In Tense Region, License Plates Threaten to Unleash Violence

Kosovo wants ethnic Serbs to stop using ones issued by Belgrade
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 22, 2022 1:47 PM CST
In Tense Region, License Plates Threaten to Unleash Violence
Serb police officers take off their uniforms in protest in the town of Zvecan, Kosovo, on Nov. 5. The officers don't want to fine drivers who refuse to surrender Serb license plates.   (AP Photo/Bojan Slavkovic)

The history of ethnic tension between Kosovo and Serbia may be enormously complicated, but in this case it's playing out in a surprisingly simple way: through license plates. And as the BBC explains, it's no trivial matter, as the dispute threatens to erupt into real violence in the very near future. Kosovo broke away from Serbia and declared independence in 2008, though Serbia refuses to recognize its statehood. Now Kosovo says the time has finally come for Serbs living in Kosovo to relinquish their Serb-issued license plates, and thousands refuse to do so, per

Kosovo began phasing in penalties at the start of November, a plan that progresses from warnings to fines to an outright ban on driving. However, ethnic Serb police officers in Kosovo resigned en masse rather than enforce the penalties. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic described the situation as "on the verge of conflict" and warned of "hell on the ground" if Kosovo officers try to enforce the measures, per the Guardian. The European Union has stepped in to try to defuse the situation, but emergency talks on Monday went nowhere.

"Both bear full responsibility for the failure of the talks today and for any escalation and violence that might occur on the ground in the following days," said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, per Politico. A spokesperson for the US State Department took notice, calling on both sides to make "concessions to ensure that we do not jeopardize decades of hard-won peace in an already fragile region," per the Guardian. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, meanwhile, signaled he's willing to suspend the imposition of new fines temporarily while a solution to the impasse is sought. (More Kosovo stories.)

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