Everything you need to know about Serbia elections

The Serbian Parliament has 250 seats, and incumbent President Aleksandar Vučić will face off against his main opposition rivals from a right-wing bloc, and Belgrade Mayor Dragan Djilas.

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Serbia goes to the polls on Sunday 17 December in early parliamentary elections for the People’s Assembly of Serbia and for the provincial parliament of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. 

People in more than 60 towns and cities will also vote, since the mayors of those municipalities resigned when the parliamentary elections were called.

Who are the main contestants?

Incumbents

On one side is the ruling coalition lead by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. In the outgoing parliament this coalition, together with the supportive party of ethnic Hungarians had a comfortable majority of more than 150 deputies. The Serbian Parliament has 250 seats. This coalition has been ruling the country since 2012 when Aleksandar Vučić, having split from the nationalist Radical Party, lead the then new Progressive Party to victory. The second largest partner in the coalition is the Socialist Party of Serbia, once headed by the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic who died in the Hague UN prison indicted for war crimes during the 90-ies wars in former Yugoslavia. 

During the previous decade the Vučić Party had significant success in economic development of the country, having built modern infrastructure, reduced unemployment and attracted foreign investment. But Vučić’s ruling style, where all the power in the country is centered in his office had him often branded populist autocrat. Both the European Parliament and the European Commission have addressed serious deficiencies in the Serbian democracy in all of their annual reports on the progress of Serbia towards the EU membership. Most complaints have to do with the rule of law and the freedom of the press. Vučić is often compared with the Hungarian PM Victor Orban with whom he has a very friendly relationship. Recently Vučić received a lot of flack from the European capitals and the US for refusing to join the western sanctions against Russia and openly stating his intention to maintain good relations with Moscow while condemning its attack on Ukraine.

Opposition

The opposition side is divided into two camps. The first is so-called pro-European opposition. The largest party there is the Freedom and Justice Party lead by the former mayor of Belgrade Dragan Djilas. This block includes civic, green and center-leftist parties whose programmes have the EU membership of Serbia in their focus. Their decade-long attempts to upset Vučić produced modest results. Some analysts point out that this is due to the lack of coherent programme or counter-offer to the voters. They themselves blame their sluggish performance on the fact that Vučić controls the national media, bashes them with his tabloid press and obstructs their work. In the outgoing parliament this block had around 40 deputies.

The second opposition block is that of the right-wing nationalists. They failed to agree on the pre-election coalition so they will face the voters in two camps. Both of them have similar programmes though. Apart from typically right-wing traditionalist, pro-family, pro-life, anti-abortion and anti-gay rhetoric a lot of their agenda is focused on Kosovo (a former Serbian province which declared independence in 2008, a move that Serbia refuses to accept). They say that saving the sovereignty over the “heart of Serbia” is the first of many reasons why the Serbs should say no to the EU membership. So far the parties from this part of the spectrum had around 20 deputies in the parliament.

Why are the elections early?

Indeed, why should a country with stable majority in the parliament and no crisis of government have a snap election? And not just one, but four in a row. The previous elections were last year.

Since the SNS came to power, this will be the seventh time that Serbian citizens have been called to the polls. Only once have the deputies had the chance to finish their four-year term.

“Vučić calls new elections when it suits him, when he perceives a decline in popularity or when he assumes that situations unfavourable to his government may arise in the future. By doing so, he manages to carve out room for maneuvre that allows him to postpone important decisions, primarily those concerning Kosovo,” wrote Antonela Riha, a well-known Serbian journalist and political analyst for Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa.

In the past, the opposition protested such elections, even boycotted them. This time around they demanded them albeit only for the Serbian and Belgrade parliaments.

“I solved neither side of this equation. I do not understand why the opposition demanded the elections, it’s a mystery to me. An even bigger mystery is why Vučić intended to have them anyhow. There is no crisis of the legitimacy of government which demands snap elections. You don’t have hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. When the people did take to the streets the leaders of the opposition addressing them shouted at Vučić: “Don’t you dare call the elections!”, says Ljilja Smajlovic, a journalist and political analyst.

What is at stake? Parliamentary electioned turned presidential

The opposition demanded the parliamentary elections be held separately from the Belgrade and Vojvodina ones and that Vučić does not lend his name to the campaigns he is not a candidate in. Vučić refused them flatly declaring the elections a confidence vote for him personally.

“If they (the opposition) win the elections I will give them the mandate but I shall no longer be the President because I would no longer be able to do anything for the citizens of Serbia. I want the people to know that…. I want the people to know that when they vote, they do not only vote for the list of deputies, they also vote for their president, they vote for me or against me, just like they (the opposition) say,” said Vučić on the campaign’s starting rally.

Is it all about Belgrade?

Opinion polls suggest that the ratings of the ruling parties are not in sharp decline in comparison to the previous elections. If the SNS can maintain the same or similar coalition they have now, they should not have a problem forming the next government.

But the capital city is the traditional stronghold of civic, liberal parties, currently in opposition. In previous Belgrade elections the SNS struggled to form the city government and managed only after repeated voting and after some opposition deputies defected to them. This is the closest race again and the important one. Belgrade is home to one quarter of the Serbian population and produces more than half of the country’s GDP. It is where the money is and winning Belgrade is generally seen as the prelude

to assuming power in the whole of the country. Pro-EU opposition is the strongest one but the nationalist one, along with the Socialists could still be the king-makers.

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What is on offer for voters?

Throughout the campaign the ruling SNS party has been trying to capitalize on the economic achievements. Hundreds of miles of new, modern highways, high-speed trains, refurbished schools and hospitals and constant influx of foreign investment.

“As of the beginning of October, we have 3.42 billion euro worth of new foreign direct investment this year. Last year was a record one, with 4.4 billion but I hope we will surpass that by the end of the year,” said Vučić on a rally inaugurating a new road in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina.

Unemployment rate of 9.1% (projected by the IMF) is lower than in some EU member states and the economy growth was steady throughout the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine (this year projected at 2.5% by the Government). The government also boasts record hard currency and gold reserves as well as a small budget deficit of 3%. The only data that spoils the picture, especially because it makes life hard for the people, is the second highest inflation in Europe (Turkey excluded) of over 10% as of November.

The opposition focuses on the rule of law, media freedom and corruption, all three being the constant point of criticism in several successive reports on the progress of Serbia towards the EU membership by the European Commission and European Parliament issued so far.

“The new technical government should set aside differences, arrest all the crimnals, you see that crime is rampant. Policemen who fight and arrest the drug dealers will lead the police, not the ones who prevent them from doing so. Everyone’s property will be examined as well as business deals and tenders. And we will free the media,“ promised Djilas (in a Euronews Serbia programme).

