Kosovo's Future: Serbs Divided on What Direction to Take
With the United Nations talks on the future status of Kosovo at an end, independence for the Serbian province seems a forgone conclusion. Serbians, though, remain divided on what to do about the impending split.
"Kosovo Is Serbia." Serbs held a rally in the ethnically divided Kosovo city of Mitrovita on Tuesday to protest against Kosovo independence.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's contribution was an appeal to international law. "Will, for the first time in UN's history, a decision be taken -- contrary to the will of a democratic state and, what is more, of a UN founding member -- to redraw its internationally recognized borders, to abolish its internationally recognized sovereignty and to amputate 15 percent of its territory?" he asked.
Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu countered with a plea that the final status of Kosovo, 90 percent of whose residents are ethnic Albanians, be determined sooner rather than later. "We are exhausted after nearly two decades of isolation, war and political limbo," Sejdiu said. "Lack of clarity about our status has held back our economy, discouraged international investment and prevented us from accessing international financial institution lending."
But nobody quite knows what will happen next. The European Union has rushed to find a common position on handling the Serbian province, which has been administered by the UN since 1999. Most EU member states are prepared to recognize a declaration of independence by the province. On Thursday, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country takes over the rotating European Union presidency on Jan. 1, said that an independent Kosovo is inevitable.
"The EU and Kosovo have to agree what to do next in a reasonable manner and without any blackmail," he said. "It's clear that certain processes cannot be held back."
Rupel also threw a carrot Belgrade's way, suggesting that the criteria for Serbia's entrance into the European Union be relaxed. The country's accession has long been dependent on handing over Ratko Mladic and other Balkan war criminals to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Rupel pointed to the fact that Croatia was allowed to sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement -- a precursor to EU accession -- before it had turned over all those wanted by The Hague. The same standard should hold true for Serbia, Rupel said on Thursday.
"It is not a matter of being more tolerant of former Yugoslav (war) crimes," Rupel said according to the German news agency dpa. "We are talking about the stability of the Western Balkans."
But it is unclear whether Belgrade even wants closer association with the EU. Tomislav Nikolic, head of Serbia's ultranationalist Radical Party, suggested on Wednesday that the Russians be allowed to build a military base inside Serbia -- and some would like to see closer ties between Belgrade and Moscow. Russia has consistently backed the Serbian position on possible Kosovo independence. According to recent polls carried out ahead of the Serbian presidential elections set for Jan. 20, 75 percent of Serbs say that the country should not trade Kosovo for EU membership.
The polls, though, also reveal a deep split in the country. Even as Serbs want to hang on to Kosovo, 69 percent of them likewise are in favor of joining the EU. In the current campaign for the presidency, Nikolic is virtually even in the polls with the pro-Western incumbent Boris Tadic. Some 75 percent of Nikolic's supporters favor alignment with Russia, according to Reuters, whereas 90 percent of Tadic's supporters want to join the EU as soon as possible.
Kosovo has indicated that it will wait until after the Serbian elections to declare independence in an effort to avoid driving Serbs toward Nikolic. With UN-sponsored negotiations at an end, however, such a declaration now seems just a matter of time.
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