- Category: Politics
- Published on Tuesday, 06 February 2024 20:00
February 6, 2024
The US has accused authorities in Kosovo of “unnecessarily raising ethnic tensions” after the government imposed a ban on Serbia’s currency and instructed its Serb minority to adopt the euro, reported The Guardian.
Police raids ordered by Pristina’s interior ministry on four organisations working in Serb-populated areas, which came days after the currency switch, have intensified fears of the security situation deteriorating.
Serbian officials say the abrupt move to close the operations will negatively affect the daily lives of ethnic Serbs dependent on their social services, it said.
The European Union (EU) criticised Pristina on Monday for taking “unilateral” steps that it fears will lead to a further deterioration of relations with Serbia, which refuses to recognise the independence of Kosovo.
“These steps are concerning because they are not contributing to the de-escalation of the situation,” said Josep Borell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs. “They are not coordinated; they are unilaterally taken without the necessary level of prior consultation in order to pre-empt or prevent the negative impact they might have on the ground.”
Officials say the status of the organisations targeted in the police raids – parallel structures funded by Belgrade – should be addressed though EU-facilitated normalisation talks between Kosovo and Serbia. Dialogue has faltered since a standoff between Serb militants and Kosovo police left four dead in September.
The euro has been the de facto currency in Kosovo since it declared independence in 2008, a decade after the country’s ethnic Albanian majority engaged in a brief war of independence that eventually led to Nato intervening and the withdrawal of Serbian forces.
But ethnic Serbs, who account for about five percent of its 1.8 million population, still use the dinar – a reflection of their refusal to accept Kosovo’s statehood. Tens of thousands across 10 municipalities depend on dinar-denominated pensions, salaries and social benefits distributed by Belgrade.
The international community has urged the Kosovan government to postpone the euro-only policy, saying the currency switch decision, announced by the central bank in mid-January, did not allow enough time to adapt.
Western ambassadors in Belgrade said they were especially worried about the impact of the regulation on schools and hospitals, “for which no alternative process seems viable”.
At the weekend, the US ambassador to Kosovo, Jeff Hovenier, expressed concerns about the efforts of Kosovo police to seize vehicles transporting Serbian dinars, which are then distributed for “social benefit payments from Serbia”.
“These actions are unnecessarily raising ethnic tensions and as a consequence limit the options of the United States to serve as an effective advocate for Kosovo in the international arena,” he said.
Pristina agreed last week to prolong the transition period but declined to say for how long.
Serbia’s populist president, Aleksandar Vucic, said the ban on the dinar was part of a wider policy to ethnically cleanse the Serbs from Kosovo, describing it as a “criminal strike” against the 100,000-strong minority.
“People are scared, they are waiting in lines to get their money,” he said in a televised address on Friday.
Vowing to ignore the regulation, Vucic said Serbia would seek an urgent UN security council meeting to discuss the escalation of tensions with Kosovo.
The currency ban is not the first measure to ignite the wrath of Belgrade. As part of efforts to assert control across the territory, ethnic Albanian authorities have also removed Serbian flags and signs from public buildings and prohibited vehicles circulating with Serbian number plates.
Sources close to the Kosovan government said the the switch to the euro in the north of the country was driven by concerns about counterfeit money and illegal flows of cash, not by a desire to provoke the Serbian government.
They said the parallel institutions raided by Kosovan police were “illegal” and that Serbia had agreed to close them as part of the 2013 Brussels agreement, reported The Guardian.