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What was the campaign like?

With the elections having been turned into a no-confidence vote on Vučić’s rule, the lengthy 45-day campaign soon turned into trading insults and accusations. The opposition used their media to accuse Vučić of organizing crime and corruption and he fired back salvos from the media he controls, notably the high-circulation tabloids to portray opposition leaders as enemies of the people.

After a visit to Serbia, Council of Europe observers underlined that the election campaign is characterised by “an unprecedented level of negative language, scaremongering, attacks on the opposition and journalists and serious problems affecting the media”.

However, the physical fights between party activists and poster wars that happened in the past, were not reported so far.

With the opinion polls showing that most of the older voters are already decided and unlikely to change their minds, the politicians engaged younger ones including the first time voters. Vučić announced that high-school children would be given a 10.000 dinars (€90) of financial aid each and students’ newly established benefit cards topped up with 1.000 (€9). The opposition accused him of bribing the voters with the money from the budget. Vučić, along with some of his ministers, also opened a Tic Toc account where he performs memes.

With the opposition crying foul because of the electoral conditions the monitoring of elections will be crucial to eliminate the possibility of irregularities or claims of thereof. Observation promises to be abundant. All the participating parties are allowed to send observers to all the polling places. As usual OSCE, Council of Europe and the EU missions will observe the vote as will some of the Serbian NGOs.

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Kosovo attack: Who benefits?

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe. 

The European Union and the United States have been trying to persuade Serbia and Kosovo to end their enmity and normalize relations for more than a decade.

There were finally signs of promise in April, when Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti finally gave tacit, if begrudging, approval to an EU-brokered plan that would see the two finally sprinkle some soil over the hatchet.

But despite all the cajoling and coaxing, it wasn’t to be.

U.S. and European officials have insinuated that Kurti was more to blame here, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell drawing attention to the failure to establish an association of municipalities in northern Kosovo, which would have allowed Kosovo’s Serbs some autonomy in an enclave where they’re a majority.

Behind the scenes, U.S. and European officials have also quietly praised Vučić for a slow and halting tilt toward the West, secretly supplying some arms to Ukraine and moving to reduce Serbia’s dependency on Russian energy supplies.

This is why last week’s astonishing clash between armed Serbs and police in the village of Banjska, in northern Kosovo’s Zvečan municipality, is especially perplexing — and it’s worth asking whose interests it serves.

Kosovo’s leaders quickly blamed Vučić for the attack, which also involved a siege of an Orthodox monastery. A Kosovan policeman and three Serb gunmen were killed in the clash. And Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani said Friday that “the (armed) group simply exercised the intentions and the motives of Serbia as a country and Vučić as the leader.”

Osmani maintains Belgrade was trying to copy Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which began with so-called little green men infiltrating the Ukrainian peninsula. “They are trying to carry out a Crimea model in the Republic of Kosovo, but we will absolutely not let that happen,” she added.

Kurti has called for sanctions to be imposed on Serbia for what he describes as a state-sponsored terrorist attack, warning that if the crime goes unpunished, Belgrade will repeat it. Vučić planned and ordered an attack in northern Kosovo “to destabilize” the country with the goal of starting a war, he said.

In response, Vučić has angrily denied these allegations but has noticeably hardened his rhetoric, possibly as a sop to Serbian ultra-nationalists. More alarmingly, however, Serbia has been building up its forces near the border with Kosovo since the deadly clashes, which the White House has described as “unprecedented.” And according to U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, on a phone call with Vučić, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged an “immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue.”

If Belgrade did have a hand in the attack, however, it would appear to pull against the caution Vučić has displayed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, hedging his bets between the West and Serbia’s traditional Slavic ally. Vučić didn’t join in on Western sanctions against Russia but has condemned the invasion, and says he’s keen to pursue Serbia’s bid for EU membership.

If Belgrade did have a hand in the attack, it would appear to pull against the caution Aleksandar Vučić has displayed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine | Andrej Cukic/EFE via EPA

Marko Đurić, the Serbian ambassador to the U.S., echoes Vučić’s argument that planning or approving an attack in Kosovo at this juncture would make no sense and potentially ruin Belgrade’s improving relations with the West. “We have a lot to lose by any kind of escalation in Kosovo,” he told POLITICO — including harming the country commercially.

Đurić also said the attack has complicated the country’s domestic politics, noting that “the far right in Serbia is going to try and exploit this to the greatest extent possible.”

But Kosovo’s leaders have a case against Belgrade that needs answering.

To support the allegation that Vučić endorsed the attack, they highlight the role of Milan Radoičić, the deputy leader of the Serb List — a party that dominates Serb politics in northern Kosovo and has close links with Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party.

Nicknamed the “boss of the north,” Radoičić admitted to organizing and leading the attack in a statement issued by his lawyer, saying he was solely responsible. “I didn’t inform anyone from the government structures of the Republic of Serbia about this, nor from the local political structures from the north of Kosovo and Metohija, nor did I get any help from them, because we already had had different views on the previous methods of resisting Kurti’s terror,” he said.

But Kurti dismisses the idea that Radoičić would have gone ahead without Vučić’s approval. “I have no doubt that Radiočić was only the executor. The one who planned and ordered this terrorist, criminal attack on our state, in order to violate our territorial integrity, national safety and state security, is none other than President Vučić,” he told reporters.

Other officials in Pristina also say it would be stretching credulity to think Aleksandar Vulin, the head of Serbia’s BIA intelligence agency, would have been unaware of a planned attack.

Bojan Pajtić, a Serbian law professor and former president of the autonomous province of Vojvodina within Serbia, agrees the Banjska provocation wouldn’t have gone ahead without the security agency’s knowledge, saying it is improbable that the BIA would have failed to notice an operation being prepared by a heavily armed formation consisting of dozens of people in such a small area. “The BIA normally knows who drank coffee with whom yesterday in Zvečan,” he said.

“When an incident occurs that is not accidental, but the result of someone’s efforts, you always wonder whose interests it is in,” Paltić said. “In this case, it is certainly not in the interest of Aleksandar Vučić, because after the last attempt at dialogue in Brussels, in the eyes of the West, in relation to Kurti, he still looked like a constructive partner.”

Pajtić isn’t alone in querying who’s interest the attack was in, and so far, both Washington and Brussels have been extremely cautious in their comments. European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano said the EU will wait for the completion of the investigation before coming to any conclusions on what he described as a terrorist attack. Washington, careful to keep its language neutral, hasn’t been specific about who it blames either.

