Capital Prishtina
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 377 (Monaco); 381 (Serbia)
Mobile Codes 44
Currency Euro
Land Area 10,908 sq km
Population 1.8 million
Language Albanian, Serbian, Turkish
Major Religions Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism

Case Study Klinë/Klina: An Unexpected Increase in Crimes against Minorities in Kosovo’s South

By Anita McKinna

The latest round of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo in Brussels regarding the north of Kosovo has, perhaps understandably, been anticipated as the most important since the dialogue began. Resolving the stalemate regarding the future governance of the three Serb-majority municipalities north of the Ibar River is seen by many as the key to progress for Kosovo, both internally and in a wider regional and international context.

There is no denying the importance of resolving the situation in this part of Kosovo, with almost daily media coverage of violence, protests and unrest. Yet six months after the official end of supervised independence, and five years after Kosovo declared independence the topic of resolving problems in the north still overshadows all other issues affecting Kosovo’s minorities- most of whom actually live south of the Ibar River.

Since the declaration of independence in 2008, Serb communities living in the south have been praised for their increased participation in Kosovo’s political structures. By contrast with the north, Serbs in the south of Kosovo largely embraced the Ahtisaari Plan, with successful implementation of the decentralization component and a considerable increase in turnout in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Deputy International Civilian Representative Christopher Rowan declared after the elections that “the substantial turnout by Kosovo’s Serbs shows that they are increasingly ready to participate and to make Kosovo’s democratic institutions work for them.”

A Surprising Reversal South of the Ibar

Despite these developments, in recent months the situation has deteriorated for the Serb returnee community of Klina municipality in the west of Kosovo. This municipality has gone from being acclaimed for its successful returns programme, to being the scene of a growing number of crimes against Serb residents.

Kosovo’s media reported in May 2012 that Serbs in Klina received threatening pamphlets from the so-called Albanian National Army declaring that ‘history will judge those Albanians who are making it possible for you to return here’ and pressuring residents to leave. The following week Koha Ditore reported that two house belonging to returnees had been set on fire in the village of Drenoc/Drenovac.

Incidents of intimidation against Serb returnees continued throughout 2012, including reports of houses being robbed in Klinavac/Klinvac in June, and the destruction of houses in Grabac in August. On this occasion residents reportedly called the police, but they never came. Houses were again robbed in Klinavac in September; local representative Jovo Jović stated at the time that he believed that the houses were being robbed following someone’s instructions, and that it was the tenth robbery of returnees’ houses in a row.

More houses were targeted a few days later in Bica, and resident Radoslav Doncić concluded from the increased instances of such attacks that there was a lack of will from authorities to protect Serb returnees, and explained that residents were faced with robberies on a daily basis. More recently the property of Jovo Vidić was targeted when a haystack was set on fire in January this year. Vidić explained that looting is also happening quite often.

Negative Incident Trend Noted in New UN and EU Reports

Concerns about these incidents were highlighted in the most recent report from the UN Secretary-General. The report stated that “the trend in the Pejë/Pec region in the west of Kosovo has been of particular concern, with an increasing number of incidents affecting the Kosovo Serb community in Klinë/Klina and Istog/Istok municipalities. During 2012, 73 incidents, or 20% of all incidents reported, occurred in those two municipalities.”

This trend is in contrast to the overall situation in the rest of Kosovo, which according to the UN has seen an overall decrease in the number of recorded incidents affecting minority communities, dropping from 406 in 2011 to 361 in 2012.

The European Commission has expressed similar concerns regarding these attacks, stating that “there has been an increase in ethnically-motivated crime committed against Serb returnees, and security for Serbs south of the river Ibar has deteriorated.”

While it is dangerous to assume that all attacks against Serbs were ethnically motivated, there is no denying that such attacks, whoever the perpetrator and whatever the motive, have a negative effect on perceptions of safety and security. In a concerning development, the Serb community in Klina and Istog has reacted to this increase in attacks by boycotting local community safety council meetings, which the European Commission describes as being ‘the main local bodies mandated to address the security of minorities.’ Thus the boycott marks a significant withdrawal of these communities from Kosovo’s institutions and sends a strong message of dissatisfaction.

