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The License Plate War

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FILE PHOTO: Kosovo ethnic Serbs pass through barricades near the border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia in Jarinje, Kosovo, September 28, 2021. REUTERS/Laura Hasani

There’s the War of Jenkins’ Ear and then there’s the Football War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. We may have narrowly averted the License Plate War develop between Kosovo and Serbia.

A row over car number plates in Kosovo is threatening to erupt into open unrest and one of the most serious regional crises in years as tensions between Serbia and its breakaway former province continue to mount.

The EU, US and Nato have expressed alarm after more than eight hours of emergency talks in Brussels on Monday failed to resolve the dispute over Kosovo’s plans to fine ethnic Serb residents who refuse to surrender their Belgrade-issued plates.

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Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina have flared in recent weeks as the number plate issue has become the focus of a long-running sovereignty dispute that dates back to Kosovo’s formal declaration of independence in 2008.

While about 100 countries have recognised Kosovo, whose 1.8 million inhabitants are majority Albanian, and it has been granted membership of several international institutions, Serbia and its key allies, Russia and China, refuse to do so.

Serbia’s constitution defines Kosovo as part of its national territory and many of the estimated 50,000 Serbs in the north of the former province remain fiercely loyal to Belgrade, which provides them with significant financial and political support.

Locals in a dozen or so Serb enclaves reject Pristina’s authority, fly the Serbian flag, use its currency – and an estimated 10,000 are steadfastly refusing to swap pre-independence Serbian number plates for new Kosovo Republic plates.

Pristina began implementing its multi-step exchange plan – involving warnings, fines and finally road bans – on 1 November, sparking heated resistance and the mass resignation of Serb police officers, judges, prosecutors and other officials in Kosovo.

Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, whom Kosovo accuses of deliberately fomenting the tensions, has warned of “hell on the ground” if Kosovo police try to enforce fines or bans and warned the two sides are “on the verge of conflict”.

Last week, there was some solid progress made on the issue. But nationalism, man, it’s a hell of a drug. I’m sure Serbia can find something even more dumb to start killing people in Kosovo over. I’m sure Putin would fund it all too.

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