A whole year without Serbian goods in Kosovo: Who is paying the price?

A whole year without Serbian goods Zabrana robe iz Srbije / Rafovi
FOTO: KoSSev

Today marks the one year anniversary since Kosovo government introduced restrictions on the import of Serbian goods, that is, the ban on the entry of trucks to Kosovo that are loaded in central Serbia. One year later, Serbian goods can be rarely seen in North Mitrovica shops. Products from the region dominate, as well as from Kosovo and Albania. Residents, however, are uncertain of their quality, and still continue to seek out Serbian goods.

On June 14th of last year, after Serbian authorities arrested three members of the Kosovo Police in the Raška area, the Kosovo government, which interpreted the move as a „kidnapping“ in the municipality of Leposavić, decided to ban the import of goods from Serbia „out of security, not economic reasons.“

Five days later, Serbian truck drivers blocked Jarinje, Brnjak and Merdare border crossing in revolt with the decision to block the import of goods from Serbia and as a show of their support to Kosovo Serbs. For several days, they prevented trucks with „RKS“ markings from passing through.

The presidents of the Chambers of Commerce of Serbia and Kosovo, Marko Čadež and Lulzim Rafuna, have repeatedly emphasized that the economy and business should be kept out of politics, and that „preventing business activities is not the solution“, warning that both sides suffer from blockades.

In the first months after the decision was made, some international officials also called on the Kosovo government to withdraw the decision, however, later on, they focused more on the release of the three Kosovo policemen – whom the Serbian authorities released at the their own recognizance on June 26.

Despite this, as well as slightly more moderate political statements, Pristina still has not withdrawn its decision to ban the import of goods from Serbia, even officially, although the Kosovo media emphasized that there was never a written decision for the ban.

The consequences of the ban became obvious in the North of Kosovo in the first weeks of its adoption. Serbian goods were disappearing.

What is the situation in food markets?

Today, one year after this decision, Serbian goods on the shelves of supermarkets in North Mitrovica have been reduced to a minimum. They were replaced by products from the countries of the region, as well as from Kosovo and Albanian producers.

We spoke with one of the managers of a large North Mitrovica shop.

He told KoSSev that up to 90% of Serbian goods have now been replaced by goods from other manufacturers.

„Mostly goods from Macedonia and Bosnia, but we are simply forced to purchase goods that are produced in Kosovo and Albania as well.“

The latter of which is not popular amongst the locals.

„Serbs simply do not want to buy those products and will rather opt for those from Macedonia and Bosnia. Bimlek Macedonia or Mig Bosna are products that Serbs will buy without any problems. They believe that the goods from these countries are of better quality than those from Kosovo or Albania, and they will avoid them at the cost of not buying what they came for.“

 

Customers continue to seek Serbian products. Not only ethnic Serbs, but Albanians as well.

„Customers still come and ask for Serbian products. Admittedly, usually Albanians look for, for example, Plazma, Prolom water or Polimark products. They say they are used to it,“ he says.

He complained that, due to the lack of goods from Serbia, business in the shop where he is employed has dropped significantly over the past year. And the situation worsened, he says, ever since dinars stopped arriving in Kosovo and since Poštanska Štedionca bank branches were closed.

People go to central Serbia to withdraw money and buy Serbian products there.

„Nowadays people go to Raška or somewhere in central Serbia to withdraw money. They trade there, and buy basic necessities – even better, they buy Serbian products. So our work here suffers a lot and the situation is worsening.“

Over the past year, the Kosovo police have carried out dozens of confiscation actions of Serbian goods almost wherever they found them – in markets, warehouses, vehicles they intercepted, but also in pharmacies.

Belgrade – Violation of human rights

The direct damage caused by this decision now amounts to around 210 million euros, and in reality it is much higher, the head of the Kosovo Office, Petar Petković, warned today.

„Kurti directly violates both Cefta and the Brussels Agreement and in that sense, when you look at the most direct damage caused by this decision, it is now about 210 million euros, but the real damage is actually much, much higher.“

„First of all, the most directly threatened are the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, because many shops that directly depended on Serbian goods, small shops, stores have closed.“

In his words, this is just one more in a series of human rights violations by Priština.

„It is unimaginable that human rights are harmed in such a way in the middle of Europe.“

Kosovo Serbs are used to Serbian products, he added.

In the last year, Belgrade has reached out to numerous addresses regarding the issue, but to no avail, Petković specified.

„We discussed this in Brussels and with other international representatives. No one from the international community reacted. No one cares how Serbs live and what is going on in Kosovo.“

From the Serbian side, the Minister of Internal and Foreign Trade of Serbia, Tomislav Momirović, also reacted.

He alleged that apart from the affect this decision has had on the lives of citizens, it also “broke down decades of business ties between Serbs and Albanians, resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of euros in business income.“

He also recalled the letters he sent to the international community in which he warned of the consequences.

Meanwhile, at today’s briefing on the anniversary of the ban, the spokesperson of the European Union, Peter Stano, said „that both sides must refrain from unilateral moves“. „They should prevent or refrain from steps that are not coordinated, that are one-sided, and in everything they do, they should focus on the implementation of agreements on the way to the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia,“ he briefly stated.

So far, Priština officials did not react today.

Shahini: Neither the Albanian nor the Serbian traders reacted enough

According to the data of the Alliance of Kosovo Businesses, in 2022, the exchange of goods between Kosovo and Serbia was close to 450,000,000 euros, and in the year when the decision on the ban was introduced, it dropped to about 250 million.

Today, they pointed out the problem was the result of this ban, mostly affecting much larger companies, that is, those who were direct importers of goods from Serbia to Kosovo.

„Now we are importing goods from Albania, due to the lack of goods from Serbia, Macedonia and other countries.

However, there are a lot of Kosovo companies that used to work, that were representative of Serbian products in Kosovo, and now they no longer do that, or they have closed their business. This ban, which is meaningless, has been in effect a year now,“ Agim Shahini told Kim Radio today.

According to him, this decision could be revoked only due to pressure from the international community or a change of government in the next elections.

„Capital must move freely without any prohibition. Same goods, same citizens. Now we are passing through Serbia with Kosovo license plates without any problems, or the other way around, but no goods are coming. We do not have domestic production, we import from other countries. If someone really needs to be banned from importing goods, then the Kosovo government should take action against Bosnia and Herzegovina because we still cannot go to Bosnia without a visa, and they cannot here without one, while we can travel to Serbia without any problems. The Government of Kosovo does not view the matter economically, but politically.“

He believes that neither the Serbs nor the Albanian traders have raised this problem enough.

„They objected quietly, because no one, as an Albanian, could say – ‘Well, we want a Serbian product’. The Serb citizens in Kosovo did not really raise their voices and they accepted it. However, if the Serbian people were to ask for their product a little louder, they would certainly have support from the business side,“ said Shahini.


Read more:

When sweets turn into bullets – another campaign to boycott Serbian products in Kosovo


 



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