Kosovo has been maintained since the 1990s as an open wound in the heart of the Balkans; a territory of less than 11,000 square kilometers that, 15 years after its unilateral independence from Serbia, continues to register recurring tensions and violence that are mainly concentrated in its northern zone, where the Serb community is the majority.

The dissolution of the former Yugoslavia meant the reconfiguration of the map of the Balkans and, in the case of Kosovo, the start of a new struggle between Pristina and Belgrade. Serbia has always appealed to questions of a historical nature to claim that the Kosovar territory belongs to it, under premises that mix nationalism and the fight against the Ottoman Empire with religion –the orthodox imprint is still evident today, despite the fact that the majority of the population of Kosovo identifies with Islam–.

However, the Albanian community, the majority in Kosovo, has historically complained of being discriminated against and even repressed by the Serbs. The Kosovo Liberation Army symbolized for years the armed struggle for the dream of independence, but the rebellion launched in 1998 and the subsequent response from Serbia led to an open war with European and even global echoes.

A NATO intervention in 1999 forced the Serbian withdrawal and put a stop to a conflict that, at its roots, is still intact. The international peacekeeping forces have served as a security network during these years, even at moments of maximum tension such as in 2008, when Kosovo, then a Serbian province, proclaimed independence through its Parliament and unilaterally.

Kosovo has claimed since February 2008 as an independent state, a position endorsed by around a hundred countries but which Serbia still does not recognize to this day. Neither are powers such as Russia or China, nor five EU countries –among them Spain– that view with suspicion that a territory can embark on the path of secession without having the approval of its theoretical central government.

The Kosovo government has tried to turn this theoretical framework into ‘de facto’ political control, permeating every corner of the former province with its policies. However, Pristina’s influence resists in the north, where the Serb community, with the discursive endorsement of Belgrade, continues to resist any potential loss of influence or concession.

Mitrovica is the main city in the northern zone and symbolizes the ethnic division between Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs on a day-to-day basis, but other smaller towns have also seen tensions on the streets increase in recent years, in most cases derived from bureaucratic diatribes charged with political undertones.

In 2022, the spikes in tension derived from a Kosovar regulation to prohibit the movement of all vehicles with Serbian license plates, while in 2023 the alerts were triggered by local elections held in February and boycotted by the Serb community. The participation rate did not reach 3.5 percent, but the winners of said elections, Kosovar Albanians, claim their right to assume power.

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, has placed his Army on combat alert on several occasions and has even asked to go further, claiming his right to intervene in security issues in the northern area of ‚Äč‚ÄčKosovo, a “red line” to eyes of international observers.

The parties have been negotiating since 2011 the normalization of relations, under the protection of the European Union. These contacts, on which both Serbia and Kosovo depend to a large extent to be able to join other blocs or international forums, have resulted in specific agreements that are not fully fulfilled on the ground.

In 2013, the creation of a kind of autonomy for the Serb minority was agreed, but it has never been applied due to differences between the parties regarding the operation and powers that this institution would have. The Kosovar Serbs maintain their particular boycott of the institutions, as was made clear in the recent elections.

The municipal alliance was also the subject of discussion this May, in a meeting between Vucic and the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, held in Brussels under the mediation of the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell. This point, key in the restoration of ties, is still up in the air.

Another principle of agreement emerged from the last meeting, by virtue of which the two parties undertook to resolve the issue of missing persons since the conflict, with a view to cooperating in the identification of burial sites and in monitoring the excavations. More than 1,500 victims of the Kosovo war remain unaccounted for in 2023.

The EU also has a civilian mission in Kosovo (EULEX). NATO, for its part, continues to be present with a deployment of a military nature (KFOR), which with some 3,800 troops aims to guarantee the stability of the area, which also implies interventions in moments of tension.