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Forecast podcast: License plate dispute leads to roadblocks, gunfire and rising tensions at Kosovo-Serbia border

A photo of a bridge along the border of Kosovo and Serbia. The bridge entry is blocked by many ecoblocks, preventing vehicle travel across the bridge.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Alex Moore discuss a rise in tensions at the Kosovo-Serbia border that recently led to gunfire, plus more on China’s military drills around Taiwan, Colombia’s presidential inauguration, Moldova’s state of emergency and Kenya’s upcoming election.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Vivian Wang, Irene Villora, Jess Fino, David Wyllie and Alex Moore.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.


Factal Forecast Podcast Transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is August 4th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got China’s military drills around Taiwan, Colombia’s presidential inauguration, Moldova’s state of emergency, Kenya’s upcoming election and a look at a rise in tensions at the Kosovo-Serbia border.

You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

China conducts live-fire military drills around Taiwan

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: China is conducting a series of live-fire military exercises surrounding Taiwan for the next few days. It’s a forceful response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.

Pelosi is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years, and her trip exacerbates China’s already-tense relations with Taiwan and the United States. 

China, of course, claims Taiwan as a runaway province despite the island’s self-governing democracy. Beijing has routinely reacted with outrage to any perceived attempts to support Taiwan for decades, especially from the United States. 

Now, while most analysts maintain a full invasion of Taiwan by China is unlikely in the near future, an accident during the drills could quickly escalate into a deeper crisis

The saber-rattling could also continue for some time because all parties involved will be loath to appear as if they’ve backed down from a threat. 

The exercises, which are expected to run through August 7th, will also significantly disrupt air and water access to Taiwan. In fact, they’re already causing ripple effects on global supply chains. After all, the Taiwan Strait is one of the world’s busiest waterways.

Colombia presidential inauguration

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez will be sworn in on Sunday as the first left-wing president and vice president in the history of Colombia.

Petro and Marquez were elected on June 19 in an historic vote that brought a former M-19 guerrilla and the first Black woman to lead the highest office in the country. 

Heads of state and government from at least 24 countries are expected to attend the inauguration, including Spain’s King Felipe VI. 

Representatives from Nicaragua and Venezuela will not be present at the event. 

Free cultural activities and performances will be held in seven public squares in Bogotá as part of the celebration to display the diverse regional culture of Colombia. 

They’ll be the new government’s first symbolic gesture of inclusivity and representation in public spaces.

Now, Petro and Marquez’s term will last until 2026 and expectations are high for structural changes and a different approach to peace negotiations with armed groups. 

The new government is expected to address quite a few issues during its first 100 days in office, including healthcare funding, environmental policies and economic development.

Moldova extends state of emergency

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: Moldova’s parliament has decided to extend its state of emergency by 60 days starting on Monday. The extension comes as the country continues to deal with the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Moldova introduced the temporary state of emergency on February 24th, just days after Russia invaded Ukraine. 

Since then, the measure has been extended twice and a half million refugees crossed the border to Moldova. 

According to officials, more than 100,000 refugees remain in the country nearly six months after the invasion.

Now, Moldova’s Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița urged lawmakers to extend the state of emergency citing risks to energy and border security.

And while the Comunnist and Socialist blocs voted against the extension, the decision passed with enough votes. 

One day after the vote, the Socialists announced plans to hold a no-confidence motion against the government, claiming a “skyrocketing” increase in the price of goods and services is leading to the impoverishment of the population.

Kenya general election

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: Voters in Kenya will go to the polls on Tuesday to choose the country’s next president, as well as members of the country’s National Assembly and Senate. They’ll also choose county governors and members of county-level assemblies across the country.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has served in the office since 2013, is ineligible for re-election due to term limits. Instead he’s backing long-time rival and former prime minister Raila Odinga over his current Deputy President William Ruto

Aside from the two frontrunners, there are another two candidates who are polling in the single digits but could capture enough of the vote to force a runoff.

Now, if none of the four candidates exceed the 50 percent threshold, the top two will advance to a second round. 

The winner also has to gain at least 25 percent of the votes cast in more than half of the counties

Finally, the country’s election commission will have seven days from the vote to tally the results. Whoever wins will face a laundry list of issues to deal with, including a punishing drought and the effects of a new global food crisis, as well as an economy burdened by debt.

Kosovo-Serbia tensions

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the rising tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. For more on that I spoke with our Europe desk lead Alex Moore.

JIMMY: Hello, Alex.

ALEX: Hello, Jimmy, thank you for having me on.

JIMMY: Hey, let’s just jump right into this. Looks like things got a little heated over the weekend in the Balkans. I’m sure it caught a lot of people off guard. What’s going on with Kosovo and Serbia?

