The disputes that have recently emerged in the Balkans between Serbia and Kosovo bring back fears of a repeat of the tragedies that occurred in that region during the 1990s as a result of the civil war and ethnic cleansing, which resulted in more than 140,000 deaths and thousands of injured and displaced persons, during which Muslims were the most exposed to the bloodiest massacres in Europe since World War II. The current circumstances differ from the conditions in which the 1990s war arose as much as they are simultaneously close to it, which raises the question about the emergence of a new wave of ethnic cleansing and terrorism in Eastern Europe, to which the nutrients of terrorism that exist nearby in the northeastern Mediterranean contribute.
The demographics of Kosovo consist of a Muslim Albanian majority, and it is located in the southern part of the former Yugoslavia, bordered to the north and east by Serbia, to the west by Albania and Montenegro, and to the south by Macedonia. The region as a whole consists of a Muslim majority shared with the Serbs, and they are among the Slavic peoples who inhabited the Balkans. Kosovo is part of the Albanian territory that separated from it under the 1971 Treaty in London.
In the period between 1991 and 2001, Europe witnessed a fierce ethnic war that led to the division of Yugoslavia after heinous humanitarian disasters, most of which ended with a peace agreement and the full recognition of each of the countries independent of Yugoslavia after heavy loss of life and complete destruction of the economy and infrastructure.
With the peace agreement, two major problems remained unresolved, which is the problem of who inherits the Yugoslav army and the persistence of ethnic influences. The Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) fell under the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic, and gradually the army began to lose its Slovak, Croat and Albanian elements to become a Serbian army, and the ethnic conflicts during that period entered a dangerous stage that led to the death of about 22,000 people in Croatia, including 7,000 Serbs. Bosnia and Herzegovina bore the brunt of these humanitarian disasters, with more than 100,000 dead, and according to statistics, 65% of the dead were Bosniaks, 25% were Serbs, and 8% were Croats. In Kosovo, about 31,000 people were killed.
These losses constitute the most prominent picture of the fears surrounding the current flaring crisis, as the political, ethnic and religious legacy still dominates the land, and the Serb demonstrators carried banners and slogans during the protests, which began to climax in the last week of May 2023.
Kosovo made a set of legislative amendments in July granting the Serb minority a set of advantages, including allowing them to obtain identity cards and official driving licenses. These legislations sparked a wave of anger in the Serb-majority Mitrovica region, which was supported by Serbia amid a tense atmosphere since last December, which came against the backdrop of protests launched by Serbs in northern Kosovo protesting the arrest of a former security man of Serbian origin.
The demonstrators escalated their rhetoric against Kosovo, considering themselves to be the origin of the country, and a number of Serb officials in the region submitted their resignation from their posts, which led Kosovo to postpone the legal procedures that it had approved in the past in light of the ongoing confrontations with the Serb demonstrators.
At the same time, Serbia began to take measures that Kosovo described as provocative, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced an increase in the level of readiness in the army, and he recently proposed sending 1,000 policemen to protect Serbs in the Serb-majority Mitrovica region in Kosovo, claiming that Kosovo basically does not exist according to international law.
Fears of terrorism
Dr. Mohamed Abdel Razek, an expert in Asian affairs and Islamist groups, said that the outbreak of a new focus of ethnic conflict in eastern Europe close to the northeastern Mediterranean may provoke the armed groups present in those areas, whether in Syria or their supporters in Europe, to obtain new ground where they can base themselves, considering it as an alternative starting point for the points that they lost in recent years in many regions.
Abdel Razek indicated in exclusive statements to the Reference that Muslims make up a large percentage in both Serbia and Kosovo, and they still remember the ethnic cleansing operations that were carried out against them during the 1990s, while the circumstances that still surround them may allow them to receive these types of elements from abroad and bring them into the heart of the current conflict.