The regional diplomacy in the breakaway province of Kosovo took a tumultuous turn as two European powers made a controversial decision to remove a monument honoring Serbian soldiers fallen in the Balkan Wars and World War I. French and German diplomats defended their actions by saying they needed to make room for a memorial to NATO troops.
The local Serbian Orthodox priest, Stanisa Arsic, discovered that the monument has been moved after visiting the cemetery in Pristina over the weekend. He contacted the authorities but was told that the French embassy had requested the removal. Although the local ethnic Albanian authorities denied any involvement, it was revealed that the French embassy had indeed commissioned the removal of the monument.
France and Germany, both of which recognize Kosovo as an independent state, have stated that Serbia must do the same in order to join the European Union. In this context, the removal of the monument appears to be a politically charged decision, aimed at pressing Serbia to concede to international demands.
The joint French-German ceremony marking the end of the First World War has been marred by controversies in recent years. The presence of a stele honoring Serbian soldiers in the local media in Kosovo has caused uproar, prompting the embassies of France and Germany to defend their actions. They argued that the controversy tarnished the memory of all soldiers, including the French, German, and Serbian soldiers who died in the First World War, as well as the French soldiers who served for KFOR, a NATO military contingent in the province.
Responding to criticisms, French and German envoys in Pristina emphasized the need to move the stele with the greatest respect and after informing the municipality. However, their decision has been met with deep concern by the Serbian Orthodox Church Diocese of Ras-Prizren, which accused them of revising history and distorting the truth about the presence of Serbian people in the territory.
The significance of Serbian troops in the Balkan Alliance, alongside Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria, in liberating Kosovo from the Ottoman Turks in 1912 cannot be understated. The joint attack by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Bulgaria in 1915 led to fierce battles in Kosovo, and it wasn’t until 1918 that the Serbs returned after their victory on the Salonica Front. Many French troops also took part in the 1918 operation, and the Pristina cemetery long had a monument to them as a tribute.
Alongside the dislocation of the stele honoring Serbian soldiers, the memorial to French soldiers in the cemetery was also revised, now including an inscription in Albanian alongside existing ones in Serbian and French. These changes reflect the geopolitical tensions in the region and the significance of the province to multiple nations.
Overall, the decision to remove the monument appears to be a part of the broader political and diplomatic campaigns aimed at pressuring Serbia into recognition of Kosovo’s independence. However, these actions have sparked controversy and concern among local communities, highlighting the delicate balance of history, memory, and territory in the Balkans.