Klina: Now Cause for Concern, but once a Minority Re-integration Success Story

The situation in Klina is particularly worrying because, unlike the rest of Kosovo, it has enjoyed a relatively successful returns programme that has been praised on numerous occasions by the international administration and held up as a shining example for the rest of the country. While the majority population of Klina is Albanian, including the mayor, the municipality has facilitated the return of approximately 1500 Serbs.

In July 2005, UNMIK SRSG Soren Jessen-Petersen chose Klina as the place to launch the Strategic Framework on Communities and Returns because it was the first place in Kosovo to facilitate urban returns. In January 2006 the UN again praised Klina municipality for its trailblazing attitude to returns, when it developed the first concept paper on returns that was prepared entirely by local actors.

The UN reported that ‘local authorities have led strongly and committed to supporting returnees without international assistance’. Statements from Klina Serbs themselves support this positive picture for returnees in the municipality at this time. One Serb interviewed by the Humanitarian Law Center explained that “we go into town, we can do our shopping in any store. We’ve never had a single problem. I go to the town hall and get proper service there.” In 2009 the European Centre for Minority Issues reported that there were no recorded incidents of hostility or violence toward returnees in Klina.

The successes of the returns programme in Klina are even more astonishing given the particularly heavy impact of the war in this region of Kosovo. Early post-war predictions for the success of returns programmes in Klina were pessimistic. In 2003 a USAID report explained that ‘the large number of unsolved instances of missing people in Klina could impede progress in sustainable returns.’

Furthermore, the International Crisis Group’s 2002 study of returns in Kosovo stated regarding Klina that ‘this area is an exceptionally challenging place for return. The war began in the neighbouring Drenica valley in 1998, and quickly spread to Klina. As such, it was one of the hardest hit regions in 1998/1999. Over 300 individuals were killed, while 135 remain missing. More than 4,250 houses were destroyed and 7 public enterprises destroyed in the municipality’. Such statistics highlight further just how much has been achieved in Klina with respect to returns, contrary to predictions- and just how important it is to the international community to protect such success.

Conclusion: the Need to Consolidate Progress

Recent events in Klina underscore that, despite the apparent willing inclusion of Serbs south of the Ibar in Kosovo institutions over the past few years, inter-ethnic relations are still not guaranteed. Serbs in the north can point out this reality when making the case for their own resistance to being assimilated under Prishtina’s authority.

This recent increase in attacks against returnees in Klina, and the corresponding decline in perceptions of safety and freedom of movement within the Kosovo Serb community, will likely put new pressure on the government of Kosovo, and the international authorities present there, to investigate such crimes.

There will also be a renewed impetus, both on the municipal and central government levels, to pledge to protect the rights of the minority community. If crimes against minorities are not consistently and strongly condemned by Kosovo’s political elite, we are likely to see a further decline in the Serb minority’s participation in Kosovo’s institutions. This would damage the image of the new country abroad and further hinder the likelihood of a comprehensive and lasting settlement between Belgrade and Prishtina.

Whatever the outcome of the most recent round of talks on the north, the resurgence of violence in Klina indicate that Kosovo’s problems cannot be solved by focusing on the north alone. In this sense, it would be beneficial for all to build on and consolidate the previously substantial and positive progress achieved by the municipality of Klina and its residents.

However, the mysterious undoing of this progress over the past year here indicates again that consolidating the peace requires constant attention and focus. The Kosovo government, and international diplomats, have tended to strategize dispute resolution in the country as a series of distinct campaigns; yet by treating minorities in the south merely as a box that has been ticked off, preliminary to the thornier issue of the north, the Kosovo government and the wider international community risk undoing the progress that has been made in promoting inter-ethnic relations and reconciliation south of the Ibar. Moreover, there is a risk that an agreement on the north could actually jeopardize the ties that have been built between southern Serbs and Pristina. In particular, the International Crisis Group recently warned (.PDF) of such a decline in relations if Belgrade’s proposal for the creation of an autonomous entity for Serb-majority municipalities (including those in the south) were to be implemented.

Any failure to consolidate progress, therefore, would undermine the principles upon which Kosovo independence was supposed to have been founded (i.e., the Ahtisaari Plan), and thus would be damaging both for Kosovo’s desired multi-ethnic character and perceived legitimacy as a state.

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