[Opinion] : Make partition unacceptable to the Serbs in northern Kosovo

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


“Prishtina should aim to end the Srpska Lista political monopoly. The US and EU should provide assistance to other organizations of Serbs and others in the north to organize and campaign effectively.”

By Daniel Serwer,  @DanielSerwer ,

Washington, 05 October 2023, / – Yesterday I wrote about what Serbia should be doing to atone for its unsuccessful insurrection in Kosovo. Today is I am writing about what Prishtina should do to ensure that such a plot will never succeed. The Kosovo police should not be the only institution committed to preventing more terrorist attacks.

The secret sauce is budget and budget execution

The key for Prishtina is gaining the acceptance, if not the affection, of Kosovo Serbs. To be fair, Prishtina has already done a great deal to achieve this in communities south of the Ibar river.

According to the Prime Minister Albin Kurti himself:

Ten Serb-majority municipalities have received on average 62% more budget (as a whole) per capita, as well as 89% more in capital expenditures per capita than the other 28 municipalities, 27 of which are Albanian-majority.

This is shown by Ministry of Finance Budget Dept. data from the last 14 yrs (’08-’22). When it comes to budget utilization, the 6 relatively well-integrated Serb-majority municip. in the south of have consistently performed better than the 4 in the north .(Tweeted February 7)

Serbs, mainly from south of the Ibar, participate in Kosovo’s government and benefit visibly from doing so, even if they remain unsatisfied.

Last time I was in the four northern municipalities, admittedly a few years ago, the difference was apparent. The north was decrepit. Belgrade had mercilessly exploited it while Pristina largely ignored it. That needs to change: more budget execution and less interference from Belgrade are key. The EU and US need to do much more to convince Belgrade to withdraw its security forces and end their cooperation with local crime bosses.

Money won’t be enough

But more than cash and restraints on Belgrade are needed. Prishtina should “reach out” to the four Serb-majority municipalities in the north. But what does this mean?

First and foremost it means establishing the rule of law there. The 2013 Brussels agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina ensured it would be under the authority of Prishtina’s police and courts, suitably integrated with Serbs. Belgrade has withdrawn the Serb personnel. Those who meet objective criteria for professionalism should be reintegrated and new hires recruited. Intimidation of Serbs who work for the Pristina institutions needs to be prosecuted, with help from EULEX.

Second, it means enabling free and pluralistic political discourse in the north. Prishtina should aim to end the Srpska Lista political monopoly. The US and EU should provide assistance to other organizations of Serbs and others in the north to organize and campaign effectively. No new elections should be held before pluralism is ensured. It will do no good if the people who organized the insurrection win. In the meanwhile, Prishtina should provide the non-Serb mayors with strong financial and political support to improve living conditions in their municipalities.

Third, Prishtina should welcome dissent in the Serb communities, not only in the north. Opposition Albanian parties in Prishtina should reach out to Serbs in the north to form coalitions. That would introduce a refreshing change in Kosovo politics.

Serbs are essential to Kosovo’s identity and independence

Most Kosovo Serbs do not like Kosovo’s independence. But so long as they remain in Kosovo–I hope forever–they are a vital piece of it. Without the Kosovo Serbs south of the Ibar river, where most live and most Serb religious sites are located, Kosovo as a separate state would lose an important reason for its separate existence. The Serbs are, in addition to a distinct history of the Albanian populations, one of the important factors that distinguish Kosovo from Albania. A Kosovo patriot today will want all Serbs and other minorities protected and even cherished.

I have the sense that Kosovars increasingly appreciate that point. Belgrade does not. President Vucic shows little concern for the welfare of the Serbs in Kosovo, especially those who live south of the Ibar. He uses their falsely portrayed plight to pump up war fever in Serbia. Belgrade is committed to partition. It wants the north, de facto if not de jure. Prishtina should aim to make that something the northern Serbs reject.


Daniel Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.   

This opinion of his was first published at website.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of   

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