This, of course, stands in sharp contrast to Moscow, which predictably grandstanded as Serbia’s traditional protector, accusing Pristina of ethnic cleansing in northern Kosovo — the very same lie used to try to justify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“This incident, the most serious example of violence in Kosovo for years, turned the tables on Vučić,” said Dimitar Bechev, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. And he, too, questioned whether the attack was a rogue operation by Serbian ultra-nationalists and Kosovo’s Serb leaders.

“Should the story of Radoičić freelancing be corroborated, it would appear that Vučić has lost control over his erstwhile proxies,” he said.



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This is why the Serbia-Uganda trade deal makes perfect sense

By Odrek Rwabwogo, Chair of Uganda’s Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports and Industrial Development, and Bratislav Stoiljković, Uganda’s trade representative to southeastern Europe

The agreement signed between the two countries in Belgrade last week has breathed new life into a little-known but in fact, long-standing and increasingly fruitful partnership, Odrek Rwabwogo and Bratislav Stoiljković write.

It’s not often you see an African leader travel to southeastern Europe on a state visit.

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Yet, just last week, President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni met his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić, officially opening Uganda’s new, Belgrade-based trade hub, and signing a number of agreements promoting trade between the two countries.

For agriculture-dominated Uganda, aggressive growth of export revenue has been identified as critical to its economic recovery and the ultimate goal of the East African country’s further industrialisation. Serbia has emerged as an important, if at first look surprising, partner of choice.

Typically, when it comes to trade, African countries tend to focus their efforts on places such as the UK or the EU, with whom many have long-established links. And this is not that different at all. 

Uganda’s “new” pitch toward Serbia is no such thing. In fact, the two countries already enjoy long-standing ties reaching back to the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which Serbia — as part of the former Yugoslavia — helped to found, and of which Uganda takes up the chairmanship later this year.

From the Non-Aligned to the Open Balkan

The movement has been going through a revival in recent years, as many countries wish to stay neutral and outside of the increasingly polarising power struggles between the East and the West. 

To such countries, NAM offers both a safe haven and a network that dates back to the Cold War era, and today represents a ready-made club of shared connections.

Serbia also offers a unique gateway to markets for so long inaccessible to Africa. In a unique position of holding Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with the EU, Turkey, and the UAE, the Balkan country offers a unique entry point for Ugandan products such as coffee, fresh produce and cocoa. 

The regional “mini-Schengen” initiative, Open Balkan, that Serbia is a part of, only expands the market potential further. 

Once a direct transport link between Belgrade and the Ugandan key transportation hub Entebbe is established — which Air Serbia and Uganda Airlines intend to do through a codeshare agreement next year — there will be a new, direct commercial and cargo route from Africa to Europe and onwards to all of Serbia’s regional FTA partners.

There are also business opportunities for Serbia in the opposite direction. 

Uganda has one of the world’s fastest-growing media markets, powered by a population with a median age of 17. Serbia’s media sector and film and TV industry dominate the Balkan region but have little room to expand there. 

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There is a construction and infrastructure boom in Belgrade, and similarly in Uganda where Serbian companies such as Energoprojekt dating back to Yugoslav times are already well established.

Complementary economies and EU import tariffs

Moreover, Uganda is a complementary economy to Serbia, meaning the two produce things that the other does not and cannot. 

The climate in Serbia doesn’t allow you to grow a single pineapple, banana, or coffee bean any time of the year. In Uganda, these products can grow all year round. 

This is why the two economies are not competitors on the global market, and that means there is a lot they can offer to each other.

But it is, perhaps, value addition in the Ugandan coffee sector — processing coffee in Uganda before export — where Serbia can contribute the most, and reap the greatest reward.

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It may be surprising to know that Germany is in fact the world’s largest exporter of freeze-dried instant coffee. 

This country, which also cannot grow a single bean, outpaces almost the entirety of coffee-producing Africa for income made from the coffee business.

Germany has no special technology that others do not possess. The simple reason why they’re number one in this industry are the punitive EU import tariffs that have stopped the import of anything other than raw coffee from Africa into Europe in its tracks. 

To put it simply, European tariffs are so exceptionally high, it is actually cheaper to produce freeze-dried coffee in high-wage Germany than it is to create a single job in the coffee processing industry in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is just the beginning

This means the value-addition sector has been hobbled for decades by a trade policy made elsewhere in the name of free trade but which is in fact protectionism, pure and simple. 

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But this is changing. The UK has recently unveiled highly generous and advantageous new trade tariffs for Africa, which will enable the import of coffee processed in Africa to the fifth-largest world economy. 

In time, this is set to lead to increasing pressure on the EU to change its own prohibitive trade policies.

And this is where the opportunity lies for Serbia. The country’s coffee sector which itself is large, is now intending to offer through investment and joint ventures one of the first opportunities for Uganda since independence to develop its own processing industry.

The opening of a new Ugandan trade hub in Belgrade is just the beginning. 

More will follow in other key locations including the UK, US, and Dubai. But the agreements signed in Serbia last week lay the foundations for all the rest while breathing new life into a little-known, but in fact long-standing and increasingly fruitful partnership.

Odrek Rwabwogo is a Ugandan farmer and Chair of Uganda’s Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports and Industrial Development (PACEID), and Bratislav Stoiljković is a Serbian entrepreneur and Uganda’s trade representative to southeastern Europe.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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NATO peacekeepers injured in clashes with ethnic Serb protesters in Kosovo

Over 30 peacekeepers deployed in a NATO-led mission in Kosovo were injured Monday in clashes with Serb protesters who demanded the removal of recently elected ethnic Albanian mayors, as tensions flare in the Balkan nation.

The KFOR mission said it had faced “unprovoked attacks” while countering a hostile crowd, after demonstrators clashed with police and tried to force their way into a government building in the northern town of Zvecan.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said 52 Serbs were hurt, three seriously, while one was “wounded with two gunshots by (ethnic) Albanian special forces”.

Hungary‘s defence minister said on Facebook that “more than 20 Hungarian soldiers” were among the wounded, with seven in a serious but stable condition.

Italy‘s foreign minister said three of its soldiers were seriously wounded, and the country’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni joined NATO in calling for “all parties to take a step back to lower tensions”.

Kosovo‘s Serbs had boycotted last month’s elections in northern towns, which allowed ethnic Albanians to take control of local councils despite a minuscule turnout of under 3.5 percent of voters.

Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government officially installed the mayors last week, defying calls to ease the tensions by the European Union and the United States, which have both championed the territory’s 2008 independence from Serbia.

Many Serbs are demanding the withdrawal of Kosovo police forces — whose presence in northern Kosovo has long sparked resistance — as well as the ethnic Albanian mayors they do not consider their true representatives.

