MITROVICA, Kosovo — Thousands of Serbs from Kosovo’s Serb minority protested Monday against a ban on the use of Serbian currency in the areas where they live, an issue that has been at the root of the latest crisis in relations between the Serbia and Kosovo.
Tensions escalated after the government of Kosovo, a former Serbian province, banned banks and other financial institutions in Serb-populated areas from using the dinar in local transactions, starting February 1, and imposed the ‘euro.
The dinar was widely used in ethnically Serb-dominated areas, particularly in northern Kosovo, to pay pensions and salaries of staff at Serb-run institutions, including schools and hospitals.
This ban angered Serbs in Kosovo and Serbia. The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo clashed over the issue during a meeting last week at the United Nations Security Council.
Protesters at the rally in the Serbian part of the divided northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica said the abolition of the dinar violated the rights of Kosovo Serbs and was discriminatory. They urged the international community to put pressure on the Kosovo government to reverse this decision.
“This practically amounts to taking food off our tables,” said Dusanka Djorovic, of a local pensioners’ association.
Dragisa Milovic, a doctor, said Kosovo’s move “aims to abolish Serbian institutions in these regions.”
In Pristina, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti rejected these criticisms in a message addressed to Kosovo Serbs. Kurti insisted that the new measure aims to curb illegal financial flows and “does not prevent Serbia from financially assisting citizens of the Kosovo Serb community.”
“Kosovo has not stopped the dinar, nor the dollar, nor the pound sterling, nor the Swiss franc,” Kurti said. “The only change from February 1 is that cash cannot cross the border in bags… but must go through bank accounts and (be) withdrawn in euros.
In 1999, a 78-day NATO bombing campaign ended the war between Serbian government forces and Albanian separatists in Kosovo. Serbian forces were driven out but Belgrade never recognized Kosovo’s independence and still considers it a Serbian province.
The European Union and the United States have expressed concern that Kosovo’s dinar ban could increase tensions in an already unstable region and called for consultations and a postponement of the ban.
The EU has brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo in a bid to normalize relations, but negotiations have progressed slowly while occasional violent incidents have fueled fears of instability in the Balkans as war rages in Ukraine.