How is the Serbian military compared to the Kosovars

Domestic conflicts

Julia Nietsch

To person

Julia Nietsch, born in 1977, worked in the Balkans for over three years. She studied English, French, philosophy in Düsseldorf and international relations and development policy in Paris. She is currently working in a large company in Paris and is doing her doctorate on civil society organizations in Kosovo at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).

More than 20 years after the war in Kosovo (1998-1999), Serbia still does not recognize the Republic of Kosovo. The Albanian majority and the Serb minority continue to be hostile to each other. A deep political and socio-economic rift is also going through the Albanian majority society.

A fence separates the camp of the German Kosovo Force (KFOR) from the houses of the residents of Prizren in Kosovo in August 2018. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa, Sina Schuldt)

The Kosovo war (1998-99) was the result of decades of conflict over the status of Kosovo within the Yugoslav Federation. The conflict intensified in 1989 when the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević annulled all autonomy rights he had acquired since 1963 and downgraded Kosovo to an "autonomous region" again. As a result, all Kosovar political institutions were dissolved and federal subsidies stopped. Teaching and teaching in Albanian was banned in schools and universities. In the 1990s, Kosovar Albanians lost their jobs in administration and public companies and were excluded from political, social, economic and cultural life.

Against the background of the economic crisis, which has hit Kosovo as the most economically backward region of Yugoslavia particularly hard since the 1980s, the disputes intensified. During the war, the Kosovar and, above all, the Kosovar Albanian civilian population fell victim to systematic attacks, expulsions and mass murders. The Kosovar Albanian Liberation Army UÇK was also guilty of serious human rights crimes. At least 13,535 people died or disappeared between 1998 and 2000 in connection with the war. [1]

The way to peace

The Kosovo war between the Army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia [2], Serbian paramilitary forces and the Kosovar Albanian Liberation Army UÇK was ended by a NATO operation after the failure of the negotiations in Rambouillet (France) (Rühl 2001). On June 10, 1999, UN Resolution 1244 made Kosovo subject to the administrative sovereignty of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

But the international security forces and experts did not succeed in pacifying the country in the long term. In March 2004 there were again massive riots in which radical Kosovar Albanian groups attacked members of the Serbian minority and the Roma ethnic group. At least 19 people were killed. Serbian and international facilities were also attacked and destroyed.

As a consequence, the UN decided to accelerate the independence process. After the failure of the negotiations with Serbia, Kosovo unilaterally declared itself independent in February 2008. This was initially a "conditional independence" under the supervision of the international community (Calic 2008). The Belgrade government continues to regard Kosovo as part of Serbia and refers, among other things, to the historical significance of Kosovo for the Serbian national consciousness. [3]

The more than 110 states that have recognized the Republic of Kosovo - including the USA, Germany and the majority of the EU states - understand independence as a legitimate secession from Serbia, a state that systematically disregarded and disregarded the rights of the Kosovar majority population in the 1990s has suppressed. States such as Russia, China and five EU member states, which for domestic political reasons reject the right of peoples to self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter, see Kosovo's independence as a violation of Serbian sovereignty in violation of international law (Halbach et al. 2011).

Achievements and advances

Parliamentary elections have been held regularly in Kosovo since 2001. After Kosovo had been administered by UNMIK for several years and by the International Civil Bureau from 2008 to 2012, government responsibility was gradually transferred to the Kosovar institutions - although the Kosovar budget is still heavily dependent on international aid. According to the EU Commission, the reforms of the public administration and the justice system as well as the fight against corruption are making progress (EU Commission 2020).

The NATO KFOR protection force remains stationed in Kosovo, but has been reduced from 42,000 soldiers to currently around 3,400 soldiers (including 65 German soldiers [4]). KFOR accompanied the demobilization of the soldiers of the Kosovar Albanian Liberation Army UÇK and helped to set up and train the Kosovo Protection Corps, which provided employment to former UÇK soldiers from 1999 to 2008. KFOR also supports the recruitment process for the Kosovar security forces established in 2008.

Since 2011, a dialogue has been taking place under EU mediation on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, which is closely linked to the regional EU integration strategy. After over twenty "technical" questions were clarified in an initial phase of the dialogue, the "political" dialogue at the level of the heads of government culminated in April 2013 with the signing of the Brussels Agreement. As a result, Serbia received the green light in 2014 to start EU accession negotiations. In 2015 Kosovo signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU.

Although the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia regularly comes to a standstill and the implementation of the agreements is often slow, some successes have been achieved since 2011. In 2015, Serbia and Kosovo agreed to dissolve the Serbian parallel police and judicial structures in northern Kosovo, which is predominantly inhabited by Kosovar Serbs, and to integrate them into the Kosovar structures. While the integration of the Kosovar Serb police into the Kosovar police took place relatively quickly, the first Kosovar Serb judges and public prosecutors were not sworn in in northern Kosovo until October 2017.

