An analyst says that statements by the Serbian president could end the country's hopes of gaining entry into the EU.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 01/08/12
About 80,000 Kosovo Serbs live south of the Ibar River. [Reuters]
The refusal of ultra-nationalist Serb President Tomislav Nikolic to rule out partitioning Kosovo along ethnic lines, reminding people of the bloody wars that followed the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, is causing sharp reactions.
"If you told me 20 years ago there would be no Yugoslavia, I wouldn't have believed you. If you told me Serbia and Montenegro would split, I would have also told you that was impossible. I would also have said that Germany would never reunite, but life brings us surprises," Nikolic told The Guardian in an interview published Sunday (July 29th).
Going a step further, Nikolic said that Serbs in Kosovo are living "under the threat of genocide," and any attempt to impose Pristina's rule in the north "could lead to a Serb exodus."
"What if the Serbs move out? Who will accept the results of such genocide?" Nikolic told The Guardian. The new president said 40,000 people could be expelled, "regardless of whether they are women, men, [civilians or] soldiers." The result would be a change to "the ethnic composition of the territory."
"There is a danger that Pristina would be prepared to go that far. The only armed forces there, apart from the international community, are Albanian. I am convinced they wouldn't mind doing that immediately," Nikolic said, adding that only the presence of NATO troops prevents such action.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci responded, also through The Guardian, reminding Nikolic that two-thirds of the Kosovo Serbs live south of the Ibar River.
"[They] are fully integrated and in charge of the self-governance on the local level and participate in all institutions on the central level," Thaci said.
"Nikolic is embarrassing himself with statements about genocide that have no basis in fact and ideas about partition that would end Serbia's hopes of ever gaining entry into the EU," Daniel Serwer, professor of conflict management at the US-based Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told SETimes.
"[Nikolic] should consult Serbs south of the Ibar River about his partition ideas: most of them are strongly opposed, as is the Serbian Orthodox Church," he said.
Seb Bytyci, executive director of the Balkan Policy Institute in Pristina, said Kosovo's institutions are multi-ethnic and have not undertaken any action that would be described as aiming to cause Kosovo Serbs to flee.
"On the contrary, Kosovo has spent tens of millions of dollars to build a multi-ethnic and integrated society. This rhetoric of victimisation is what has contributed to the terrible wars of the 1990s," Bytyci told SETimes.
Dragan Popovic, director of the Belgrade-based Policy Centre, said it is clear that Nikolic intends to push for a solution to the Serbia-Kosovo issue.
"He expects that Kosovo will not be part of Serbia in the future. That is without doubt a historical change for Serbian elite. Still, there is possibility that he has hopes that Kosovo could be partitioned in the future," Popovic told SETimes.
Bytyci said Serbia's attempts to partition Kosovo are not surprising.
"Since 1999, Serbia has maintained parallel institutions in Kosovo, in breach of Resolution 1244, which have sought to undermine Kosovo's development, chiefly by maintaining segregation between Serbs and Albanians. And throughout this time, Serbia has sought to create a mini-state in northern Kosovo, severely undermining the stability of the whole region," Bytyci told SETimes.