Highway hubris behind Kosova clashes

Police in Kosova used force to break up roadblocks by hundreds of ethnic Albanians who halted traffic entering from neighboring Serbia to protest what they called Serbian obstruction of the country’s independence since its secession in 2008. In the town of Podujevo, near the Merdare border crossing, riot police used tear gas and water cannons on some 500 demonstrators, who responded by throwing rocks. Dozens were reportedly detained, with injuries reported on both sides. The protests were organized by the Self-Determination movement, which holds 14 seats in Kosova’s 120-seat parliament. The movement’s leader Albin Kurti accused his political opponents of hindering the functioning of the Kosovar republic “because their interests are linked to imports and sales of Serbian products.” (RFE/RL, RIA-Novosti, Jan. 15)

The protests come as Kosova is building a four-lane highway that will stretch for some 105 kilometers from the capital city of Pristina south to the border with Albania, where it is to join a newly built highway to Tirana and the Adriatic port of Durres. The project is estimated to cost more than 1 billion euros, or 25% of Kosova’s 2010 GDP. Leaders of the country’s Serb minority call the “Patriotic Highway” a pointless boondoggle aimed only at emphasizing the country’s symbolic unity with Albania. In the last five years, less than 3% of Kosova’s imports came from Albania, and only some 12% of its meager exports were sent there. The link to Durres is ostensibly intended to attract trade that now flows through the Greek port of Thessaloniki, but the Albanian port is much smaller and prone to silting up. (Transitions Online, Jan. 13)

See our last posts on Kosova, the Balkans and the global car culture.

  1. Electoral violence in Kosova
    Hoping to appease the EU’s entry demands, the government of Serbia for the first time encouraged Kosovar Serbs to vote in municipal elections held Nov. 3. However, only small numbers of Serbs responded, while masked militants attacked polling stations, lobbing tear-gas and smashing ballot boxes. Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo are to meet in Brussels this week to discuss resolving the crisis. (Reuters, Nov. 5; Jurist, Nov. 3)