In July 2020, the dialogue was resumed after a 20-month break after Kosovo reversed the one hundred percent tariff on imports from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina that had been adopted in November 2018. The punitive tariffs were a reaction to the negative vote for membership of Kosovo in the international police agency Interpol: Prishtina accused Belgrade of waging a diplomatic campaign against the international recognition of Kosovo.

The core of the European Union's strategy in the Western Balkans is to link the prospect of accession for the countries in the region to reforms and substantial progress in overcoming conflicts between and within states. For this, Kosovo receives over 85 million euros per year. [5] In March 2020, the EU increased its aid to support the Kosovar state and, above all, the health system in the Corona crisis. The EU is by far the most important international donor in the Western Balkans.

But as long as influential EU states such as France block the admission of new members, there is a real danger that Kosovo and the other states in the region will lose their willingness to reform. The indefinite postponement of EU membership not only reduces the willingness of Pristina and Belgrade to implement the agreed reforms and continue their dialogue under EU mediation, it also opens the door to the region for other powers (Reljić 2020). In particular, the growing influence of the People's Republic of China, Turkey and the Gulf States should be viewed critically. Russia is also trying to reactivate its traditionally strong presence.

Problems and deficits

The democratization of the Kosovar state still shows considerable deficits. Analysts speak of a "appropriation of the state" by the political elites (BiEPAG 2017), who mobilize ethno-national ideologies in order to remain in power and appropriate the country's economic resources. These "managed democracies" (Ernst 2017), framed by ethno-national frameworks, undermine the social and constitutional state. They reinforce the social fault lines, make the integration of minorities more difficult (Sundhaussen 2003) and thus the peace process.

The conflict between Prishtina and Belgrade also feeds resentment in the population and deepens the divisions: Kosovar Albanians (approx. 87% of the population) and Kosovar Serbs (approx. 8%) live largely separately in their own neighborhoods and villages. Much smaller minorities are Roma, Ashkali, Balkan Egyptians, Turks, Bosniaks, Gorani, Montenegrins and Croats. [6]

Kosovo Serbs, but especially the smaller minorities, suffer from discrimination, e.g. when buying land and real estate, when training, when looking for work, when dealing with authorities, and are regularly victims of (cattle) theft (EU Commission 2020, HRW 2020). According to an April 2020 poll, despite a sharp improvement of 41 percentage points in two years, less than half of Kosovar Serbs (46.2%) felt safe on the roads. It is 86.3% of the total population (UNDP 2020a).

There are large social, economic and political discrepancies within the Kosovar Albanian majority population. The political landscape is highly polarized. Since independence, Kosovar politics has been dominated by the Democratic Party (PDK), which emerged from the UÇK, and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). In the 2019 parliamentary elections, Vetëvendosje ("self-determination") was the first time another party prevailed as the strongest party with 26.27% and 29 out of 120 seats. The LDK had 28 and the PDK 24 mandates.

The party, which emerged from the left-wing nationalist Vetëvendosje movement, led by Albin Kurti, had been in office for just 52 days after difficult coalition negotiations when it was overthrown on March 25, 2020 by a vote of no confidence. The now resigned President Thaçi (PDK) commissioned Avdullah Hoti from the Democratic League (LDK) to form a government without inviting Vetëvendosje to participate in the government (Luci 2020). But the Constitutional Court declared the election of the new prime minister to be invalid. In the early elections on February 14, 2021, Vetëvendosje was able to almost double its share of the vote with 49.95%. She won 58 of the seats (PDK: 19 and LDK: 15). For an absolute majority in parliament, it needs the votes of smaller parties.

On the Kosovar Serb side, there are also political conflicts between the Belgrade-loyal party "Serbian List" (Srpska Lista) and other parties whose candidates have been regularly intimidated and put under pressure. In January 2018, for example, the Kosovar Serb politician Oliver Ivanović was shot dead in Mitrovica; he had repeatedly accused the Belgrade government and the Srpska Lista of tolerating organized criminal structures in northern Kosovo.

Both in Pristina and Belgrade there is a lack of political will to take responsibility for coming to terms with the history and violence during the civil war. More than 20 years after the war in Kosovo, human rights and war crimes have hardly been dealt with (Visoka / Lumi 2020). The identification of over 1,640 missing war victims has also made only marginal progress in recent years. After all, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had done important preparatory work by the end of its mandate in 2017. Further proceedings, which are being accompanied by experts from the EU Justice System Support Mission (EULEX), are currently underway in Kosovar courts. A special court in The Hague, largely financed by the EU, has been investigating suspected UÇK war crimes since 2017. Former KLA leader Hashim Thaçi resigned from the presidency in November 2020 after being charged with war crimes.

