Serbs in Kosovo celebrate their great nationalist day under close surveillance by the Kosovar police | International

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"I don't know why we Kosovars and Serbs are fighting, if in the end almost all of us want to leave here," lamented a 20-year-old Kosovar Albanian policeman who sometimes works as a driver on Tuesday night. He lives in South Mitrovica. Only a bridge separates his house from North Mitrovica. But the agent says that when he works as a taxi driver he prefers not to cross it, that things are very tense.

Some 40,000 people of Serb origin live on the northern shore, a minority in Kosovo, a country of 1.8 million inhabitants where 90% are Kosovar Albanians. The specter of ethnic war has always hovered over the region since the 1998 war. Not in vain are more than 4,000 KFOR soldiers deployed, the NATO mission in the area. But, since May 26, this territory has suffered one of its worst crises: clashes between Kosovar Serbs and Kosovar Albanian policemen, arrests by Pristina, clashes between Serbs and NATO forces with dozens injured, the arrest of three Kosovar Albanian policemen by Serb forces and their subsequent release after a lot of international pressure… The tension continues on both sides of the bridge.

The trigger was that the government of the Kosovar prime minister, Albin Kurti, summoned four Kosovar Albanian mayors to take office in four municipalities in northern Kosovo, despite the fact that the councilors had been elected in April through elections boycotted by the Serbs in which only 3.5% of the population participated. The European Union is trying to put pressure on Kosovo to remove the mayors and call for new elections. And it calls on Serbia not to promote a new boycott.

This Wednesday, June 28, is a date that reflects the distance between the opposing parties. Kosovars of Albanian origin, who make up 90% of the population, gather as a family around a lamb to celebrate the Day of Sacrifice, one of the biggest festivities of the Muslim religion. And the Serbs commemorate something very different. Every year, thousands of them, from various countries, gather in the Kosovar plain of Gazimestan to remember that it was there that Prince Lazar fell to the Ottoman Empire on June 28, 1389. Around that date and on that plain, an hour's drive from Mitrovica, the idea of ​​Serbian nationalism has been built. For them, that is the “heart of Serbia”. For the Pristina government, however, it is just another part of Kosovo, a country that unilaterally declared its independence in 2008.

It was on that same plain where, on June 28, 1989, the then Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, delivered the famous Gazimestán speech, where he left the door open to the excesses of the Balkan wars: “Now, six centuries later, we are here in another battle and another fight. It is not about the armed struggle, although this is not yet excluded. Whatever the battle, it takes steadfastness, self-sacrifice, and courage to win it."

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No festivities on the Gazimestan plain

This time, the Serbian Orthodox Church decided, for the first time since 1999, that the ceremony would not take place on the Gazimestán plain. In this way, he tried to avoid any escalation of violence. And he restricted the homage to the Gracanica monastery. Instead of several thousand, as every year, this time around 500 attended, according to a local journalist who requested anonymity. All of them had to submit to the security measures of the Kosovar Albanian police. Among the attendees was Danilo, the son of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Both Danilo Vucic and other Serbs wore T-shirts that read: "Giving up is not an option."

Danilo Vucic was detained by the Kosovar police in the Trude municipality, on the outskirts of Pristina. The agents forced him to remove his shirt. His father, the president, later commented on what happened to the media from Belgrade: “They stopped him three times, searched his car, mistreated people… Let them continue like this. I congratulate Kurti for his bravery. He is not so brave when I am around (…) It's okay, keep it up. Danilo is not a little boy, but he is a little braver than Kurti ”.

A local reporter indicates that in the Gazimestan plain there were only about ten people and at least 50 Kosovar Albanian policemen in the early afternoon. "The agents have been very strict with security measures, they searched each backpack," he says.

Patriarch Porfirio, leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was very clear in his sermon: "Here, in Kosovo and Metohija [nombre que utilizan los serbios para referirse a la antigua provincia yugoslava], we are in our house. (...) There will never be peace if we do not have peace in our souls. Our Church will never forget anyone here. If the Church forgot a single Serb in Kosovo and Metohija, then there would be no reason for us to exist. Kosovo and Metohija are a holy land, where there is room for everyone, no matter what God they pray to."

Kurti visits North Mitrovica

Hours later, Prime Minister Kurti visited North Mitrovica without making any statement. For Jovana Radosavljevic, head of the NGO New Social Initiative, which is dedicated to promoting integration between ethnic groups, this gesture by the Kosovar leader on June 28 is a "provocation".

The activist has been leading her organization for 10 years. And she claims that during the first eight she saw some progress in society. “Serb and Kosovar institutions cooperated. But since Kurti came to the Government, in 2021, the situation has deteriorated a lot. He does not trust the Kosovar Serbs and the Serbs do not trust him. Kurti is pushing them to the edge of the precipice."

Radosavljevic works in his organization with Kosovar Albanians who live in South Mitrovica and used to cross the bridge to work at the headquarters. “Since the riots on May 26, I have asked my Albanian people to work from home. The safety of them and their families is not guaranteed here today." The activist does not hide her pessimism: “The situation can explode at any moment. The prime minister does not want to withdraw either the Kosovar special police or the mayors he imposed. The mayoralties were the place where the institutions of both sides coexisted. But now, all Serbian citizens are out. Without access to municipal services and without work”.

This woman describes international mediators, especially those from the European Union, as “incompetent”. “None of the parties takes the EU seriously”, states Radosavljevic before concluding: “Both parties play not to give in and to wait for the other's mistake. I am afraid that this is going to escalate until there is an armed confrontation. And then it will be when the international community will force them to negotiate”.

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