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Kosovo abolishes the Serbian dinar

In Kosovo, people pay with the euro – actually. The Serbian dinar is still used on the border with Serbia. The government of Kosovo now wants to change that, to the outrage of its big neighbor.

Wolfgang Vichtl

Of course you can pay with euros, even in this small village kiosk in Banjska, in the very north of Kosovo. A three-minute walk uphill is the Banjska monastery, where a heavily armed Serb force holed up last year after attacking Kosovo police officers, killing one.

Here, in Banjska with its 350 inhabitants, almost only Serbs live; the border with its big neighbor Serbia is close. Payment is usually made in Serbian dinars. That's why there are no euros or cents as change, but dinars

That should now change because – actually since 2008 – it should be different. Since then, Kosovo has been its own state. But now the Kosovo Central Bank has upped the ante: paying in Kosovo is only legal if paid in euros, the official currency.

Government wants to implement a switch to the euro

Since the attack in Banjska, which the Kosovo police repelled, the Kosovo government has appeared much more self-confident. First the final ban on Serbian license plates on cars registered in Kosovo, now the Euro regulation. Kosovo's Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi is uncompromising: “The government of the Republic of Kosovo is determined to enforce the rule of law everywhere in Kosovo unconditionally and without compromise. As quickly, easily and problem-free for the citizens as possible,” he says.

Bislimi then also speaks of a “transitional period” – and that they want to concentrate more on information and education and less on punishments.

And of course Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti knows that this supposed matter of course is once again a provocation for Serbian President Aleksander Vucic. After three days of deep breathing, he too appears, as always, somewhat bored in his tone, but sharp in his choice of words: “Albin Kurti decided this, all alone – with the aim of ethnic cleansing of the Serbian population on the territory of the entire Kosovo. Or as the Genocide Convention puts it: 'Deliberate subjugation of the Serbs with intolerable living conditions'.”

Vucic is once again stirring up panic

This is what the Serbian president usually announces on such occasions. But it is still unclear how “unbearable” the living conditions for the Serbs in the north could become. It's possible that the ATMs in North Mitrovica will no longer spit out dinars – and maybe not even euros for the time being. Hence this “transition period” that Kosovo's Deputy Prime Minister Bislimi announced as a precautionary measure: “The message I want to convey is that the Kosovo Serbs' worries about no longer having a bank account and not being familiar with the euro are artificial created,” says Bislimi.

The Deputy Prime Minister probably means that it was created by propaganda from Belgrade. Because Vucic has once again pressed “the panic button,” as the Kosovo police chief in northern Mitrovica likes to call it.

The American ambassador and his European colleagues are worried that this could trigger new ethnic conflicts. Not so unfounded: Last year, soldiers of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force were seriously injured between the fronts in northern Kosovo. The KFOR force is currently being strengthened.

Teachers, doctors, pensioners affected

For the first time, Serbian President Vucic lists in numbers who could be affected by the abolition of the dinar: almost 32,000 Kosovo Serbs who are paid from Belgrade in dinars. Teachers in Serbian schools, doctors, nurses in Serbian outpatient clinics, especially. Plus almost 30,000 pensioners.

But Vucic's tone has also changed since the attack in Banjska, since NATO and the EU are still waiting for a few explanations as to the extent to which the Serbian state was involved in the attack by the suspected criminals. He complains – and at the same time speaks of dialogue: “They can't give up, the Kosovo Albanians. And they don't understand that dialogue is important. We have it, precisely because Kosovo is not an internationally recognized state.”

Kosovo is “not recognized” by Serbia and some EU states. But the majority, Germany as one of the first countries, recognized Kosovo.

Dialogue remains – in a country where the overwhelming majority speaks Albanian and the minority speaks Serbian. Two very different languages. And that is the next problem: most Serbs have not yet been informed about the euro regulation in Serbian.

Wolfgang Vichtl, ARD Vienna, tagesschau, February 2nd, 2024 7:09 p.m

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