Invented pogroms - Statistics, lies and confusion in Kosovo

19 February 2024
Gracanica Monastery in Kosovo
Gracanica Monastery in Kosovo

The full version of this paper is available in PDF format

On 6 July 2023, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic declared publicly that NATO and the UN had fourteen days to disarm Kosovo’s police forces and to protect Kosovo Serbs from ongoing Albanian “pogroms and ethnic cleansing.” Otherwise “someone else” would need to do this.

Warnings that Serbia might need to send troops into Kosovo to protect Serbs are not new. Already in August 2018, when the president of Kosovo was Hashim Thaci, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic described Kosovo as a powder-keg: “Everyone will wait for an opportunity to strike the other in order to achieve an advantage on the ground. And every day we will worry if they will attack us in the North, where they will strike us, with whose support …” However, in 2018 statements argued that if Serbs are attacked in Kosovo, Serbia will defend them. Since 2023, statements argue that Serbs are now attacked and need to be defended.

ESI warned in late July 2023 about this being a serious threat to peace in the Balkans. A few months later, Serbian paramiliaries did attack Kosovo police in Northern Kosovo. It is time to take seriously what is currently being said by politicians in Belgrade. If pogroms are invented, then violence follows. If such false claims are not called out, the situation will escalate further.

It should not be difficult for international organisations to rebut false, misleading and dangerous claims about imaginary pogroms every time they are made. None of the many international observers with staff on the ground in Kosovo – from KFOR to EULEX, the EU Rule of Law Mission, from UNMIK to the OSCE – have seen or described  “ethnic cleansing of Serbs” or Albanian “terror” in recent years in any of their copious reports. But absence of evidence has not stopped incendiary claims being made.

One of the tools in this battle of narratives has also been statistics. On 5 October 2023, president Vucic explained that, as a result of “Albanian terror”, 11 percent of Kosovo Serbs had left Kosovo since early 2021. On 8 February 2024, speaking at the UN Security Council, Vucic referred to “14 percent” of Kosovo Serbs who had left in just one year.

No evidence has been offered for the alleged pogroms, systemic violence or alleged “ethnic cleansing” in recent years. But what about evidence for these numbers that president Vucic and others have quoted? What do they reveal? What do we really know?