January is named after Janus, Roman god of beginnings and endings, protector of gates and doorways. It is the month when the Serbian community in Kosovo remembers the tragic killing of politician Oliver Ivanović, a man who used his incredible energy to encourage local Serbs to persevere through the tough challenges that have confronted them for the last quarter of a century. However, this January is tougher than all previous ones combined
The government of Albin Kurti took advantage of the holiday period to exert strong legal and institutional pressure on what remains of the Serbian community in Kosovo, with the end goal of taking full sovereignty over Serb areas and compelling Serb emigration to the point at which they no longer represent a political factor in Kosovo.
The Government of Kosovo is this January exerting pressure on several fronts simultaneously – from confiscating the medieval churches of the Serbian Orthodox Church with the claim that they are Roman Catholic houses of worship, via actively lobbying against the lifting of visas for passports issued by the Coordination Administration of the Serbian Interior Ministry, which serve Serbian citizens resident in Kosovo, all the way to the destruction of billboards displaying pictures of honorary citizens of Zvečan and raiding the premises of the provisional authorities of municipalities that function within the Serbian system.
Among all the decisions currently being taken in Pristina, the one that stands out the most is the 27th December 2023 decision of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of Kosovo (CBK) forbidding the transport and use of dinars on the territory of Kosovo. Regardless of the declaring of the euro as Kosovo’s official currency, the use of the Serbian dinar in Serbian and other minority communities (such as in Gora) has been tolerated since 1999, and arrival of UNMIK and KFOR. The continued survival of Serbian (and other) communities in Kosovo is directly dependent on the money that comes from Serbia in the form of dinars. This money also enables the continued work of the Republic of Serbia’s institutions that function in Kosovo in the fields of healthcare, education, social protection, municipal services, culture and sports, but also the functioning of the local economy, which is based mainly on the retail and service sectors. It is estimated that approximately 40,000 salaries and 32,000 pensions are paid from Serbia, as well as the payments of approximately 10,000 recipients of social assistance and 5,000 farmsteads.
A total of approximately 87,000 people receive their salaries in dinars, which is a huge number given that the Serbian community includes an estimated 100-120,000 people.
And people who don’t receive their salary in dinars are also dependent on the functioning of Serbian institutions, such as those who work at Kosovo institutions or international organisations but whose children attend Serbian schools or receive treatment at Serbian hospitals funded by Serbia.
It can thus be said that all Serbs living in Kosovo, but also numerous members of other ethnic communities (Gorani, Bosniaks, Roma, some Albanians, but also people from mixed marriages), are impacted directly by this CBK decision, which should enter into force on 1st February. Any attempt to transport or use dinars in Kosovo after that date will be considered a criminal act resulting in the confiscation of the money and the initiating of criminal proceedings.
The problem created by this CBK decision has raised significant concern in the international community. The U.S. State Department and German Federal Foreign Office as well as the QUINT embassies in Kosovo asked for suspension of the enforcement of the CBK regulation. During the period of Kurti’s rule, Pristina’s institutions have shown marked resistance to similar Western demands. But the stakes are much higher this time around, as they relate to the very survival of Serbs in Kosovo, which doesn’t overly impact Kurti, but does raise concerns in the international community and in Belgrade.
We will soon discover whether Janus has closed the door to the dinar or opened it wide for Kosovo Serbs to take a road in one direction. Stay tuned.