Serbs resign from official positions in northern Kosovo amid tensions

The resignations come as tensions rise around a law requiring Serbs in Kosovo to switch to the country's license plates.

 Kosovo's Minister of Communities and Returns Goran Rakic and Igor Simic, a member of parliament of Kosovo, stand following local Serbs' decision to leave Kosovo institutions, in Zvecan, Kosovo, November 5, 2022. (photo credit: OGNEN TEOFILOVSKI/REUTERS)
Kosovo's Minister of Communities and Returns Goran Rakic and Igor Simic, a member of parliament of Kosovo, stand following local Serbs' decision to leave Kosovo institutions, in Zvecan, Kosovo, November 5, 2022.
(photo credit: OGNEN TEOFILOVSKI/REUTERS)

Serbs serving in official positions in northern Kosovo resigned on Saturday as tensions rose between Serbia and Kosovo, with both sides accusing the other of unilaterally breaching agreements reached between the two countries.

Late last month, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced the gradual implementation of a decision that had been postponed during the summer to require Serbians visiting Kosovo to replace their Serbian passports with a temporary ID while in the country and to require Serbian license plates in the country to be replaced with Kosovar license plates.

In July, roadblocks were set up by Serbs in northern Kosovo in protest against the decision and after negotiations, the license plate replacement was delayed until October 31.

Despite efforts by American and EU officials to delay the decision further, Kurti announced that the requirement would be implemented in stages starting last week.

The defense minister of Serbia warned last week that the insistence to implement the license plate replacement could "jeopardize security" and that Serbia would need to react. 

 A man holds Serbian flags following local Serbs' decision to leave Kosovo institutions, in North Mitrovica, Kosovo, November 5, 2022. (credit: OGNEN TEOFILOVSKI/REUTERS) A man holds Serbian flags following local Serbs' decision to leave Kosovo institutions, in North Mitrovica, Kosovo, November 5, 2022. (credit: OGNEN TEOFILOVSKI/REUTERS)

After police began issuing warnings to drivers with Serbian plates, Serb representatives in the government, police, judiciary and other public positions decided on Saturday to resign from their positions.

After the decision was announced, flags reading "This is Serbia" were seen in northern Kosovo.

In response to the resignations, Kurti accused Serbia's president of lying, claiming that Serbia is "becoming a tool of the Kremlin." The prime minister called on Serbs to remain calm and maintain the peace.

Blerim Vela, chief of staff for Kosovo's president, expressed outrage at the decision, comparing it to moves by Russia in Ukraine's Donbass in 2014 and claiming that it constituted a unilateral violation of agreements reached with Serbia through EU mediation.

Kosovo's President Vjosa Osmani called the resignation "an act against democracy and the rule of law." Osmani blamed Serbia for having "orchestrated" the decision in an attempt to "destabilize" Kosovo and "incite fear amongst the Serb community" in the country.

"Today's action proves once again what we have said many times, that Serbia is a source of destabilization for Kosovo and the region due to its territorial and hegemonic goals," said Osmani, stressing that Kosovo is "committed to peace and stability."

Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced that he was cancelling trips abroad, including to the COP27 climate change conference, due to the tensions with Kosovo, according to Serbian state media RTS. The president added that Serbia was "not giving up on the responsible policy of peace and stability."

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić claimed that the resignations were "a peaceful and democratic reaction that is a response to the continuous unilateral violation of the agreement, disrespect for the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija , as well as the European Union, which is the guarantor of the Brussels Agreement."

NATO, EU urge for calm, warn of escalation

Mircea Geoana, deputy secretary-general of NATO, stressed on Saturday that NATO "remains vigilant and ready to intervene should stability be jeopardized." NATO's mission in Kosovo called on the sides to discuss their differences through constructive dialogue.

Josep Borell, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, warned that the recent development put years of peace efforts between Kosovo and Serbia at risk. Borell called on both sides to refrain from any unilateral actions which could lead to further tensions.

"The withdrawal of Kosovo Serbs from Kosovo institutions is not a solution to the current disputes. It has the potential to further escalate the tensions on the ground," said Borell, calling on the Serbs to return to their positions.

Borell additionally called on Kosovo to delay its implementation of the license plate replacements and to establish the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities.

Serbia's military increases combat readiness

On Wednesday, Serbia's military increased its combat readiness after drones were reportedly spotted over the country's airspace in recent days, according to RTS.

Vučić ordered that any "enemy drones" spotted in Serbian airspace be destroyed immediately, instructing the launch of the country's MiG-29 fighter jets in order to monitor for any drones.

Serbian Defense Minister Miloš Vučević stated that he could not say who the drones belonged to, but claimed that they came from the territory of Kosovo, according to RTS. The defense minister claimed that drones had entered Serbia multiple times in the past three days and that the MiG-29 jets were not launched because of the drones but instead to conduct "regular policing patrols."

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić claimed that the drones were spotted filming a Serbian military site in the Ground Safety Zone between Kosovo and Serbia and two barracks belonging to the Serbian military. The prime minister claimed that "many foreign entities" want to know what Serbia's plans are in relation to "ensuring the safety of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija."