The memorial in Kosovo was "moved slightly" ahead of a Franco-German photo-op
French and German diplomats in Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo made excuses on Monday for moving a monument to soldiers who had died in the Balkan wars of the early 20th century and in World War I, to make room for a memorial to NATO troops.
A local Serbian Orthodox priest visited the cemetery in Pristina and noticed that the monument had been moved. Police told him that the company managing the cemetery had moved it at the request of the French embassy. Local ethnic Albanian authorities said they'd had nothing to do with it.
France and Germany recognize Kosovo as an independent state, and have presented a joint-proposal to Belgrade saying it must do the same before hoping to someday join the EU. The envoys of Paris and Berlin in Pristina have a tradition of jointly commemorating the end of the First World War, in which they were on the opposing sides.
"In recent years and particularly in 2022, this joint French-German ceremony was tarnished by a controversy in certain media in Kosovo over the presence of a stele paying tribute to Serbian soldiers who died between 1912 and 1918," the two embassies said on Monday, confirming that the French embassy had commissioned the monument's removal.
"This controversy was unworthy of the memory of all soldiers: the French, German and Serbian soldiers who died in the First World War but also the 18 French soldiers who died during their service for KFOR, in the protection of all communities of Kosovo," the diplomats added.
KFOR is the name for the NATO military contingent in the province, which was deployed in 1999 after the US-led bloc waged a 78-day air war against Serbia on behalf of predominantly Muslim ethnic Albanian separatists.
"We subsequently moved the stele in homage to the Serbian soldiers only a few meters, with the greatest respect after informing the municipality," France's Olivier Guerot and Germany's Joern Rohde added.
Local Serbs had not been informed of the move. The Serbian Orthodox Church Diocese of Ras-Prizren on Sunday evening issued a statement of "deep concern" that someone was "revising history and muddying up undeniable truths about the presence of the Serbian people in this territory."
Acting as part of the Balkan Alliance with Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria, Serbian troops liberated Kosovo from the Ottoman Turks in 1912. The joint attack by Austria-Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria in late 1915 saw fierce battles in Kosovo, to which the Serbs returned in 1918 after the Allied victory on the Salonica Front.
Many French troops took part in the 1918 operation, and the Pristina cemetery has long featured a monument to them as well. Along with the "dislocation" of the stele to Serbian soldiers, Paris apparently commissioned a revision of that memorial, which now includes an inscription in Albanian alongside those in Serbian and French.