The parliament of Kosovo has approved a €2.75 billion budget for 2022, earmarking €2 million to ease citizenship pathways for ethnic Albanians living in Serbia’s southern Presevo Valley.
Since coming to power in 2021, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti has pledged that majority-Albanian Kosovo will increase efforts to improve the economic and security prospects of ethnic Albanians across the border.
Ethnic Albanians living in Serbian regions adjacent to Kosovo have long argued that they face rights violations and neglect by the Serbian government, including reports that authorities have begun deleting the address records of Albanians in a phenomenon dubbed the “passivation” of residence. The citizenship implications for affected individuals are manifold.
According to one media report, some 20,000 ethnic Albanians have moved to Kosovo from Serbia over the past two decades. For many, obtaining Kosovo citizenship- or even residency permits- has proved impossible due to passivation; once an individual has been de-registered, they cannot collect the documentation needed to apply for citizenship, making them effectively stateless.
The phenomenon is so concerning that the Serbian Helsinki Committee has described it as “ethnic cleansing through administrative means,” while researchers at the Max Planck Institution for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity are adamant that Serbian authorities want to establish “ethnic homogeneity within their borders.”
The European Parliament called for an investigation into passivation by Serbian authorities last March, and this new policy by the Kosovar government no doubt seeks to address the issue by expanding access to Kosovo citizenship for ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia.
Presevo Valley rose to international attention following the insurgency of local Albanians at the turn of the century, which spilled over into Macedonia and Kosovo. The conflict ended in 2000 thanks to an EU-brokered agreement, which saw the local guerrilla force, the Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja Liberation Army (UCPMB) turn over their weapons.
Even so, the mayor of Presevo, Ardita Sinani, estimates that around 10,000 ethnic Albanians who escaped the region due to the conflict have never returned.
“They have neither Serbia nor Kosovo documents, they are invisible citizens,” she said.
Despite relative peace and stability over the past two decades, the region is viewed by many as vulnerable to violence even today. The unemployment rate, for example, is a disturbingly high 70 percent, and the citizens of the Presevo Valley are perpetually caught in the middle of strained relations between Kosovo and Serbia.