Fractures and burns

Early Monday, groups of Serbs clashed with Kosovo police in front of the municipal building in Serb-majority Zvecan and tried to enter, after which law enforcers responded by firing tear gas, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.kf

NATO-led peacekeepers in the KFOR mission at first tried to separate protesters from the police, but later started to disperse the crowd using shields and batons, an AFP journalist saw.

Several protesters responded by hurling rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails at the soldiers, but were quickly repelled a few hundred meters away from the Zvecan municipal building.

“While countering the most active fringes of the crowd, several soldiers of the Italian and Hungarian KFOR contingent were the subject of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices,” KFOR said in a statement.

Eleven Italian soldiers were injured with “three in a serious condition”, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said.

“We will not tolerate further attacks against KFOR,” said Meloni. “It is essential to avoid further unilateral actions by the Kosovo authorities and for all parties to take a step back to lower tensions”. 

NATO strongly condemned the “unprovoked” attacks against KFOR troops, adding that such actions were “totally unacceptable”.

“Violence must stop immediately. We call on all sides to refrain from actions that further inflame tensions, and to engage in dialogue,” NATO said in a statement.

The Commander of the KFOR Mission, Division General Angelo Michele Ristuccia, slammed the “unacceptable” attacks and underlined that KFOR will “continue to fulfil its mandate impartially”.

Kosovo police said “organised” demonstrators rallied in northern Kosovo towns, home to many ethnic Serbs who reject Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.

“The protesters, using violence and throwing tear gas, tried to cross the security cordons and make a forced entry into the municipality facility” in Zvecan, Kosovo police said in a statement.

“Police were forced to use legal means, such as (pepper) spray, to stop the protesters and bring the situation under control.”

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and Belgrade and its key allies Russia and China have refused to recognise it, effectively preventing Kosovo from having a seat at the United Nations.

Serbs in Kosovo remained largely loyal to Belgrade, especially in the north, where they make up a majority and reject every move by Pristina to consolidate its control over the region.

International concern

KFOR said it had bolstered its presence in northern Kosovo following the latest developments and urged Belgrade and Pristina to engage in an EU-led dialogue to reduce tensions.

“We call on all sides to refrain from actions that could inflame tensions or cause escalation,” KFOR said in a statement.

Police had already used tear gas Friday to disperse Serbs in northern Kosovo who protested the installation of the mayors.

Belgrade responded by placing its army on high alert and ordered forces towards the Serbian border with Kosovo.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking on a visit to Kenya, said that “Serbs are fighting for their rights in northern Kosovo”.

“A big explosion is looming in the heart of Europe, where NATO in 1999 carried out an aggression against Yugoslavia,” Lavrov said, referring to the 1999 NATO intervention against Belgrade that effectively ended the war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

The US ambassador and European Union envoy have summoned the ethnic Albanian mayors to a meeting in Pristina in a bid to ease tensions.

Two media teams from Pristina reported that protesters had slashed their tyres and spray-painted their vehicles, while a local journalists’ association called on law enforcers to provide a safe working environment for the media.

After his first-round victory at the French Open on Monday, Serbian tennis superstar Novak Djokovic penned the message “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a television camera.

“Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, centre of the most important things for our country,” Djokovic told reporters.

“I am against war, violence and conflict of any kind and I have always publicly shown that. Of course I have sympathy for all people but what is happening with Kosovo is a precedent in international law.”

(AFP)

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Second shooting spree prompts harsh anti-gun measures in Serbia

Following a second shooting spree within a week, the Serbian president announced a harsh crackdown on guns.

Serbian police have arrested the 21-year-old suspect in a shooting that killed eight people, including an off-duty police officer, and injured another 14.

In a statement, police said that the man, identified by initials UB, was arrested early Friday after a drive-by shooting spree that began in the village of Dubona near Mladenovac, and then continued in Malo Orašje and Šepšin.

Mladenovac is found in central Serbia, about 100 kilometres south of Belgrade.

The arrest followed an all-night manhunt by hundreds of police officers, who sealed off the area south of Belgrade where the shooting took place late Thursday.

Since then, police have raided the second shooter’s weekend home and found a large collection of additional weapons. 

The shooting came a day after a 13-year-old boy used his father’s guns to kill eight fellow students and a guard at a school in Belgrade.

“For the second time in 48 hours, we have to address the public with difficult news,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić told journalists in Belgrade. “This repeated criminal act and indiscriminate shooting of people randomly standing in front of their doors, after the attack on our children, is an attack on our entire country,” he continued.

‘A nationwide campaign of disarmament is needed’

Vučić announced the government would take new measures to crack down on the availability of weapons in the country and establish strict controls on those who have licenses to possess them.

“Just like many other countries faced with similar situations, we have to find the strength in these difficult times for unpopular but brave measures that lead to concrete results,” said Vučić.

Until Wednesday’s incident, a single police officer would be responsible for checking up on 2 or 3 schools. In the next couple of months, hundreds of new police officers will be hired and thousands more will be transferred from other positions to monitor schools.

“Besides the guards, there will now be at least one police officer at every school almost all the time,” Vučić explained.

The bloodshed sent shockwaves through a Balkan nation scarred by wars but unused to mass murders.

Though Serbia is awash with weapons left over from the wars of the 1990s, mass shootings are extremely rare. Wednesday’s school shooting was the first in the country’s modern history. The last mass shooting before this week was in 2013 when a war veteran killed 13 people in a central Serbian village.

The new measures include accelerated changes to the law on weapons and ammunition, according to which the preconditions for possessing short firearms will be toughened. Guns will be confiscated from those who do not comply with these new strict limits.

“Everyone who has weapons, that’s about 400,000 people in the country not including hunting weapons, will undergo an audit and we hope to bring down the number of weapons to 30,000 or 40,000 respective firearms,” the president continued.

“We will carry out an almost complete disarmament of Serbia,” said Vučić.

Weapon license holders are subject to these measures. The penalties for illegally carrying firearms, however, will be doubled.

Serbian Interior Minister Bratislav Gašić called Thursday’s drive-by shootings “a terrorist act,” state media reported.

Earlier Thursday, Serbian students, many wearing black and carrying flowers, filled streets around the school in central Belgrade as they paid silent homage to slain peers. Thousands laid flowers, lit candles and left toys to commemorate the nine victims.

The tragedy also sparked a debate about the general state of the nation following decades of crises and conflicts whose aftermath has created a state of permanent insecurity and instability, along with deep political divisions.

Authorities on Thursday moved to boost gun control, as police urged citizens to lock up their guns and keep them away from children.

