Photo: Predrag Trokicic
Photo: Predrag Trokicic

Well, it seems that for thirty years the best thing that Serbs can think to do is erect barricades. Well, maybe not all Serbs, but Serbs in Belgrade, to be precise. For the past three decades, we have also seen the consequences of the barricades. They didn’t do anyone any good. Neither the Serbs themselves nor their neighbors. And yet Serbs outside Belgrade are still ready to erect barricades at one word from Belgrade. Can we expect the barricades in Kosovo not to end up like the barricades around Knin?

It’s hard to say, but the circumstances are certainly not the same. No more usurped YNA to fuel senseless ambitions. The Serbian Army cannot hold a candle to the YNA, even in its worst days – it cannot be relied upon. In addition, unlike Yugoslavia at the time, today we already have foreign armed units in Kosovo. Finally, unlike Knin in 1991, in Kosovo in 2022 there are still fresh memories of the recently finished war. All of these should be sufficient reasons to prevent a new armed conflict.

We saw a war machine working at full capacity in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. It was clear where it was headed, but it simply had to run out of fuel in order to stop. Today, one would first need to start the war flywheel again, and that is not easy, despite best efforts (if we are to judge by the instigators from Belgrade). Although risky, let’s assume that war is no longer an option for either side. And if it is, let’s hope that it will be prevented by armed foreigners.

If so, what does the Serbian side actually have against the authorities in Pristina? To be more precise, how could the Serbs from the north of Kosovo persuade/force the authorities in Pristina or – if you will, the (to us) notorious – Kurti to fulfill their demands, that is, the demands from Belgrade? How do the barricades in Kosovo today compare to those around Knin from the beginning of the nineties? The Knin barricades were supposed to mark the new border and territory claimed by the Serbs. They were ambitiously conceived as state-building.

Unlike them, the (northern) Kosovo barricades are much more modest: they don’t follow an imaginary border, nor can they be the embodiment of aspiration to territory. A new quasi-government was already formed behind the barricades around Knin. This is not the case in Kosovo: Kosovo police units are behind, in front of and around the barricades. If the barricades around Knin clearly showed where one government ends and another begins, there is only one government around the barricades in Kosovo. The other one remains on the other side of the Kosovo border.

If this is all true, and if the barricades in Kosovo do not endanger the regime in Pristina in any way, what do they actually prevent? As far as we have seen, the only thing those barricades were able to stop are school classes in the north of Kosovo. According to the news, the teachers are on the barricades, holding online classes for scattered students. Now the question is: why would such barricades provoke the authorities in Pristina to take any action? It seems more likely that Belgrade is relying on Kurti.

A reasonable and well-intentioned person in Pristina could only worry about the people on the barricades freezing to death. And to act accordingly and send them, for example, blankets and coal or wood to keep warm. But it seems that the regime in Belgrade is hoping that Kurti will take the bait and try to forcefully remove otherwise completely harmless barricades. We’ll see if Kurti is that stupid. But, if we assume that he is and that he actually tries to remove the barricades, what would be the response of the Serbian side? Where would the teachers from the barricades go then?

Because of the barricades, armed units of the Kosovo Police came to the north of Kosovo. The Serbs are now asking for those units to leave before they remove the barricades. The barricades around Knin were supposed to create a new reality. The barricades in the north of Kosovo are only trying to restore the conditions from before they were erected. Yes, it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s the way things are. The Serbs are not even asking for the Community of Serbian municipalities to be formed (the fact that no one would fulfill that requirement under such conditions aside).

It seems that Serbs and Albanians in the north of Kosovo are at a dead end. The situation is, one would say, hopeless. But it only seems that way because it doesn’t actually make any sense. It is unclear why the barricades were erected or what is the response to them. Does anyone even remember the license plates? In Knin, everything was different, and it ended in blood. The politics which started with logs, ended, as expected, in total defeat. In the north of Kosovo, we see only a pale reflection of such politics (deprived, fortunately, of both power and any form of content). And that is good, because it inspires hope that a new conflict will be avoided. Since the defeat has already happened.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 29.12.2022.

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Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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