Thursday, May 10, 2007

Losing ground

Losing ground

Serbia's intervention to prevent any change in Kosovo's status rests exclusively on territorial claims.

May 9, 2007 8:00 PM | Printable version

A report on Kosovo is being presented to the security council after a high-level diplomatic delegation came to Pristina, at the end of April, on a fact-finding mission. The council does not really lack material for a new resolution, which is widely expected to grant Kosovo the status of "supervised independence" under the aegis of the European Union: there is a detailed plan ready since March that UN special envoy, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari, has prepared during one year of intense and comprehensive negotiations. But some members of the security council, led by Russia, have felt the need for further inquiry and consultation on the ground.

The visit paid by the security council to Belgrade and Pristina did not find much that is new. What became obvious is that radically oriented Serbia is seriously counting on Russia's support with respect to the Kosovo problem, but also regarding European integration and a different system of values from the west. Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin appeared as an ominous herald of this renewed alliance. He acted as if he had come to visit a Russian province.

With several other women belonging to the Balkan Regional Women's Lobby, I met Vitaly Churkin at a cocktail party organised by the Kosovo government in Pristina - the only venue available to the Serbian democratic opposition to present the international mission with an alternative voice to the official one. When I approached the Russian diplomat together with Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, he did not even attempt to hide his surprise at the fact that there were still human rights activists in Serbia able to criticise the government. He said that Serbia should follow president Putin's advice and cleanse the society from those "puppets of foreign powers."

Of course we are not a welcome voice. We keep pointing to the fact that Serbia's uncompromising opposition to any change of Kosovo's status rests on an exclusively territorial approach towards neighbouring countries, which is measured in terms of the percentage of "stolen Serbian territory". This approach, which has not changed since 1991, has always neglected human security and has always proved to be wrong. Today as in the past, it is the people who pay the price for Serbian political elites' territorial claims and are forced to leave their homes with few bundles, as was the case with the Serbs from Croatia in August 1995.

Belgrade and its allies are playing an ugly game with the future of Kosovo Serbs. Russia could use the influence that it has on the Serbian political elite and the extremists in the northern part of Kosovo to encourage the establishment of formal relations with Kosovan institutions for the sake of both the Serbs living there and those who have left, but intend to return to their homes. Instead, Churkin and his government prove to be stubborn supporters of the heritage of Slobodan Milosevic, preserved today in the radical actions and ideology of Belgrade.

In Pristina, Churkin's answer to our concerns for Kosovo Serbs was the same as Serbia's: "Territory is above everything else." This attitude is destructive. It encourages extremists in Serbia and Northern Kosovo. During the visit of the security council delegation, Serbia's institutions organised a mass rally near Jarinje, at the Kosovo-Serbia border. A crowd of 15,000 people gathered in honour of Churkin in a staged protest against their displacement from Kosovo.

The intention of the organisers was to demonstrate the desire of the Serbian people to return to their homes in Kosovo. Some of them read more into that, and wanted to cross the border in a mock invasion. However, they were stopped by the posse of the "bridge defenders" on the northern side of the divided city of Mitrovica, who told them: "Go back, this is only a show for the Albanians and the world". As it happened so many times before, people retreated to Serbia, humiliated and politically abused by Belgrade.

A few days later, radical activists formed a paramilitary unit called Czar Lazar Guard, a direct reference to the Serbian prince who in 1389 was killed in the famous battle against the Ottoman invaders, and to the will of "Christian soldiers" to fight again "Muslim occupiers," in this case the Albanians of Kosovo. The new militia sent the message that if Kosovo is declared independent by the security council, they would be ready to go and defend their "Serbian land". That was probably nothing more than another show, but an ominous one.

Shortly after the departure of the security council delegation, events that followed in Serbia were much like events in any Russian province. There are no discussions on European integration. