A new round of tensions in Kosovo recently grew out of a “trade war” at the border of the breakaway province. Formally, the conflict can be traced back to Pristina's July 20 decision to ban imports from Serbia, a step supposed to mirror the position taken by Belgrade which does not recognize Kosovo's customs stamps and thus shuts out Kosovo export. Regardless of Kosovo's embargo, imports from Serbia continued to flow into the province via two customs posts located in Jarinje and Brnjak, in the Serb-populated northern part of Kosovo. Generally, the 66,000 Serbs residing in the three northern municipalities of Kosovo – Leposavić, Zvečan, and Zubin Potok – as well as in the Serb-populated part of Kosovska Mitrovica do not recognize the Pristina administration as a legitimate authority and consider themselves entitled to self-determination. The whole enclave stays out of Pristina's control and maintains permanent links to Serbia. Hashim Thaci, rather predictably for an individual with Kosovo premier's personal record, concluded that the use of force was the optimal method of changing the situation: on July 25, he sent police special forces to grab control over the Jarinje and Brnjak border-crossing points. It would be hard to believe that the Kosovo administration could seal the decision without consulting Washington and Brussels, at least due to the reason that the Serbs who manned the border-crossing points were Kosovo police employees subordinate to EULEX, the EU Rule of Law mission. Since December 2008, EULEX is supposed to bear undivided responsibility for law and order in the province.
Knowing from experience what enduring the Albanian rule feels like, the Kosovo Serbs took to fighting for justice with the means at their immediate disposal. Late on July 27, young people wearing masks forced the police to leave the Jarinje and Brnjak posts. The Jarinje customs post was set on fire and bulldozed shortly thereafter, and barricades were built to block the roads crossing the border between Kosovo and Serbia.
Some sort of stability was eventually restored with active international mediation. According to the agreement reached by the Serbian government and KFOR, the latter are to stay in control at the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings till mid-September or longer, the barricades must be removed, and bot incoming and outgoing traffic – fully reopened. A KFOR release said the term of KFOR presence at the crossing points would be extended as necessary. Pristina, however, rejected the Serbia-KFOR deal and reaffirmed that the import ban would not be lifted.
It should be taken into account that in Kosovo's context economic issues like trade or customs control, evidently essential for the population of the province, are nevertheless a tip of the iceberg, the ban on import from Serbia being politically motivated. First, what Pristina wants is to establish total control over the province and to banish the so-far remaining possibility of autonomy for its Serbian enclaves. Secondly, the Kosovo administration is trying to impede if not to completely block Serbia's integration into the EU. Thirdly, the conflict creates conditions warranting bigger NATO presence in Kosovo and, by this, tighter external control over the province.
As for Thaci's lamentations at the damage being done to Kosovo's sovereignty, they are completely laughable, Thaci being the Balkan region's number one separatist. The ghost state currently headed by the former leader of the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army who only recently switched from camouflage fatigues to Gucci suits and is known to run human and human-organs trafficking networks came into being as a result of separatists' trampling underfoot the centuries-long Serbian sovereignty over the Kosovo province.
The Kosovo administration's attempted seizure of the two border-crossing posts in the northern part of the province reflects more than just a step aimed at killing the Serb's hope for some kind of autonomy. The plan is indicative of Pristina's fear that under some combination of circumstances the recognition of the Kosovo statehood may be postponed considerably or even indefinitely. There was a probability that the deportation of Gen. R. Mladic and the serious efforts made by Belgrade to apprehend G. Hadzic would move Serbia significantly closer to the EU membership even without its consent to the independence of Kosovo. For Thachi and his crew, Serbia's integration into the EU must be a frightening perspective as it would mean that the whole range of contentious issues – from the rights of the Serb minority in Kosovo to ownership disputes over the province's enterprises, mines, etc. – would have to be examined on the European level. Once Serbia becomes a EU member, the EU would be forced to take seriously the country's and the Serbs' rights.
Besides, if Serbia manages to enter the EU without recognizing Kosovo, exacting the recognition from it given its new position would be a huge problem for Pristina. The European Commission was supposed to decide by October 12 whether Serbia deserved the EU candidate status, but the border clashes with Kosovo and the drawing of KFOR into them had likely blown Belgrade's chances. Now, reanimating the myth about aggressive Serbs should be an easy job which the global media already started doing.
No doubt, the Kosovo administration depends too heavily on its Western patrons to start an independent game aimed at influencing the EU agenda. A more realistic scenario is that the conflict was from the outset engineered by Thaci's foreign consultants.
In the meantime, KFOR is asking to be given some extra 700 servicemen, and the reinforcement seems suspiciously massive. As of the early June, 2011, KFOR counted 5,927 servicemen, a relatively small number compared to the 46,000 at the time of its deployment. The requested 700 may be only the fist phase in the commencing reversal. The withdrawal of the Western coalition from Afghanistan makes it timely to create new jobs for people whose main skills lie in the sphere of gunfire, and Kosovo may be one of the places where openings will be found…
The recent crisis marked the Kosovo administration's first bid for total control over the northern part of the province. Further attempts are likely to follow, and, once started, the process will unfold as long as there are any Serbs left in Kosovo. With such priorities set in Pristina, the only solution is the separation of North Kosovo, which must irreversibly acquire independence from Pristina. The problem making the scenario implausible is that the Kosovo crisis is a game played out between forces immensely more powerful than Serbs or Albanians. The conflict at the border between Serbia and Kosovo stemmed from the interwoven interests of countries, supranational groups, and organized crime and, therefore, the Kosovo crisis promises to be permanent, even if there are no Serbs left in the province…