The government ordered a two-year moratorium on short-barrel guns, tougher control of people with guns and shooting ranges and tougher sentences for people who enable minors to get hold of guns.

A registered gun owner in Serbia must be over 18, healthy and have no criminal record. Weapons must be kept locked and separately from ammunition.

The teen had planned the attack for a month, drawing sketches of classrooms and making lists of children he planned to kill, police said on Wednesday.

They said the boy, who had visited shooting ranges with his father and apparently had the code to his father’s safe, took two guns from the safe where they were stored together with bullets to carry out the attack.

The shooting on Wednesday morning in Vladislav Ribnikar primary school also left seven people hospitalised — six children and a teacher. One girl who was shot in the head remains in life-threatening condition, and a boy is in serious condition with spinal injuries, doctors said on Thursday morning.

The children killed were seven girls and one boy. One of the girls was a French citizen, France’s foreign ministry said.

Authorities set up a helpline to help people cope with the tragedy, and hundreds donated blood for the wounded victims. A three-day mourning period started Friday morning.

Serbian teachers’ unions announced protests and strikes to warn about a crisis in the school system and demand changes. Authorities shrugged off responsibility, with some officials blaming Western influence.

Police have not given any motive for the boy’s actions. Upon entering his school, he first killed the guard and three students in the hallway. He then went to the history classroom where he shot a teacher before turning his gun on the students.

He then unloaded the gun in the schoolyard and called the police himself, although they had already received an alert from a school official. When he called, he told duty officers he was a “psychopath who needs to calm down,” police said.

Authorities said the shooter is below the legal age to be charged and tried for his actions. He has been placed in a mental institution, while his father and mother have been detained on suspicion of endangering public security and could face charges for not preventing the shooter from getting access to the guns.

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Serbia mourns 8 dead schoolchildren with unprecedented unity

Often characterised by its divisions and political hostilities, Serbia is united in mourning the 8 schoolchildren and guard killed in Wednesday’s shooting spree.

Serbian elementary schools began this morning with a moment of silence.

The country is still reeling from Wednesday’s tragedy, in which a teenager entered his school with weapons and killed eight of his classmates and a guard.

Last night, hundreds of mourners gathered in the Vračar neighborhood where the school is located to mourn the dead.

 Two of the six children who were seriously injured yesterday are still in critical condition and are being treated in Belgrade hospitals.

Who’s to blame?

News outlets and social media in the country are ablaze with theories about who is responsible for Serbia’s deadliest school attack.

The most popular theory, launched yesterday during a press conference with journalists by the Minister of Education Branko Ružić, claims that “Western value systems” introduced the children to school shootings, suggesting that the phenomenon has been imported from the United States.

“The cancerous, pernicious influence of internet video games and so-called Western values is evident, and it is clear to all of us that a major turnaround is needed,” Ružić told journalists.

“We need to find solutions so that this does not become a socially acceptable way of behaving as it has in some Western countries,” he continued.

His statement was widely criticized by civil society organizations, including the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) in Belgrade, a leading independent voice in the country.

“With a shameful statement during yesterday’s press conference in the Government of Serbia. By denying that the system failed he accused Western values, the internet and video games for the suffering of children, teachers and security personnel,” the YIHR said in a statement.

“Instead of claiming responsibility and resigning, the minister did not miss the opportunity to recklessly abuse a great tragedy for political points,” the organization said in a statement.

The majority of parties and major outlets in Serbia hold Western-skeptic views, regularly questioning the perceived influence of the EU, NATO, and the United States on its society.

Pre-planned kill list

Belgrade police say a 13-year-old boy committed Wednesday’s shooting spree at a school after making a list of fellow students he planned to kill.

“According to information we have so far, the child, initials K.K., was planning this attack over a longer period of time. The motive has not been confirmed, nor has the shooter shared it with the police,” Veselin Milić, the Belgrade city police chief told journalists during a press conference.

Police said the boy was armed with a 9 milimetre pistol with three clips, as well as another small calibre handgun “which he took from his father’s flat.”

He brought the guns and ammunition to the school in his schoolbag together with four Molotov cocktails, and took out the gun on arrival at the school, shooting the guard on sight.

He brought the guns and ammunition to the school in his schoolbag together with four Molotov cocktails, and took out the gun on arrival at the school, shooting the guard on sight.

“He went into the history classroom because it was closest to the entrance of the school and because his homeroom class was in there at the time,” Milić continued.

Police confirm that seven girls and one boy were among the casualties. Five of the victims are thought to be 14, two were 12 years old, and one victim was 13.

The principal’s assistant was the first to call police at around 8:40 in the morning to alert them that a child with a gun had entered the school, after which police patrols were sent to the scene.

The boy also called police at 8:45. “He said he shot several people at the school,” Milić continued.

Police found a handwritten list of fellow students he planned to kill, as well as a drawing of the school’s floor plan. The classrooms on the drawing were marked with the numbers 1 through 6, indicating the order of attack.

The shooter was arrested in the school’s courtyard and was led out by the police. 

Outpourings of support have streamed in from the entire region and wider, including European Council President Charles Michel who expressed his “sincere condolences”.

Shooter unlikely to face charges

Before his exact birth date was published by Serbian police, the shooter was believed to be 14 years old and criminally liable for his actions.

However, it has since been revealed he was born at the end of July 2009. As a 13-year-old, he is unlikely to face charges for his actions, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade.

Based on the Law on Juvenile Offenders and Legal Protection of Juveniles from Criminality he does not meet the necessary age precondition to be prosecuted for his crimes.

The boy was questioned by the prosecution in the presence of child protection services and a toxicology test was performed.

The shooter’s father has been arrested, as confirmed by Serbian Interior Ministry Bratislav Gašić, and will be detained for 48 hours as police consider whether he can be charged with a “crime against general security” for not securing the guns safely enough.

Gašić said the father had a permit for the guns and claims to have kept them locked away in a safe.

“The father said that the guns were locked in a safe with a code, but the boy obviously knew what it was” said Gašić.

‘Psychological support for the surviving children’

Six students and a teacher are currently being treated for their injuries in hospitals in Belgrade.

“The Institute for Mental Health has organized a hotline for all those who feel they need psychological support… anyone who needs to go there in person will also be immediately received,” Danica Grujičić, the Minister of Health, said in a statement to journalists.

Local media footage from the scene showed commotion outside the school as police removed the suspect, whose head was covered as officers led him to a car parked in the street.

The Minister of Education, Branko Ružić, said that he was aware of “one incident of peer bullying” that the shooter was subject to at a private acting school. Apparently he cut his lip during the incident.

Ružić also said that children are increasingly exposed to the idea of school shootings “of which there have been several in recent months,” referring to those that have recently taken place in the US.

