World

Kosovo marks 13th Independence Day

Serbia continues to see Kosovo as its own territory, despite recognition of its independence by over 117 countries

Talha Ozturk   | 17.02.2021
Kosovo marks 13th Independence Day Acting President of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu attends a ceremony to mark 13th anniversary of declaration of independence of Kosovo at Adem Jashari military post in Pristina, Kosovo on February 17, 2021. ( Erkin Keçi - Anadolu Agency )

BELGRADE, Serbia 

Europe's youngest country Kosovo on Wednesday marked 13 years of its independence.

Kosovo got an early taste of its future in 1945 as "the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija" within socialist Yugoslavia. Later, in 1968, it became the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo.

Yugoslavia’s new Constitution in 1974 enabled the province to function at every administrative level independently of its host republic within Yugoslavia.

In the late 1980s, Slobodan Milosevic -- then Serbia’s president within Yugoslavia, before dying decades later in 2006 while on trial for war crimes -- effectively terminated the 1974 privileges, saying they were contrary to the interests of Serbs.

Milosevic's move drew criticism from the other Yugoslav republics.

In response, in 1990 the Kosovo Assembly voted to declare Kosovo an independent state.

The assembly's vote was recognized by Albania.

Later, conflicts between Serbian forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was founded in 1991, played an important role in the country’s move towards independence.

The conflict escalated into the Kosovo war, which lasted from February 1998 until June 1999. The war ended after NATO intervention in the form of an extensive bombing campaign, including targets in Kosovo.


Tense years toward independence

Since the war in Kosovo, Serbia and Kosovo saw periodic tensions.

The first major crisis after the war was in 2004. These events, called the March Uprisings, resulted in the death of 19 people -- 11 Albanians and eight Serbs -- while hundreds were injured.

After the uprisings, a 2005 report by Kai Eide, appointed Kosovo envoy by then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, recommended negotiations on the final status of Kosovo.

Kosovo’s assembly declared its independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008 despite opposition from the body’s Serbian members.

Belgrade insists the country remains part of Serbia.

Kosovo is now recognized by over 100 countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Turkey.

Serbia, Russia and China are among the countries which have yet to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Dialogue with Serbia

In 2011, the European Union initiated a dialogue process to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. However, the process was interrupted by tensions over the last few years.

The killing of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic in Mitrovica, a northern city of Kosovo, in mid-January last year, was the first incident to escalate tensions.

Serbia withdrew from a meeting as part of the dialogue process scheduled to take place in Brussels.

Another event is the detention of Director of the Serbian Government's Kosovo Office Marko Djuric on March 26, 2018 in North Mitrovica.


Serbian obstacle to Kosovo's accession to INTERPOL

The fact that Kosovo was not accepted as a member of the 87th International Police Organization (INTERPOL) at the General Assembly Meeting held in the United Arab Emirates on Nov. 20, 2018 also brought a different dimension to the crisis between the two countries.


Establishment of the Kosovo army

The adoption of a draft law on the conversion of the Kosovo Security Force (FSK) into an army on Dec. 14, 2018 resulted in a new crisis.

The EU and the United States said they want the Kosovo army's transformation to be gradual.


Customs duty crisis

Kosovo imposed 100% customs duty on products imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, until Serbia recognizes its independence.

The EU and the United States have urged Kosovo to withdraw its tax decision as soon as possible.

Following the 2019 elections, newly elected Prime Minister Albin Kurti replaced the custom fees with "economic and political reciprocity" against Serbia.

Avdullah Hoti, who replaced Kurti as prime minister in June 2020, lifted the taxes due to pressure from the international community.

A summit was held in July 2020 with the participation of Serbian and Kosovar leaders in order to restart the dialogue process after the abolition of the customs duty.

After the meeting in Brussels, Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic signed an agreement on the "normalization of economic relations between the two countries" at the White House with the participation of then US President Donald Trump.

With the agreement, Kosovo suspended its efforts to become a member of international organizations for a year, while Serbia agreed to stop lobbying activities against Kosovo's membership in international organizations and recognition of its independence.

Kosovo also agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, while Serbia announced to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Kosovo and Israel officially established diplomatic relations in early February.

Also, Kosovo recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Kosovo will be the third country to open an embassy in Jerusalem after the US and Guatemala.


Kosovo's president resigns to face war crimes charges

Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci in December announced he resigned from his duty after a war crimes indictment prepared by the Kosovo Special Prosecutor in The Hague was accepted by the court.

Prosecutors in the Hague filed an indictment in late June 2020 against Thaci for crimes against humanity and war crimes during the 1998-99 war with Serbia.

Thaci was arrested and transferred to the detention facilities of the Kosovo Tribunal in The Hague.

He described the indictment against him and his comrades as "a small price to pay for the freedom and construction of Kosovo."

Former Kosovo Parliament Speaker and former spokesperson of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) Jakup Krasniqi was also detained in a joint operation organized by the Kosovo Special Prosecutor's Office, EU Kosovo mission (EULEX) and Kosovo police.

The Kosovo Special Prosecutor's Office in The Hague announced that an indictment was also prepared against Recep Selimi, a former commander of the UCK.

The office filed an indictment on June 24 against Thaci and former Parliament Speaker Kadri Veseli on the grounds that they had committed "crimes against humanity" and "war crimes" during the 1998-99 war with Serbia.

While it was alleged that those mentioned in the indictment were responsible for the deaths of 100 people, it was reported that the suspects were also charged with war crimes such as murder, exile and torture.

Biden urges Serbia to recognize Kosovo

US President Joe Biden in early February urged Serbia to recognize Kosovo in a letter to Aleksandar Vucic, the country's president.

“We remain steadfast in our support for Serbia’s goal of European integration and encourage you to continue taking the hard steps forward to reach that aim – including instituting necessary reforms and reaching a comprehensive normalization agreement with Kosovo centered on mutual recognition,” he wrote in the letter in relation to Statehood Day of Serbia, which is on Feb. 15.

Reacting to the message, Vucic said Serbia is ready to continue dialogue with Kosovo, but it will not recognize it.


2021 snap general elections

Kosovo's left-wing opposition leader Albin Kurti declared victory early Monday in the country's sixth general elections.

Kurti’s socialist Self-Determination Movement (LVV) won a clear victory with 48% of the vote based on 98.25% of the votes counted, according to the Central Election Commission (CIK).

In the 2019 general election, the LVV was elected as the first party with 25.49% of the vote.

The 2021 snap general elections came after the Constitutional Court ruled the parliamentary vote that saw Avdulah Hoti installed as prime minister was invalid because a lawmaker who made the new government's majority possible, Etem Arifi, was convicted of fraud.

The government, which was elected by 61 deputies in parliament, fell after the decision of the Court.

The Court asked acting-President Vjosa Osmani to announce the date of early elections within 40 days.

Osmani dissolved parliament Jan. 7 and announced Feb. 14 as Election Day.

Kosovo has a population of nearly 1.8 million people. Albanians constitute the vast majority, but it also includes various minority groups such as Turks, Bosniaks, Serbs, Goranis, Roma, Ashkalis, and Egyptians.

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