Copyrighted material


by Vesna Peric Zimonjic

to coverage of Kosovo declaration of independence

(IPS) BELGRADE -- Frustration over the Sunday declaration of independence of Kosovo is spreading all over Serbia, with protest rallies being organized around the country.

Kosovo is being taken away, protesting Serbs say, as demonstrations continued Monday after a night of violence.

On Sunday evening, hundreds of angry youths broke windows of the embassies of the United States and of Slovenia, currently president of the European Union (EU). Two McDonald's restaurants in Belgrade were damaged.

The police used tear gas to disperse protesters who hurled stones and bottles at police and buildings. Forty people were taken to Belgrade hospitals.

"Emotions are very strong, that is understandable, but the main question is what happens next," professor of international law Vojin Dimitrijevic told IPS. "The life of this nation cannot stop because of the issue of Kosovo."

For many Serbs, the real issue is the road their nation is to take in the future. Many see the harsh words used by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who blamed the U.S. and the EU for the "illegal and unprecedented acts of helping the false state of Kosovo," as a threat to further integration of Serbia into the international community.

"Kosovo can have serious negative implications for Serbia's future," said interpreter Sasa Visacki (56) in Belgrade. "I'm afraid of unfavorable economic developments, and the threat of isolation."

Over recent months, Kostunica has pushed the nation further away from the EU and into the embrace of Russia, through its search of support over Kosovo.

"I'm also afraid that instead of further development, our isolation will mean that we'll sit and wait for bits and odds that Russia will throw to us over a fence," Visacki said.

The Serbian government is preparing to downgrade relations with countries that recognize independent Kosovo.

"We'll invite ambassadors to the EU countries and the U.S. to Belgrade for consultations in that case," foreign minister Vuk Jeremic told state controlled Radio Television of Serbia (RTS).

"Downgrading and worsening of relations with the EU and U.S. can help Serbia in no way," political science professor Jovan Teokarevic said on the popular talk show on B92 TV 'Impressions of the Week.'

"That would be a bad choice, as Russia is not our neighbor, and the isolation has not made anyone successful. We've been there in the 1990s and barely recovered," he added, referring to the years when international sanctions ruined the economy of Serbia.

Dimitrijevic says the Kosovo issue has pushed anti-European politicians and forces into the forefront because crises tend to rally people around national interests.

"However, such politicians are still afraid to say in the open that Serbia does not need the EU," Dimitrijevic said. "That would be pretty dangerous for them, as 75 percent of people say they'd like to see Serbia in the EU one day."

Serbia is also closely watching the reactions in its neighborhood, where nations born from the disintegration of former Yugoslavia still mull their options over recognition of independent Kosovo.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, president of the three-member presidency Haris Silajdzic said following the anger expressed by Bosnian Serbs that "all the relevant institutions will keep peace and order." Bosnia-Herzegovina comprises the largely autonomous Republic of Srpska (RS) comprising Serbs, and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

Prime Minister of RS Milorad Dodik said that "the RS was never going to recognize an independent Kosovo." Fears are mounting that the RS might try to declare independence from Bosnia-Herzegovina, but Silajdzic said that "Bosnia-Herzegovina is an independent, internationally recognized state whose status can in no way depend on Kosovo."

Croatian President Stipe Mesic was cautious in his statement to Croatian TV.

"Croatia should not blindly follow other nations," Mesic said. "Serbia should be helped in all ways, mostly by providing aid to its joining the family of European nations."

Prior to his statement, the Croatian foreign ministry said it will "carefully study the behavior and moves of other nations before making any final decision on recognising the independence of Kosovo."

Officials of Macedonia and Montenegro spoke along the same lines mostly.

Macedonian foreign ministry spokesman Ivica Bocevski told local media that "the situation will be carefully followed, and the decision (on recognition of Kosovo independence) will be taken in accordance with the interests of the state."

Macedonia has a 30 percent ethnic Albanian minority, and faced armed rebellion from Albanian groups several years ago. The crisis was solved through constitutional reforms that provided for larger participation of ethnic Albanians in government.

In Montenegro, assistant foreign minister Irena Radovic said that the small nation will "follow the interests of the regional stability, and national interests" when deciding on Kosovo.

But on the streets of Serbia, there is anger and sadness. Milijana Stankovic, Kosovo Serb and mother of three, told IPS she felt nothing but depression.

"I know I won't be able to go back to my home, and that is disheartening," she said. "But we are small people who struggle for everyday living here in Serbia. The only important thing is that peace and stability prevail here."

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Albion Monitor   February 19, 2008   (

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