Protests staged by Kosovo Serbs and the SDP party
Several protests took place in the reporting period, with incidents reported during protests in the north of Kosovo and during an action protest of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Kosovo Serbs gathered in four municipalities with a Serb-majority in the north of Kosovo to oppose the police’s action against smugglers and criminal groups. The protesters blocked roads, burnt official cars and attacked the police with shock bombs, hand grenades and firearms. Six police officers were injured and three people were arrested. Kosovo police actions against crime and smuggling have usually been followed by resistance from Serbian parallel structures in the north, which oppose the sovereignty of Kosovo over that part of the country.
Kosovo Serbs also protested for 13 days following the government’s decision to apply reciprocity on Serbian vehicle licence plates. Protesters blocked the roads with trucks and various vehicles at border crossing points with Serbia, obstructing the Kosovo police from conducting its official duty. According to Prime Minister Albin Kurti, individuals with criminal records and ultra-nationalist views had also participated in the protests. In addition, alleged pressures and threats were reportedly made on local Serbs by Serbian parallel structures to get them to join the protest. Tensions increased after an explosion burnt down part of the Municipal Assembly building in Zubin Potok, attempts to burn down the Vehicle Registration Centre in Zveçan and, in particular, when Serbia commenced military manoeuvres at the borders, seen as a provocation. However, no further incidents occurred after the EU and USA got involved in facilitating the dialogue. The protests ceased and the barricades were removed only after an agreement was reached between Kosovo and Serbia in Brussels. Both sides agreed to apply stickers to cover state symbols on the official licence plates instead of removing them and buying temporary ones at the border crossings. SDP activists, through an action in front of the government building, denounced this agreement as “grounded on ethnic and territorial criteria” and a setback for Kosovo.
On a different occasion, SDP activists held an action against the visit of the President of Specialist Chambers, which resulted in the detention of five activists (later released) after they damaged EULEX official cars with spray paint and attempted to obstruct the president’s conference. The SDP accused the Kosovo police of violence, claiming that its activists were injured during the arrests. CSOs, such as the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, called on the Police Inspectorate to investigate whether the police exceeded its official authorisation by using excessive force. SDP also held a peaceful action, during which activists placed pacifiers at the entrance of the government building to oppose the government’s decision to close kindergartens as part of the new COVID-19 measures.
In addition to these, protests were held on several social issues. A group of citizens, who mostly failed to adhere to COVID measures, protested in front of the government’s building against mandatory vaccination, claiming it goes against the constitutional articles on individual rights. Separately, people and civil society activists marched in front of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, and the government’s building, demanding institutional responsibility for the murder of an 18-year-old girl by her husband, calling for the treatment of femicide as a national emergency and a plan to combat gender-based violence. Protesting for equal rights for women, the LGBTQI+ persons and workers, the Collective for Feminist Thought and Action carried out an activity in Drenas, covering the walls of public spaces around the town with graffiti messages.
Additionally, local issues were raised through protests in two neighbourhoods in Prishtina. Residents of the city centre protested against high-priced parking lots and in the Lakrishte neighbourhood residents protested to raise concerns over the demolition of the Public Housing Enterprise, which they say represents an “environmental crime” due to the release of asbestos.
Two protests were held by medical workers in this reporting period. The Federation of Health Unions of Kosovo protested in front of the Ministry of Health and the government, accusing the minister of neglecting health workers and demanding to continue the dialogue with the minister, including around the salaries of health workers. The medical staff of the regional hospital of Mitrovica protested in support of a colleague who was physically attacked by a patient’s relative, calling upon competent authorities to clarify the case and sentence the perpetrator.
Other protests and marches also took place with no incidents reported, such as the march on the International Day of Missing Persons, the protests of farmers and hunters associations, the protest of Shtime residents against the release of a person who killed five people in a car accident, and a protest against the “unequal electoral race” in the Drenas local elections.
Several incidents were documented against journalists and the media in the reporting period.
- The Lëvizja Vetëvendosje political party’s branch in Mitrovica “lynched” journalists of the local portal “Jepi Zë”. The party’s branch accused the online portal of being affiliated and working in favour of another political party. The Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) denounced the act and called upon Vetëvendosje “to distance itself from denigrating language towards journalists and media”.
- Similarly, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) political party’s branch in Suhareka “lynched” journalist Uran Haxha. LDK in Suhareka labeled Haxha as “the counsellor from the underground of Bali Muharremaj” – the opponent of this political party. The AJK stated that the case is a direct interference in the work of the media and called upon political parties to refrain from lynching language during the electoral campaign for local elections.
- The Adviser of the President of Kosovo, Blerim Vela also “lynched” media outlets. Vela labeled the latter as “the media of the former Pronto regime”. The AJK stated that this is “a language that serves to spread hate and incites attacks on journalists and media in Kosovo”, and invited President Vjosa Osmani to ensure that denigrating language will not be repeated from her office in the future.
- The AJK raised alarms about the threats towards journalists too. Haki Abazi, Member of Parliament from the governing party, threatened the journalist Baton Haxhiu due to an article published by the online “Albanian Post” on the failure of the process for the appointment of new ambassadors of Kosovo. The AJK also denounced threats and insults towards journalists of the news website “Gazeta Sinjali” by the relatives of five men who were arrested by Kosovo police on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in Kosovo. The AJK called upon the competent authorities “to protect the journalists and this online news media in order to prevent any eventual incident”.
- The “EdGuard Institute” denounced the exclusion of media from the Parliamentary Committee for Education of the Assembly of Kosovo during the reporting of the Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation. The journalists were expelled after the head of the committee considered that COViD-19 measures had been violated. The EdGuard Institute stated that it is the committee’s responsibility to provide sufficient space for all stakeholders, adding that transparency and public information is essential to democracy.
- Journalists were attacked with explosive devices by Kosovo Serb protesters in the north of Kosovo while reporting live on a Kosovo police action against smuggling and organised crime. Attacks against the journalists were denounced by the Secretary-General of the European Federation of Journalists, Ricardo Gutierrez, and the Association of Journalists of Kosovo.
Civic Space Developments