In 2011, three years after Kosovo declared independence, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement by which Kosovo authorities would issue licence plates marked ‘RKS’ and, in a concession to Serbia’s refusal to recognise its former province as a state, ‘KS’, denoting simply ‘Kosovo’. The move was aimed at encouraging Serbs in the north to start using Kosovo-issued plates, but many did not bother.
In 2016, Kosovo extended the validity of KS plates for another five years. When the measure expired on September 15, Kurti’s government decided against extending it and announced as well that it would require the removal of Serbian-issued licence plates for cities in Serbia and their replacement with temporary Kosovo plates.
The decree, the government argues, reflects what Serbia has been doing for the past two decades – requiring drivers with Kosovo-issued plates to take temporary plates on entering Serbia.
Prior to the decree, Markovic said, a couple of thousand Serbs in the north drove cars on Serbian-issued licence plates and “practically functioned within the limits of the grey zone tolerated by everyone.”
Now, the new regulation, which Markovic described as “partially precise”, renders vehicles with such plates “practically illegal in Kosovo due to the fact that under Kosovo law it is almost impossible to replace them with RKS [Republic of Kosovo] plates,” because the Serbian ones are not recognised in Kosovo
Serbia, for its part, does not recognise RKS plates and requires drivers to remove them at the border and pay for temporary Serbian plates.
Markovic complained about the absence of a clear translation of the decree into Serbian and ambiguities in the decree itself, reflecting, he said, “poor treatment [of Kosovo Serbs] and the absence of will on the part of the government in Pristina to adequately communicate with members of the Serb community in Kosovo.”
Angry Serb truck drivers have been blocking the border crossings at Jarinje and Bernjak/Brnjak for more than a week, watched by Kosovo police special units.
“We know that the Kosovo government is just confiscating them, for now, taking them away and you’re left with a car without licence plates,” said Milica Andric Rakic of the Mitrovica-based NGO New Social Initiative.
“When someone confiscates your licence plates, what can you do with that car? You can only somehow smuggle it into Serbia, report there that you have lost your licence plates, have them issue you license plates, sell it and then buy a car in Kosovo.”
For Serbs in Kosovo, even if they do manage to register their cars on RKS plates, they then face having to pay for Serbian temporary plates on entering Serbia, again incurring delays and a cost of five euros for two months. Were Serbia to recognise RKS plates, Andric Rakic said there would still be security concerns over driving on RKS plates in Serbia.