Serbia could become a ‘pariah’ for Kosovo, warns president
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s populist president warned during a chaotic parliament session Thursday that the Balkan nation could become a “pariah” European state if it rejects a Western plan to normalize relations with Kosovo.
President Aleksandar Vucic faced a hostile reception from the right-wing opposition, which has urged parliament to reject the plan and accused him of betraying Serbia.
The plan has not been formally made public, but Vucic said it stipulates that Serbia will not oppose Kosovo’s inclusion in international organizations, including the UN, although it would not have to formally recognize its statehood.
“I have not signed anything. I said we will continue the talks,” Vucic said. “People need to understand… Would we become a European pariah? Yes we would.
The session included shoving and shouting matches between Vucic’s ruling party and opposition lawmakers. They chanted “Treason, treason” and “We will not give up on Kosovo,” and demanded Vucic’s resignation.
Vucic responded by yelling at the protesting lawmakers that they are “thieves and traitors.”
The sovereignty of Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared its independence in 2008, is not recognized by the Serbian government.
The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has been a source of tension in the Balkans since the 1998-1999 war that ended when a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbia to withdraw from the former Serbian province. The United States and the European Union have recently stepped up efforts to resolve the issue, fearing instability as Russia’s war rages in Ukraine.
In Kosovo on Thursday, Prime Minister Albin Kurti laid out the conditions for the formation of an association of Serb-majority municipalities, which is supported by both the US and the EU. Kurti said that the association can only be formed as part of a general agreement on the normalization of relations, which Serbia has rejected in the past.
Kosovo authorities fear that a community of Serb-dominated municipalities, first agreed upon in EU-led talks in 2013, would eventually undermine the country’s statehood with Belgrade’s help. Instead, Kurti urged Belgrade to dismantle any Serbia-backed institutions among the Kosovo Serb community, which overwhelmingly rejects Kosovo’s independence.
Vucic said he was told by Western envoys last month that Serbia’s EU accession process would stop and economic investment would stop if Belgrade decides to reject the latest Western offer to reach a solution.
As Vucic spoke in parliament, right-wing lawmakers held banners accusing the Serbian president of treason for Kosovo, which many in Serbia consider the cradle of national identity.
Hardline pro-Russian opposition lawmakers in parliament described the Western plan for Kosovo as an “ultimatum.” They said it would mean Serbia would have to recognize Kosovo’s independence as a condition of eventually joining the European Union.
“We don’t see a single reason why we should accept this Western ultimatum,” said Bosko Obradovic of the far-right Dveri party, urging the assembly to vote to reject it.
Serbia has had the support of Russia and China in its rejection of Kosovo’s independence. This is one of the reasons why Belgrade has not imposed any sanctions on Moscow for the war in Ukraine.
Vucic said it is in “vital interest” for Serbia to continue with the EU accession process, but reiterated that the country would not join NATO. Rejection of Western efforts would result in “total isolation,” he warned. “You can’t function alone.”
The decades-long simmering tensions between Serbia and Kosovo occasionally erupt into violence, particularly in the north of the country that borders Serbia and is populated mainly by ethnic Serbs.
The 1998-1999 war broke out when ethnic Albanian separatists launched a rebellion against the Serbian government, and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown. Some 13,000 people died, mostly ethnic Albanians.
Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania contributed to this report.