Kosovo Serbs have blocked streets in the northern part of the country as Kosovo prepares to implement new requirements for Serbian travelers on Monday.
Starting August 1, Serbian citizens will be issued temporary IDs to replace their Serbian passports when visiting Kosovo. Serbia has imposed similar requirements for Kosovo citizens visiting the neighboring country.
During the same period, Kosovo institutions will review Serbian license plates and require that all cars with such licenses belonging to Kosovo citizens be replaced with local ones.
In response, ethnic Serbs have blocked streets leading to the crossing points of Jarinje and Bërnjak, forcing the authorities to shut them down temporarily. The NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) has sent troops to patrol the streets.
Over the weekend, Serbian politicians issued warnings and threats towards Kurti and his government if they decided to go ahead with the measures.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that he fears the reaction of Kosovo Serbs. During his speech to media, Vucic also held a map of Kosovo covered in the Serbian flag and added that Serbia would be victorious if Serbs were threatened.
The director of Serbia’s Kosovo Office Petar Petkovic called the reciprocity measures “unacceptable”, claiming that the decision aims “to expel the Serbian people and Serbian institutions from Kosovo.”
Petkovic also said that in response, Serbia will begin work to create a Community of Serb Municipalities, a self-governing association of municipalities where a Serb majority population resides. Kurti has reiterated that his government opposes the establishment of a mono-ethnic association of Serb municipalities, arguing this would lead to a dysfunctional Kosovo state.
On his part, Kurti painted Petkovic’s statements as a provocation and said there is no reason for the reciprocity measures to cause alarm or destabilize the region.
“There is no room for tension. There is no possibility of destabilization because our decisions are legitimate and legal. Those who speak of violence, those who speak of blockades, those who speak of destabilization, those who speak of tensions, speak for themselves. They don’t talk about us. They speak for themselves,” Kurti said.
This is the second time in less than a year that tensions rise in Kosovo’s north. In September 2021, Kurti’s government decided to require cars with Serbian license plates to acquire Kosovo-issued licenses. Serbia retaliated by sending troops at its border with Kosovo and galvanizing protests among Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs who live primarily in the north.
While the two parties have signed a temporary agreement—with vehicles moving between the two countries being required to place stickers on their license plates to hide country names and flags—they have failed to reach a permanent solution.