced two mass shootings that resulted in numerous casualties, predominantly children. The grief-stricken candlelit vigils transformed into large-scale protests against President Vucic’s government and its alleged “culture of violence.” While Vucic’s crisis management faced criticism during this crisis, the conflict in Kosovo may divert attention and provide a welcome opportunity for him to rally his supporters using Serbian nationalism.

Simultaneously, nationalist demonstrators took to the streets of Belgrade to protest outside the French and German embassies, redirecting their anger toward the European supporters of Kosovo’s independence. Vucic expressed concerns for the survival and security of Serbs in Kosovo, further fueling tensions. Observers note that Vucic is capitalizing on the Kosovo issue to enhance his patriotic stature and present himself as the defender of the Serbian cause.

Read More: 2022–2023 North Kosovo crisis


The recent outbreak of violence in northern Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs attacked NATO peacekeepers, highlights the ongoing tensions and historical divisions in the region. The conflict stems from disputes over Kosovo’s independence, normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and the demands for greater autonomy from Kosovo’s Serb population. The international community, including European leaders, swiftly condemned the violence and called for de-escalation. NATO has increased its presence in the region in response to the clashes. The situation presents a complex challenge for Belgrade, as it coincides with internal political upheaval. President Vucic may seize the opportunity to leverage Serbian nationalism, while Kosovo’s status remains a contentious issue. The future implications and resolution of this conflict remain uncertain, but efforts to establish lasting peace and stability in the region must persist.

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