EU warns over Kosovo police operations against Serbian-run institutions

EU warns over Kosovo police operations against Serbian-run institutions
Serbia's Office for Kosovo and Metohija showed pictures of the Post of Serbia office after the Kosovo police raid. /
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje February 4, 2024

The EU voiced its deep concern on February 4 regarding recent operations conducted by Kosovo police’s special units targeting Serbian-run institutions in several municipalities and urged the authorities in Pristina to refrain from unilateral actions and instead engage in a constructive dialogue to address the status of these municipalities.

The reaction came after Kosovo police raided premises of Serbian temporary authorities in the municipalities of Dragas, Pec, Istok and Klina, as well as the premises of the Serbian NGO Centre for Peace and Tolerance in Pristina, detaining officials for interviews. The situation escalated with the removal of a Serbian flag in Gorazdevac and the closure of the health centre in Osojan.

Serbia has for years had its own institutions within Kosovo, serving the Serb minority in the country. 

Kosovo’s Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla said on February 2 that with the closure of Serbian-run temporary institutions "the era of illegality has come to an end, and the only institution of Serbia within Kosovo will be its embassy in Pristina”. 

However, the authorities in Serbia, which refuses to recognise Kosovo as an independent state, say they will never open an embassy in Pristina.

“Municipalities, companies and public enterprises, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, as well as public universities, financed directly by the government of Serbia, operated in many cities of Kosovo, where members of the Serbian community live. These mechanisms, although not legal according to the laws of Kosovo, have not stopped operating, despite the fact that Kosovo declared independence in 2008,” security expert Drizan Shala told Telegrafi.

“An agreement on their abolition was reached in April 2013, within the framework of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue on normalisation of relations, but its full implementation faced challenges,” Shala added. 

Sudden closure

"The sudden closure of these offices will have negative effects on the daily lives and living conditions of Kosovo-Serb Communities as it will restrict their acces to basic social services given the apparent absence of alternatives at this moment," European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano said in a post on X network.

Additionally, the EU urged the authorities in Pristina to refrain from unilateral actions and instead engage in a constructive dialogue facilitated by Brussels to address the status of these municipalities within the planned establishment of Community of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo.

Jeff Hovenier, the American ambassador to Kosovo, also expressed concern over recent actions by the government of Kosovo. The decisions regarding the Serbian dinar and the closure of parallel Serbian municipalities, according to Hovenier, are needlessly escalating ethnic tensions. As a consequence, these actions are seen as constraining the United States' ability to provide support to Kosovo in the international arena, he said.

Claims of vandalism

The Serbian Office for Kosovo and Metohija labeled the Kosovo police actions as "illegal and violent".

The office reported the detention of officials for informational interviews and the closure of health centers, clinics, and pharmacies in these areas. The office accused Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti of orchestrating ethnic cleansing and forceful expulsion, urging international condemnation.

Tensions in Kosovo escalated further after Kosovo recently took a decision to declare the euro as a single currency for transations in the country, and ban the use of the Serbian dinar in cash payment transactions.

Serbia's Office for Kosovo reported that on the night of February 3 in Ugljare near Kosovo Polje, the Post of Serbia office was subjected to "vandalism, looting and destruction".

"This incident is directly linked to Kurti's decision to eliminate the use of the dinar in Kosovo, causing significant disruptions to the normal lives of Serbs," the office said.

The office accused "extremists" of taking down the video surveillance system in the Post Office and causing extensive damage to the facility. This involved overturning tables, ransacking cupboards and forcibly breaking open doors, leaving the institution in a state of disarray.

“Spiral of violence directed and carried out by the regime in Pristina against the Serbian people in the province must be an alarm for the international community to take decisive steps to protect both the Serbian people and Serbian property, the statement warns,” the office said.