The Nova news outlet spoke to one of the teenage girls who was at the scene and said the shooter started “shooting indiscriminately and he had two clips with him. I dropped to the floor on top of my two friends and pretended to be dead.”

Mass shootings in Serbia are extremely rare. Experts, however, have repeatedly warned of the number of weapons left over in the country after the wars of the 1990s. 

Serbia ranks third globally with regard to the number of weapons currently circulating in its society, after the the US and Yemen, according to the Small Arms Survey conducted by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.

A national three-day mourning period has been declared starting on Friday.

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I left Moscow’s autocracy but the apathy followed me to Belgrade


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Leaving an aggressive, autocratic mafia state at war with its neighbour for a country ruled by a single catch-all party that has been in power for more than a decade might not appear to be a sensible move.

Still, that’s what I chose.

The reasons were simple: I was an outsider in Russia, and the Balkans, Serbia in particular, are my home.

It would be unfair to claim that I was not accepted in Russia. In fact, I sometimes felt more at ease there than in my home country. 

What made me leave was my belief that there was no concrete way for me to stay and take part in a direct struggle against a regime in a foreign country.

As a foreign national, any action that I’d undertake deemed even remotely against President Vladimir Putin and the ruling elites could have resulted in time spent in the notoriously cruel Russian prison system without any hope of appeal — and no guarantees that I would survive the ordeal unscathed.

As a political scientist, I knew that oppressive regimes bank on people’s hesitance and fear. As someone who had spent several years in Putin’s Russia by that point, I understood that my attempts at resistance would be foolhardy and largely inconsequential.

Contrary to popular opinion, academic circles were free — to an extent

Prior to that moment, I was a lecturer at Moscow’s RUDN University for almost four years. 

If someone imagines that most Russian universities before the full-scale invasion in February 2022 resembled the places of intellectual monism, which left no space for critical thinking, they would be wrong in general.

While protests in Moscow have been banned for all intents and purposes since 2020 — due to the pandemic and following the protests in Belarus and Alexei Navalny’s poisoning — academic circles continued to cooperate and participate in various programs involving their Western counterparts. 

In fact, cooperation was encouraged.

As someone working in academia, I had to write a certain number of articles each year which had to be rated in Western databases such as Scopus or Web of Science. This was a formal stipulation in my contract.

My Department of Comparative Politics had a double master’s program involving Sciences Po Bordeaux, a French academic institution. 

Nearly all of our French students were highly critical of Russia’s foreign policy in their master’s thesis, and nobody could censor them in any way.

People opposed the war, but quietly and often for all the wrong reasons

In the years I spent in Moscow, I managed to befriend a circle of colleagues from several universities (MGU Lomonosov, MGIMO, Higher School of Economics and RGGU), as well as think tanks such as the Russian International Affairs Council. 

Most of my friends and acquaintances opposed the war, but a very low number of them dared to voice their opinions outside private conversations.

There were also different reasons for being against the war, but most were rationalisations, such as “this is bad for Russia”. Moral or ethical concerns did not often come first during our conversations.

Sometimes, the takes, although highly intellectual, were myopic and lacking in empathy, especially in the context of Russia’s occupation of Crimea and open support for the so-called “rebels” in the Donbas.

Yet there was a sense of shock back in early 2022, and many of my friends — some of who had tangible connections in the Russian Foreign Ministry — were quite surprised to see an all-out invasion of Ukraine take place.

Then, censorship laws were introduced. Writing or discussing the war in a critical manner could have, in practice, resulted in getting fired from academic institutions or the aforementioned think tanks, including an ordeal with the police and the prosecutor’s office.

Worst-case scenario, there was — and still is — a possibility of actual time in prison. 

These laws threw my friends into a state of apathy and depression. None of them thought about opposing the regime in any active way; they all wanted to disappear into an imaginary “happy place” they once dreamt of themselves and wait for the storm to pass.

Wanting to leave for some time, this is when I packed my bags and left

Prompted by an increasingly oppressive atmosphere and bothered by people’s state of denial, I had decided to leave even before the actual invasion on 24 February began. 

Several days earlier — a day before Russia’s President Vladimir Putin recognised the faux people’s republics of the Donbas region — I had come to the conclusion that a war of bigger proportions was coming. 

I withdrew all the money I had in the bank and exchanged it for euros. 

In the next few months, I would send this money back to my family in Serbia piecemeal through a money transfer service I had never heard of before since the likes of Western Union stopped their activities in Russia. 

I had prolonged my stay in Russia until July because I had promised my colleagues at the department that I would see the semester through, and I also had my students to think of. Then I packed up my belongings and left.

Back in Serbia, I found myself free to speak my mind

Getting back to Belgrade was a breath of fresh air, despite my misgivings about finding myself back in a hostile atmosphere fueled by tabloids and government-friendly outlets continuously peddling rage, fear, and paranoia — a consequence of Serbia’s own destructive politics of the 1990s.

I could finally write what I wanted and not be afraid of getting arrested or deported. 

I immediately set out to start my Twitter page simply because I had to share so much anger and disappointment that had built up inside me during the first half of the year.

In my absence, Belgrade had also changed. 

In a twist of fate, the largely pro-Putin Serbia had become a place of refuge for thousands of Russians who couldn’t bear to live under a ruthless regime any longer.

All of a sudden, Russian was spoken in all public places, from supermarkets to cafes. 

Ukrainians are fighting an existential battle — and might liberate Russia, too

Unsurprisingly, I made some new friends.

This time opinions were voiced more loudly; some even took to the streets and held antiwar rallies in Belgrade’s main square.

I was surprised, however, that most didn’t want to get involved in politics at all, and the reasons for being against the war were the ones I heard from my Moscow friends. 

In their eyes, the war against Ukraine is primarily wrong because it is “destroying Russia”. 

The death and destruction of Ukraine, in their minds, is only secondary, and all of that can sometimes make me feel like I never left Moscow at all. 

The same black cloud of apathy and inaction had followed the Russian emigres to a sunny Balkan country full of life. 

In the end, these feelings have shaped my expectations of Russia changing, and my intellectual intuition tells me to turn to Ukrainians who are fighting an existential battle. 

Their strength will bring freedom to their homeland and quite possibly liberate Russia as well.

Aleksandar Đokić is a political scientist and analyst who currently authors a weekly column for Bloomberg Adria, with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. He was formerly a lecturer at RUDN University.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Serbia’s far right seizes on Putin’s war to push retaking Kosovo

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BELGRADE — Serbia’s ultra-nationalists are using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to galvanize their campaign against Kosovo’s independence — and anti-war activists are getting caught in the crossfire.

