On May 29, 2023, the Russian propaganda media outlets, Channel One and Life.ru, reported that NATO peacekeepers and law enforcement officers violently dispersed a peaceful protest in the town of Zvečan in Kosovo. Life.ru writes that footage showcasing the dispersal is being circulated online.
Elections in northern Kosovo
Protests by Serbs living in northern Kosovo emerged after ethnic Albanian mayors were elected in local elections on April 23, 2023. In 4 Kosovan towns of Zvečan, Leposavić, Zubin Potok, and Mitrovica, where ethnic Serbs constitute the majority, the population boycotted the elections.
The main political party of the region – “The Serb List” – called on Serbs not to participate in the elections. As a result, a 3.5% turnout was recorded in the elections, and Albanian mayors were elected in these cities. The Serbs would participate in the vote only if their demands for autonomy were met, which entailed the creation of an association of Kosovan Serb municipalities. This agreement was concluded by the Pristina government with the European Union a decade ago.
Clashes between Serbian protesters, law enforcement and NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission
The Serbs did not recognize the results of the elections held in northern Kosovo and did not allow the Albanian mayors to enter the administrative building. The situation escalated on May 29, when the Serbs tried to forcefully enter the administrative building in Zvečan. During the clash with the Serbian demonstrators, 25 soldiers of the NATO KFOR peacekeeping mission were injured. It is also reported that around 50 protesters were injured. Kosovo police and forces from NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo guarded the administrative buildings. According to France24, KFOR initially tried to separate the protesters from the police, but then they started to disperse the crowd with shields and batons. The participants of the rally threw stones, bottles and Molotov cocktails at the soldiers.
Russian propaganda media writes that law enforcement officers and representatives of NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission violently dispersed a peaceful protest in the city of Zvečan. According to international media, the protesters tried to break into the City Assembly building, and the law enforcement officers used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them right after that. The BBC also writes that protesters spray-painted the Z symbol of the Russian army on NATO vehicles.
Responses to the protests in Kosovo
NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission responded to the developments in northern Kosovo. According to them, the soldiers “responded to the unprovoked attacks of a violent and dangerous crowd” and carried out their mandate impartially.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also commented on this topic on May 30. He condemned the violence and noted that the military alliance had sent 700 more troops to help quell violent protests in Kosovo.
The US has outlined punitive measures against Kosovo for inciting ethnic tensions. According to the US, the injury of NATO peacekeepers and Serbian protesters was caused by Kosovo. As a punitive measure, the US will cancel Kosovo’s participation in joint military exercises and suspend diplomatic meetings. Washington will also stop advocating Kosovo’s accession to international organizations – the United Nations and the European Union.
About 50,000 ethnic Serbs live in north Kosovo. On March 18, Pristina and Belgrade verbally agreed to implement a Western-backed plan to improve ties and ease tensions in northern Kosovo by offering more autonomy to local Serbs. According to the Serbs, the agreement has not yet resulted in concrete action.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade lost control over the region in 1999, after NATO’s intervention in the conflict.
Kosovo is recognized by the United States and most EU member states. Apart from Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania and Greece, Kosovo’s independence is not recognized by Serbia, Russia and China, as well as Georgia.