Shops, bakeries, gas stations, hairdressers, pharmacies, fast food shops and all other local businesses closed on Monday in the northern Serb-led municipalities of Kosovo, protesting against the 100-per-cent tariff that the government has imposed on imports from Serbia.
Many local businesses at first ignored the new tax, arranging their supplies from Serbian producers through alternative channels – until end of May, when police arrested more than 20 local Serbian policemen and accused them of assisting smuggling and organised crime, Kossev portal wrote on Monday.
“The common attitude of businessmen from the north of Kosovo is that all shops are closed in solidarity with colleagues who provide citizens with foodstuffs and who are most severely affected by the charges [imposed] from Prishtina,” Rados Petrovic, president of the Association of Businessmen from the North of Kosovo, told N1 media outlet in Serbia.
“The taxes on Serbian goods make it impossible for our businesses to function normally, and we demand that they are abolished,” he added.
Businesses are refusing to take alternative supplies from the Bosniak neighbourhood of the northern part of the divided town of Mitrovica, or from shops in the government-controlled south of Mitrovica.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and Foreign Minister Behxhet Pacolli last week accused some in the north of the country of trying to foment a “humanitarian crisis”.
“Different Serbian actors, traders and officials from the North of Mitrovica, in cooperation with officials from Belgrade, are coordinating a humanitarian crisis,” Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj was quoted as saying on June 25. According to him, pressure was being put on Kosovo to close its eyes to contraband.
“We will object to this propaganda that intends to create tensions and incidents in the North of Kosovo. There has been no humanitarian crisis since 1999 when the Serbian forces left Kosovo and there will never be such a crisis,” Foreign Minister Pacolli wrote on Facebook.
“In the north of Kosovo, there are enough products and medicine. I invite the international community to monitor this attempt by Serbia to destabilize Kosovo and punish it,” he added.
The government first import a lower import tariff and then hiked it in November last year to 100 per cent in retaliation for Serbia’s lobbying against Kosovo’s accession to Interpol and other international organisations.
It has also been applied to products from Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, like Serbia, does not recognise Kosovo as an independent state.