Politicians on Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s right flank have sniffed out an opportunity to tie Russia’s war on Ukraine to their desire to swallow up Kosovo, even as Vučić engages in EU-brokered negotiations to partially normalize relations with Kosovo, the independence of which neither Belgrade nor Moscow recognize.

A victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine is a stepping stone to Serbia regaining Kosovo, according to Miša Vacić, the leader of the highly nationalistic, pro-Kremlin Serbian Right political party.

“We must be patient and must wait to finish in Ukraine, and after that we will have enough time,” he told POLITICO.

More than 200,000 Russians have arrived in Serbia since the beginning of the invasion. As one of just a handful of European countries offering visa-free entry to Russian passport-holders, it provides safe harbor for those seeking an exit for reasons ranging from economic to ideological.

Vacić, who in September traveled to Russian-occupied Donetsk to observe the so-called referendum to join Russia that was widely slammed by Western governments as a sham, claims Russian liberal activists in Serbia are a threat to realizing his ideal society, if they join forces with their local counterparts. 

“It is a real revolution of liberals,” Vacić said, adding that even if only 10 percent of the new Russian arrivals were committed liberal activists, Serbia would still be flooded with at least 20,000 of his political enemies. “They think they must liberate Serbia from Serbs, from traditional Serbian values.”

Violent threats

Among the Russians who have arrived in Belgrade since Putin launched his full-scale invasion last year is Ilya Zernov. The 19-year-old political activist from Tolyatti in southwestern Russia sought sanctuary in Belgrade last March — his anti-war protests prompted a police search of his student dormitory in Kazan.

“I realized that I would not be able to continue my studies, and would not be able to be in Russia for a long time,” Zernov told POLITICOadding that the police who searched his dorm threatened him with violence and imprisonment.

Zernov is an active participant in the Russian Democratic Society (RDS), an anti-war organization founded last year in Belgrade with the stated goal of supporting Ukrainian victory. It has since emerged as one of the most visible pro-Ukraine advocacy groups in Serbia, regularly organizing protests in the streets.

But in a country where Putin enjoys significant support amid an increasingly assertive ultra-nationalist movement, anti-war activists are a target.

A Russian Democratic Society (RDS) event on February 24, 2023 | Bennett Murray for POLITICO

Zernov reported to the police last month that Vacić had assaulted him. The attack, which Zernov said occurred after he attempted to paint over anti-Ukrainian graffiti on the side of a Belgrade apartment block, left him with a perforated eardrum. Vacić denies assaulting Zernov.

Threats of violence also overshadowed plans to hold two anti-war rallies on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

“The police warned us that they had information that some kind of violent provocations were being planned by these extreme-right people,” said RDS co-founder Peter Nikitin, whose group organized one of the protests.

Nikitin also rejected Vacić’s claims that his group, and those like it, are seeking to campaign on social issues in Serbia.

“Our only purpose is to show the world and the Serbian public what is happening, and to mobilize public opinion for Ukraine,” he said, adding that it is Vacić who wants to make Serbia subservient to foreign interests. “[Vacić] is pushing Russian interests and Putin’s interests in Serbia very directly, and he’s the one trying to turn Serbia into Russia.”

Rallying around ‘Z’

As the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approached last month, tensions simmered in Belgrade.

A far-right rally in mid-February ended with participants attempting to break into President Vučić’s office. Damjan Knezevic, the leader of the People’s Patrol far-right network, gave a fiery speech to a crowd of around 1,000 calling for Vučić to be overthrown, amid a heated national debate over the proposal to resolve the Serbia-Kosovo dispute.

Many in attendance waved Russian flags or sported pro-war symbols, including the letter “Z” used by the Russian military to mark its vehicles in Ukraine, and the skull and crosshairs logo of the Wagner Group, a private mercenary force that has been backing Moscow’s military in the war.

Police arrested Knezevic and two other associates the following day on charges of inciting violence. On the day of the rally, another People’s Patrol member was also arrested in Serbia’s second city Novi Sad on weapons charges after being discovered with a rifle, optic sight and ammunition. 

The arrests spurred yet more outrage among People’s Patrol followers, who doubled down on plans to hold a pro-war rally on February 24, adjacent to RDS’ anti-war protest. While authorities refused to issue a permit for the People’s Patrol rally, officials feared riots would ensue.

When the first year anniversary of the invasion arrived, RDS held a scaled-back version of its planned events, per police advice. It proceeded without incident.

A man wearing a patch with a “Z” on it at a rally on February 15, 2023 | Bennett Murray for POLITICO

Natalia Taranushchenko, an organizer for Belgrade-based Ukrainian association Cini Dobro who is originally from Ukraine’s Vinnytsia region, told POLITICO that while Serbia is generally welcoming, “There are still symbols of Russian aggression, letter Z on the streets of Belgrade, and we still hear that Ukrainians are ‘Nazis’ and a lot of other Russian propaganda.”

Still, there’s some hope for the Ukrainians and anti-war Russians seeking safety in Serbia: Putin’s stalled offensive has also deflated the ultra-nationalists here.

“Serbs were very passionate because they were expecting that Putin would overthrow Ukraine in three days, and after that they thought he would say that we need to get back Kosovo for Serbia,” said Čedomir Stojković, a Belgrade-based lawyer who investigates covert Russian influence in his country. 

“But over time, as the war did not happen the way people expected, those expectations started to change, and now because there is cognitive dissonance, there is no passion,” he said.



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Uneasy neighbours: Serbia and Kosovo need to mend fences after EU deal

For once, Kosovo’s Serb and Albanian communities — historically found on disparate ends of any political issue — seem to agree on something.

The mood in their respective countries after Monday’s meeting in Brussels between Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti was notedly sour.

“There were protests both in Pristina and Mitrovica ahead of the agreement. Everyone seems to be confused and let down by the process,” explains Donika Emini, a political analyst who has followed the developments between the two countries for years.

“The actual impact this document but also the negotiating process is going to have, the ways it could improve their lives, is unclear to the wider population so people are not sure how they should react to it at the moment,”  Emini tells Euronews.

Why is the relationship so fraught?

Kosovo and Serbia were wartime belligerents at the tail end of the bloody conflicts marking the disintegration of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and have been locked in an often-contentious dialogue masterminded by the European Union to resolve their differences.

Chief among the disputes is Serbia’s refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence, declared in 2008. Serbia’s official line is that Kosovo is part of its territory — as it was for most of the 20th century — despite the country having its separate government and institutions for more than two decades.

