Two Albanian youngsters were set upon by a group of Serbs for speaking Albanian in what is being described as an ethnically driven hate crime.

Two Albanians were brutally beaten in Novi Sad, the capital of the Serbian region of Vojvodina, with one in critical condition. 

Clirim Maloku and his friend, both Kosovo natives, were set upon by four Serb assailants on Sunday, October 7, after being heard speaking Albanian. 

Speaking to TRT World, Demo Berisha, the head of the Albanian Association in Serbia, said the hate crime was a result of the youngsters "speaking Albanian."

Nineteen-year-old Clirim was waiting for a taxi when he was set upon by the unidentified individuals. 

"While being attacked, Clirim suffered severe blows to his head and bleeding in the brain," said Taulant Letaj, a childhood friend, talking to TRT World.

According to Demo Berisha, tensions between Albanians and Serbs have been increasing and they have been expecting such a hate crime, in part due to rising regional tensions.

Clirim was born in 1999 when Serbia was attempting to ethnically cleanse ethnic Albanians from then occupied Kosovo.

He had migrated from his home town of Prizren to work as a baker in one of the many Albanian-run businesses in Novi Sad.  

According to Berisha, there are more than 9,000 Albanians living in Vojvodina, representing more than 400 small and medium-sized businesses. 

Berisha, after having established contact with the family of Clirim Maloku, was able to confirm to TRT World that he is stable but still in critical condition in Novi Sad's central hospital.  

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, who recently praised the late Slobodan Milosevic – one of the chief architects of the Kosovo War that later died at the Hague awaiting trial for crimes against humanity – as “a great Serbian leader,” condemned the attacks against the Albanian youngsters.

Contrarily, Kosovo's prime minister said that "the attack on the two Albanians indicated that freedom of movement in the Serb state is not guaranteed" for Albanians.

Kosovo-Serbia tensions

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a brief and bloody war in 1999 that left 13,000 dead, most of which were ethnic Albanian, and more than 800,000 ethnic Albanians displaced due to Serb efforts to ethnically cleanse them.

The outstanding issue, however, remains: Serbia has thus far refused to give the location of more than 2,000 ethnic Albanians believed to be in mass graves.

The war caused billions of dollars of damage to Kosovo and war reparations continue to be a key sticking point. Pensions and bank deposits of Albanian employees have also been withheld, believed by many to have been taken by the Serb state.

Many of the Serbs that left Kosovo after the war were resettled in Vojvodina, an autonomous region of Serbia, causing tensions within the local Hungarian community.  

More recently, there has been increasing talk between Serb President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci of a land-swap deal between Kosovo and Serbia.

Kosovo would give up a Serb-majority enclave, while Serbia would give up an Albanian majority. 

The discussions have proved highly controversial, especially in Kosovo where the vast majority of the population and the opposition parties are against such a deal. 

Serbia does not recognise Kosovo while the other 111 countries do, representing a majority of the United Nations.