11th Dec 2023

Riots in Pristina over EU-backed deal

  • Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians oppose the EU brokered deal with Serbia (Photo: Marco Fieber)

An EU-brokered agreement to give ethnic Serbs more autonomy in Kosovo sparked protests and rioting in its capital Pristina over the weekend.

Thousands demonstrated on Saturday (9 January) in opposition to recent agreements with Serbia and Montenegro, designed to normalise relations between the Balkan country and its former masters in Belgrade.

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The protests were, for the large part, peaceful but turned ugly when a small group launched molotov cocktails and set fire to the main government seat in Pristina.

Signed in August, the so-called Association of Serb Communities (ASM) pact has riled Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and led to the biggest political crisis since Kosovo declared its independence in 2008.

The deal gives Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority more say in local governance in a move opposition leaders in Pristina say will dismantle its hard-fought for sovereignty

A separate pact, which reliquishes some terrority to its western neighbor was also signed with Montenegro.

Led by the Vetevendosje (meaning “self-determination”) party, the opposition group has blocked parliament activity since October over the EU-mediated agreements and wants the current government to resign.

Last November, Vetevendosje's 40-year old founder Albin Kurti was arrested after setting off tear gas in parliament in protest over the EU-brokered pact.

Kosovo’s constitutional court has also ruled that parts of the August ASM deal are against basic law.

But a Vice News journalist, who spoke to some of the demonstrators on Saturday, reported that widespread grievances over lack of jobs for young people and high-level corruption are feeding the ASM dispute.

"The government is guilty [for the riots], it is their corruption that causes this. The police are not our target, it's the government," said one 15-year old demonstrator.

Another EU-mediated effort to create a special court to try crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is also set for launch early this year.

The Hague-based court is set to indict former KLA commanders, including, possibly, Kosovo's foreign minister Hashim Thaci.

Kosovo's statehood is recognised by 111 nations, but not Serbia.

Officials from Belgrade and Pristina are to meet in Brussels at the end of the month to continue the EU mediated talks.

In an interview last week with the RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Serbia's prime minister Aleksandar Vucic, a former spokesman for the late Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic, said mending ties would be the "hardest thing to achieve.”

"I do not want us to have blockades, confirmations, papers [that] we issue at the administrative line, as we call it, or the border, as Albanians are calling it," he said.

Vucic said it could take up to four years before relations return to normal.

The EU says normal relations must be achieved before either can join the bloc of 28 member states.

Kosovo clashes highlight Balkans' fragility

Supporters of firebrand politician Albin Kurti clashed with police in Pristina on Monday, in a sign of the enduring fragility of Kosovo and the region 20 years after the war.


Kosovo mess: Made in the EU

Eggs. Tear gas. Riots. The Kosovo political crisis is escalating. Is it time for the EU and US to admit they made a bad deal on Serbia relations?


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