19 years since the violent Kosovo pogrom

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the violent unrest in Kosovo when 19 people were killed, 900 injured and 800 buildings destroyed or damaged, including 29 Serbian Orthodox churches or monasteries from the 14th and 15th centuries.

The 2004 unrest in Kosovo is the worst ethnic violence case in Kosovo since the end of the 1998–99 conflict. The violence erupted in the partitioned town of Kosovo Mitrovica, leaving hundreds wounded and at least 14 people dead. The unrest was precipitated by misleading reports in the Kosovo Albanian media which falsely claimed that three Kosovo Albanian boys had drowned after being chased into the Ibar River by a group of Kosovo Serbs. UN peacekeepers and NATO troops scrambled to contain a raging gun battle between Serbs and Albanians.

International courts in  Priština have prosecuted people who attacked several Serbian Orthodox churches, handing down prison sentences ranging from 21 months to 16 years. Some of the destroyed churches have since been rebuilt by the Government of Kosovo in cooperation with the Serbian Orthodox Church and the UN mission in Kosovo.

The events in Kosovo brought an immediate angry reaction on the streets of Serbia. On the evening of 17 March, crowds gathered in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš to demonstrate against the treatment of the Kosovo Serbs. Despite appeals for calm by Metropolitan Amfilohije, the 17th-century Bajrakli Mosque was set on fire. Islam-aga’s Mosque in the southern city of Niš was also set on fire.

The international community was taken by surprise by the sudden upsurge in violence. Kosovo had been fairly quiet since the end of 1999, although there had been occasional small-scale ethnic clashes throughout the past five years and ongoing tension between Serbs and Albanians. This had, however, largely gone unnoticed by the Western media since 1999.

KFOR troops closed Kosovo’s borders with the remainder of Serbia and Montenegro and the UN suspended flights in and out of the province. NATO announced on 18 March that it would send another 1,000 troops – 750 of them from the United Kingdom – to reinforce the 18,500 troops already there.

An Austrian OSCE official called the events an orchestrated plan to drive out the remaining Serbs, while one anonymous UNMIK official reportedly referred to the event as Kosovo’s Kristallnacht, while Commander of NATO’s South Flank, Admiral Gregory G. Johnson, said on 19 March 2004, that the violence verged on the ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Albanians. 

(Nova.rs, 17.03.2023)


This post is also available in: Italiano

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