The CSS Blog Network

Northern Kosovo: Status Quo, for Now

Serbian roadblocks in the divided town of Mitrovica

You choose your borders, we choose ours. Photo: Valerie Sticher

Last week’s outbreak of violence between ethnic Serbs and NATO forces at the border between Kosovo and Serbia may not have been large in scale, but this latest of a number of incidents points toward an escalation of long-simmering tensions in Northern Kosovo. The developments are not just  important symbolically; disagreements over the status of the North are the main obstacle to reconciliation between Belgrade and Pristina. They have implications for the wider region and, in effect, keep Serbia out of the EU and Kosovo out of the UN.

The positions are relatively clear-cut:

  • Belgrade’s motto is ‘partition, then recognition’: it has made clear that the only way it will accept Kosovo’s independence is if Northern Kosovo becomes a part of Serbia
  • Serbs in Northern Kosovo, who make up a large majority of the population, uniformly identify with Serbia and refuse to be part of an independent Kosovo
  • For Pristina, partition is unacceptable
  • The international community also wants to avoid changes to Kosovo’s borders, for fear of destabilizing the western Balkans and playing into the hands of Kosovo’s nationalists. The EU and the US have consistently insisted that Serbia accept Kosovo’s territorial integrity and work with its government on practical matters

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Serbia’s Bid for EU Candidacy

Wall with graffiti: Never, EU!

EU, never? Wait and see. Photo: Limbic/flickr

The timing could not have been any better. A few days from now, the chief prosecutor to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will release a report which was expected to paint a damning picture of Serbia’s co-operation with the ICTY, thereby destroying Serbia’s chance of getting EU candidacy status this year. Considering today’s historic arrest of war criminal Ratko Mladic and his expected extradition to The Hague, some people at the ICTY will now have to work overtime to correct the draft report, .

Serbia’s move towards EU accession began back in 2008, with presidential elections and a parliamentary vote both demonstrating the appeal of the EU perspective to Serbia’s electorate. Even after Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence, a majority of Serbians continued to resist nationalistic demagogy. Of course the nationalist ideology had not disappeared, but its political significance started to diminish.

Serbia officially applied for EU membership in December 2009, after seeking to secure the broadest possible support among member states. In October last year, the EU member states referred Serbia’s application for membership in the EU to the European Commission, while reiterating that further steps toward membership would depend on Serbia’s “full co-operation” with the ICTY. The Netherlands in particular took a tough stance, reiterating that their consent was dependent on the arrest of General Mladic and Goran Hadzic. » More