ALEX: So, on Sunday, was sort of the culmination of a long-running dispute between the two over a variety of things, but in this case specifically, license plates and identification cards. So this dispute sort of boiled over on Sunday with gunfire breaking out in multiple areas along the border region in northern Kosovo with Serbia, which is the area of Kosovo that is predominantly ethnically Serb. So, these ethnic Serbs living in this region, they started the protests – they erected road barricades, which led to the two main border crossings being shut. And there were no injuries from the gunfire, which was in some instances fired at Kosovo Police, but there were around a dozen people injured, Kosovar Albanians, and some inter-ethnic fighting. And this was according to Kosovar officials.

JIMMY: Wait, so license plates and ID cards are what started this?

ALEX: Yeah, it’s kind of a long-running dispute that’s been ongoing for over a decade now. There have been some EU-mediated talks since 2011 over this and other issues, of course, but Kosovo calls these “reciprocal measures,” quote unquote, is what they refer to them as, which is the implementation of measures designed to force the Serbians coming in to obtain ID cards for the purpose of their visit that are good for, I think, three months it was, and also revolving around the recognition of license plates administered in Serbia. So essentially, it boils down to a sovereignty issue. Of course, you know, Serbia doesn’t recognize the existence of Kosovo, nor does a significant chunk of the international community. A significant chunk does. It’s one of the most contested, split, recognitions of a country there is in the world at the moment. And that was, of course, born out of the late 90s When NATO intervened in Kosovo when Serbia was fighting a war there. And this was kind of like a watershed geopolitical moment in many ways. Russia to this day repeatedly brings that up to reference, sort of, what it perceives to be rogue NATO operations in their, sort of, sphere of influence, of sorts, because Russia is the, sort of, hegemonic benefactor of Serbia and the state is very close diplomatically to Serbia. So there’s broader context beyond just ID cards and license plates. It’s fundamentally just a sovereignty issue regarding the existence of Kosovo as a state.

JIMMY: So where do things stand now then?

ALEX: The escalation on Sunday was definitely startling. Luckily things quickly cooled. So I sort of mentioned the, sort of, broader geopolitical ramifications and context of the Kosovo-Serbia dispute. So ,the US is Kosovo’s, of course, biggest international benefactor and ally so the US Ambassador to Pristina pretty quickly implored Kosovo to halt the implementation of these reciprocal measures I discussed about the IDs and license plates on Serbians. So, Kosovo agreed on the condition that the barricades be torn down in the ethnically Serb part of the country, which they were the next day and the border crossings were open the next day. So they suspended the implementation of these measures for one month.

JIMMY: Do you think this has the potential to develop into anything larger? Like, the last thing Europe needs right now is more conflict.

ALEX: So yeah, tensions have definitely de-escalated, thankfully, due to the reasons we’ve discussed. But of course, this will come up again in a month if they attempt to implement these measures once again. I would consider it likely that we’d see protests, more road blockages in the northern part of Kosovo bordering Serbia, but whether or not that spills over into a broader conflict – I’m very skeptical. I mentioned NATO’s, sort of, integral role in the creation of the Kosovar state in the late 90s. They, NATO, oversees a peacekeeping force with a UN mandate that Russia even voted for. It’s called KFOR and I believe it’s the highest per capita concentration of NATO forces in Europe. And they are obviously pretty heavily concentrated in these regions that are a bit more of a tinder spark. So I think the odds of any sort of large- scale conflict are very, very slim, but I think the odds of us seeing something similar to what we saw this past weekend are not so slim. I’m not gonna put a number on that, of course, but definitely, more likely. And still more concerning, though I think the odds of a broader Serbian incursion into Kosovo akin to what we saw in the 90s is extremely slim, given the NATO peacekeepers and the very, fairly broad mandate they have to actually engage in fighting which is a bit broader in many instances than we see in other peacekeeping forces around the world.

JIMMY: Well, Alex, we are out of time unfortunately but I thank you for catching us up to speed. Definitely a complex situation. Thanks for explaining it to us.

ALEX: That’s that’s the Balkans. It’s doing the best I can.

JIMMY: Take care

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Vivian Wang, Irene Villora, Jess Fino and David Wyllie. Our interview featured editor Alex Moore and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com.

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2022 Factal. All rights reserved.

Top photo: Serbs in Kosovo blocked a bridge, seen above, in the divided town of Mitrovica during 2013 protests after ties were normalized between Kosovo and Serbia in a U.N.-brokered deal. (Photo: Adam Jones, Ph.D. / Wikimedia Commons)

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