“There was no scenario where Kosovo and Serbia would sit down and solve these otherwise fundamental issues. Even the most basic exchanges could not have taken place without international mediation,” says Vjosa Musliu, assistant professor of political science at Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Yugoslavia breaks up

The countries that gained independence after the fall of Yugoslavia, such as EU members Croatia and Slovenia, and candidate countries like North Macedonia, were also republics within the socialist federation. Kosovo was not.

“The war and the decade before it can not be decoupled from the anti-Albanian bigotry that has been present in Serbia for a long time,” explains Musliu. 

Ethnic Albanians were stripped of political and civic rights starting in 1989, as former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević gained in power, which lasted for a decade until the conflict erupted.

Then, in an unprecedented move that continues to spark debate to this day, NATO decided to launch an aerial bombing campaign on what was left of Yugoslavia at the time — Serbia and Montenegro — and Kosovo as Serbia’s province, too.

“The NATO bombing in 1999 removed Serbia’s control from Kosovo and installed an overarching international presence. It became clear that Kosovo was going to become an ethnic Albanian-run state, and this created further animosities and a sense of disbelief in Serbia,” Musliu continues.

“Second-class citizens would be granted rule over what Serbia considered the cradle of its nation,” she emphasised.

Deal brokered by Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Kosovo officially became a UN protectorate, and while it was allowed to have its own government and hold elections, the UN had the final say. They also tried to facilitate a precursor to the ongoing dialogue and come up with some sort of framework for Kosovo to become fully independent, which was eventually brokered by former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari.

The UN then passed the baton on to the European Union, who took over the dialogue and the facilitation of the Kosovo-Serbia relationship. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence — and the Ahtisaari agreement was embedded in its constitution.

“Once Kosovo declared independence, Serbia saw it as government policy to obstruct Kosovo’s existence as a state since it claimed it violated its constitution. This is how the frozen conflict we have today ensued,” Vrije Universiteit’s Vjosa Musliu says.

Bulldozer diplomacy returns to the Balkans

Monday’s meeting in Brussels was the culmination of months of negotiations, paired with not-so-subtle arm twisting from the United States and NATO, meant to produce an agreement that would bring the two closer to establishing diplomatic and formal bilateral relations than ever before.

“The ongoing war in Ukraine has made the unresolved issues in the Balkans a security priority for the US, and the US always reacts swiftly and strongly when they sense a major security issue,” explains Musliu.

Senior American diplomats focused on Balkan issues made several visits to the region. The EU’s Special Envoy Miroslav Lajčák has made at least 10 trips to Kosovo since September.

The European External Action Service, the Union’s foreign policy body, published the official agreement at the end of the day, despite being reserved about its impact in a statement right after the meetings.

“I hope the Agreement can also be the basis to build much-needed trust and overcome the legacy of the past. Much-needed trust,” the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security policy, Josep Borrell — also the official chair of the dialogue — told journalists.

“Further negotiations are needed to determine specific implementation modalities of the provisions,” he continued.

The reason for the muted response was the fact that while both parties accepted the final form of the agreement, they did not proceed with formally signing it as was expected by many ahead of the meeting. Now they will proceed with establishing what is being referred to as an annex to the agreement, or a roadmap that will lay out how its articles will be implemented.

Long-awaited reality check

The agreement includes important precedents, such as the fact that Serbia will not block Kosovo from applying for membership to international organisations such as the EU and the United Nations.

While Serbia has traditionally used its close ties to Moscow — it continues to not participate in sanctions against Russia for the ongoing invasion of Ukraine — for sway in the UN Security Council, Serbian president Vučić confirmed in a TV interview Tuesday night that the agreement does open the path for Kosovo’s entry into the global intergovernmental organisation.

“Yes, it includes it [UN membership]. That’s why I didn’t sign it,” Vučić said during an interview for the national public broadcaster RTS, widely considered to be strongly pro-government.

“I do not know why everyone is being so naïve. Did you wake up yesterday and realise the French and the Germans and the Americans are championing an independent Kosovo?” he asked.

Yet in Serb-majority parts of Kosovo, Belgrade has maintained a strong influence on the local population, including financing and maintaining its education and public health systems.

Many in the north of the country, where most of the ethnic Serbs reside, have called out Vučić for betraying them, including during protests held several times over the past months.

Yet for figures such as Nenad Rašić, a Kosovo Serb who is currently a minister in the Kosovo government and was personally attacked by Vučić for seemingly participating in the institutions of his opponent in the dialogue, this was a long-needed reality check.

“On one hand, we’re really happy it has come to this agreement, as long as it means there will be no more tensions,” Rašić tells Euronews.

Last summer, tensions peaked along the border between Kosovo and Serbia and roadblocks were set up preventing people from accessing the two countries by land. There were several incidents of shootings at police and the NATO peacekeepers, who have been stationed there ever since 1999.

“People who live in places that are more multiethnic in Kosovo or have the opportunity to regularly meet Albanians have not bought into the tensions,” explains Rašić.

While Rašić is careful to highlight that not everyone in Kosovo agrees with him, he says that the time has come for the delusion that both communities have lived in to come to an end.

“The problem is that for over 20 years, due to the fact that so many Serb-majority areas in Kosovo were isolated and functioned as enclaves or even ghettos, local Serbs have been cut off from the rest of Kosovo,” he said.

Since some form of Serbian government control and presence existed in these communities, an illusion was created that Serbia had a much greater role in Kosovo in the last couple of decades than it did, and that it could one day come back.

“Yet the reality is different. Those are the people who will be disappointed by the agreement. Others will breathe a sigh of relief,” he concludes.

For the Albanian majority in Kosovo, the idea that the agreement could lead to the formation of the Association of Serb Municipalities — or a body that caters specifically to the needs of the ethnic Serb population — has been cause for concern.

Some — including Prime Minister Albin Kurti when he was in the opposition and presented the dialogue with Serbia as an attempt for Belgrade to continue to maintain influence over its former province — believe it would be a compromise too far.

“There is this delusion that the Association is not going to be established. So the EU and the US made sure the Association was explicitly mentioned in the agreement to make sure Kosovo can not wrangle itself out of it,” said Emini, the political analyst.

“The lack of readiness from the Kosovo government to have the necessary, sobering discussions with the public about it, try and deconstruct it for people, is worrying,” she emphasises.

Besides fears of a possible spillover of tensions from the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the EU and the US are also aware of the immense popularity of the two leaders in their respective countries.

Also, both countries have been on the receiving end of development funding from the West, and now, it seems that the West wants to cash in on their investment.

“No other leaders are better suited to sign this agreement,” says Enmi. 

“They have an immense electoral mandate and political legitimacy. They have popular support. So they need to be the ones to deliver.”



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