Kosovo’s government says it is banning Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic from entering the country after comments she made that Pristina took as being “racist.”
In a further escalation of tensions in recent days, Kosovo Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli on May 30 accused the Serbian head of government of “disgusting and unacceptable” comments during news conference a day earlier.
Pacolli was referring to a statement Brnabic made during the handover of a European Commission progress report in Belgrade where she referred to Kosovo’s leaders as people who “literally came out of the woods.”
“So long as I’m FM of Kosovo, I will not allow the Serbian PM Brnabic to enter Kosovo while she maintains a racist and sick ideology against the people of Kosovo,” Pacolli said in a message on Twitter.
Speaking to reporters in Belgrade on May 29, Brnabic said: “My fear is that we have to deal with the worst type of populists, with people who literally came out of the woods,” referring to Kosovar leaders.
“Some of them are terrorists” who committed atrocities during Kosovo’s deadly 1998-99 war, she asserted, without giving details to support the claim.
That conflict ended after NATO air strikes forced Belgrade to withdraw its troops from the territory to end a conflict that killed some 13,000 people.
The former Serbian province declared independence in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 110 countries, but not by Serbia.
On May 30, Brnabic did not apologize or clarify her comments, noting only that “people who are willing to stop the flow of goods are ready to stop the freedom of movement,” a reference to Kosovo’s decision late last year to implement a 100 percent tariff on goods from Serbia.
The war of words comes during a week where tensions between the two Balkan nations were already running hot over police raids by Kosovo police in Serb-dominated areas in the northern part of the country.
The May 28 raids sparked clashes between local Serbs and the police, injuring several and igniting a diplomatic row over the detention of two United Nations personnel involved in the incident.
In response, Serbia has put its army on high alert and moved some troops near the border with Kosovo, Europe’s youngest country. Serbia still does not accept Kosovo’s independence.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci told RFE/RL that Brnabic’s words were “nothing new or extraordinary for us.”
“The racist language used by the prime minister of Serbia, a country which committed genocide and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, is further evidence of the pathological hatred of the current Serbian regime toward the citizens of Kosovo,” he said.
Thaci also criticized the European Union for “not condemning this racist and anti-European behavior of Serbia.”
In a statement sent to RFE/RL on May 30, an EU spokesperson said that “any rhetoric which is insulting, confrontational, divisive goes against…reconciliation the region needs to move forward.”
The events of the past days show that Belgrade and Pristina now need to reach a “comprehensive agreement” on normalizing relations, the spokesperson said, adding: “Status quo is simply not an option.”
The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) have also called for calm with emotions running so high.
Serbia considers Kosovo the cradle of its history and religion, and the preamble to the Serbian Constitution describes Kosovo as an “integral part” of its territory.
As many as 120,000 ethnic Serbs live in Kosovo, compared with about 70,000 ethnic Albanians who live in Serbia.