Church urgently calls on the EU, Quint, KFOR to prevent escalation of violence in Northern Kosovo
In the face of today's escalation of the security situation in Northern Kosovo, where heavily armed Kosovo police forcefully occupied the Municipal building in predominantly Serb inhabited city of Zvečan, with the aim of installing under any price a mayor elected in the recent extraordinary municipal elections which the entire Serb population of the four majority-Serb municipalities in Northern Kosovo boycotted, and today's clashes with a gathered group of citizens who were targeted with tear gas and shock grenades while protesting, the Diocese of Raška and Prizren of the Serbian Orthodox Church expresses its utmost concern and calls for an urgent international response from the EU Mission in Kosovo, the Quint Ambassadors and KFOR.
Due to the determined protest of Serbian citizens against the forceful takeover of the Zvečan and Zubin Potok municipal buildings in these Serb majority municipalities, public order and peace have been severely disturbed. Kosovo Police used tear gas and stun grenades against citizens, with one being thrown into the yard of the Zvečan church while people were trying to seek shelter from the police, and one police vehicle was set on fire. A dozen citizens with various injuries caused by the police have been admitted to the hospital in North Mitrovica. Kosovo police are actively aiding the takeover of the municipality in Leposavić, where the majority of Serbs live, which could potentially lead to roadblocks by local Serbs and complications at administrative boundary crossings in protest to the ongoing police violence.
Given that according to the Albanian-language press reports in the "Albanian Post" and "Koha", the Quint Ambassadors and the EU did not consent to or support the police action and use of force to introduce a "mayors" who lacks public support, our Church appeals to the head of the EU mission, Quint Ambassadors and the KFOR commander to urgently demand from the Kosovo authorities to halt the police action and withdraw the unilaterally imposed and illegitimate "political representatives" until a peaceful and political solution is found. Failure to do so may lead to a significant worsening of interethnic relations and endanger the lives of citizens. Occupation methods and ethnic violence have never been a solution to existing problems.
Our Diocese, which has for days been protesting in its public statements the illegal behavior of Kosovo's authorities towards the Serbian Orthodox Church and the violation of basic religious and property rights and freedoms, is appalled at the latest irresponsible and aggressive behavior of the Kosovo authorities which are pushing the entire region into chaos and violence. Just as issues particularly related to ethnic communities cannot be solved anywhere in the world by imposing occupation methods and police violence, so this manner of conduct, which has brought relations between Kosovo Serbs and Albanians to their lowest point in the last 24 years, cannot bring any good to either Serbs or Albanians and threatens a complete breakdown of the ongoing dialogue.
The open collective criminalization of the Serbian people by Kosovo politicians is unacceptable and is a result of the fanatical ideology of the ruling Kosovo Albanian structures against everything Serbian, which has alienated many peaceful citizens of Serbian origin from Kosovo institutions and made dialogue with any influential and respected Serbian in this area impossible. The damage that has been done and the consequences of the police and institutional violence that may follow today and in the coming days due to such irresponsible political decisions harm not only the European Union but also overall international efforts to find peaceful solutions to all problems through political dialogue.
Diocese of Raška and Prizren
Serbian Orthodox Church,
Gračanica, 26 May 2023.
THE CONTEXT OF THE CURRENT CRISIS IN NORTH KOSOVO:
In November 2022, political representatives of Kosovo Serbs and all Serb members of the Kosovo police in the four northern, Serb-majority municipalities collectively withdrew from Kosovo institutions, precipitating a serious crisis. Their boycott was motivated by various factors, primarily the categorical refusal of Kosovo Albanian authorities to implement the decision on the Community of Serb Majority Municipalities based on the terms agreed upon in the Brussels dialogues of 2013 and 2015. Another major reason was the excessive use of police force and de facto imposition of an occupation of North Kosovo by Kosovo Albanian special police.
Despite international insistence on establishing a mutually accepted Community/Association of Municipalities, the Kosovo leadership decided to organize snap municipal elections. In a process that was boycotted by all Serbs in Northern Kosovo, regardless of their political affiliation, four Kosovo Albanian "mayors" were elected. However, these individuals lack fundamental legitimacy. Recently, Kosovo Albanian authorities have attempted to enforce their rule using robust police force, with the intention of imposing these mayors and their authority over a population staunchly opposed to Pristina. Kosovo Government has managed in several months to create the most serious post-war crisis in Serb-Albanian relations in Kosovo which seriously threatens continuation of the Belgrade Pristina dialogue and has a profoundly negative impact on inter-ethnic relations and general security in the region. Pristina has managed to unite Kosovo Serbs who share different political views by using ethnically motivated violence and collectively criminalizing the entire Serbian population. his situation has pushed the Brussels dialogue into a serious crisis, potentially leading to a complete collapse unless the EU and international representatives respond decisively.