In 2019, 25.7% of Kosovars were unemployed, and among 15- to 24-year-olds even 49.4%, as the training system does not meet the demands of the labor market (Astrov et al. 2020; UNDP 2020b). With the Corona crisis, the already difficult economic situation will worsen even further. The WIIW estimates that the gross domestic product will have shrunk by 5.1% in 2020. [7] Most affected are around 18% Kosovars who, according to the World Bank, live below the poverty line (World Bank 2019). The difficult political and economic situation has led to a high rate of emigration for decades. Between 1969 and 2011 around 550,000 Kosovars emigrated, mainly to Germany (35% of emigrants) and Switzerland (23%) (Kosovar Statistics Agency 2014). Between 2008 and 2018, 529,647 people emigrated to EU countries alone, which is almost 30% of the current Kosovar population (UNDP 2020b).


Astrov, Vasily / Leitner, Sebastian / Mara, Isilda et al. (2019): Wage Development in the Western Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine, WIIW Research Report No. September 15, 2019.

Federal Agency for Civic Education (2020): EU Western Balkans Summit, 7.5.2020.

Federal Agency for Civic Education (2018): Kosovo - ten years after the declaration of independence, February 16, 2018.

Federal Agency for Civic Education (2011): Topic module peace and demobilization. Case study peace missions in Kosovo.

Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) (2019): The BiEPAG non-paper: Busting 10 myths about EU enlargement, Dec. 2019.

Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) (2017): The Crisis of Democracy in the Western Balkans. Authoritarianism and EU Stabilitocracy, March 2017.

Beer, Andrea (2020): How the Hague Tribunal is seen in Kosovo, May 13th, 2020.

Böll Foundation (2019): Perspectives Southeast Europe # 9: Kosovo 1999-2019 - A hostage drama, Dec. 2019.

Calic, Marie-Janine (2008): Kosovo: the youngest state in Europe, in: From Politics and Contemporary History (APuZ 32/2008).

Calic, Marie-Janine (2017): A Brief History of Yugoslavia, 29.9.2017.

Dérens, Jean-Arnault (2005): Wars over memories. Impossible: a common history of Kosovo, in: Le Monde diplomatique (7/2005).

Ernst, Andreas (2017): Echoraum, not powder keg, September 29, 2017.

EU Commission (2020): Kosovo Report 2020, October 2020.

Halbach, Uwe / Richter, Solveig / Schaller, Christian (2011): Kosovo - a special case with precedent effect? International law and political developments according to the opinion of the International Court of Justice, SWP study, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik Berlin, May 2011.

Human Rights Watch (2020): World Report - Serbia and Kosovo, 2020.

IFIMES: Kosovo 2019 early parliamentary election: the citizens want political changes, 30.9.2019.

Kosovar Statistics Agency (2014): Kosovan Migration, 2014.

Luci, Besa (2020): Kosovo’s Deplorable Political Class has been Laid Bare, Kosovo 2.0 (Comment), March 27, 2020.

Reljić, Dušan (2020): Geopolitics and credits: the EU does not want to lose the Western Balkans, 5.5.2020.

Rühl, Lothar (2001): NATO and ethnic conflicts, in: From politics and contemporary history (B 20/2001).

Sundhaussen, Holm (2003): State formation and ethnic-national contrasts in Southeastern Europe, in: From politics and contemporary history (B 10-11 / 2003).

UNDP (2020a): Public Pulse XVIII, May 30, 2020.

UNDP (2020b): Public Pulse Analysis: Correlation between labor market in Kosovo and out migration, June 29, 2020.

Visoka, Gëzim / Lumi, Besart (2020): Democratizing Transitional Justice in Kosovo, PAX, Integra and New Social Initiative (NSI), June 2020.

Weber, Bodo / Sauer, Michael (undated): Country information portal Kosovo, funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

World Bank (2019): Consumption Poverty in the Republic of Kosovo, May 2019.

Kosovo - more resources in German:
German wave

Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS)

Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES)

Heinrich Böll Foundation

German-language reports about Kosovo:
"Europe's Isolated Youth" (Fluter, 2018).

USA enthusiasm in Kosovo (Fluter, 2018).

"In search of the deported friend" (Tagesspiegel, 2017).

Speaking of Kosovo - reporters travel to the youngest country in Europe (project of the Zeitenspiegel reportage school Reutlingen 2014).

Media, blogs, think tanks with reports in English, partly also in Albanian, Serbian:
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network

Kosovo 2.0

Prishtina Insight

Radio Free Europe

European Western Balkans

Information portal of the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies with economic data on Serbia and Kosovo


Kosovo Democratic Institute / Transparency International Kosovo

European Center for Minority Issues Kosovo

Regional Cooperation Council: Balkan Barometer

Publications by Kosovar institutions and international organizations (English):

Kosovo Agency of Statistics

UN Development Program (UNDP)

OSCE Mission in Kosovo.