On Tuesday 28th May anti-corruption raids were carried out by authorities in the north of the city of Mitrovica, Kosovo. Al Jazeera states that more than 20 people were arrested, including both citizens and police. However, the raids have provoked deep-seated ethnic tensions between Serbians and Albanians, especially in Kosovo’s northern territories that hold a substantial number of Kosovo-Serbs. The raid themselves sparked anger among the Serb population because of the destructive actions of the police, with five officers and six civilians being injured during the operation and cars and property being destroyed, according to the Guardian.
The raids had an impact past the city limits, Serbian soldiers along the border with Kosovo were put on high alert whilst international organisations emphasized caution. Aleksandar Vučić, the Serbian president, said in response to the raids that “Serbia will try to preserve peace and stability, but will be fully ready to protect our people at the shortest notice.” However, Frederica Mogherini, the High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in the European Union, called on both countries to resume talks to avoid any possibility of the “dark forces” of the Yugoslav Wars resurfacing. Mitrovica is a city that is divided not only by the Iber river but by ethnicity, with 72,000 living in the majority Albanian south and 12,000 in the predominantly Serbian north. The city is a microcosm of tensions between Serbia and Kosovo but also of durable cold war relations; therefore, these most recent raids are a glimpse into the precarious nature of life for people in northern Mitrovica.
The Kosovo authorities said the raids were necessary to counter increased smuggling and corruption in the northern region. However, Alexander Clapp, writing in Foreign Policy, argues that the raids were more of an affectionate display toward the EU and NATO countries; Pristina, the Kosovan capital, had long known about the smuggling but done little to stop it. Therefore, these raids were a stunt, to demonstrate that Kosovo is “doing something” about the infestation of smuggling. For the residents of northern Mitrovica, the brash response by the police has been perceived as fear-mongering and a blatant display of Kosovan dominance. According to Al Jazeera, residents such as Stefan* recognize that “crime is crime” but the heavy-handed response by the police does not benefit anyone. Perhaps a stronger working relationship between authorities and locals could have offered a more peaceful solution; although this is easier said than done, the residents of north Mitrovica are creating a platform for conversation – hundreds of locals held a peaceful rally the next day to voice their anger toward the authorities.
Kosovo only gained independence in 2008, nine years after the end of the Kosovo War that ravaged the country. However, its independence has not been accepted by everyone, namely Serbia and Russia; neither country will recognize Kosovan sovereignty because of the large proportion of Serbs that live in the country. There were talks last year of territory swaps between Serbia and Kosovo, to alleviate possible ethnic tensions, but this never fully coalesced. Kosovo is under close surveillance by both Serbia and the European Union because any wrongdoing could spell trouble or even conflict.
In a Guardian article, Shaun Walker reports that most Kosovo-Serbs are still “uneasy at the idea of independence;” however, many now see unemployment and economic woes as a “bigger threat than ethnic tensions.” Locals in Mitrovica share a similar view, they just want to get on with their lives without the fear of violent government intervention. By discussing ethnicity in these situations, we are simply reproducing it and perhaps doing more harm than good. Nonetheless, if people encounter it in their day-to-day lives then it is worthy of discussion, but it would be more fruitful to create bridges between ethnicities rather than seek to divide them more.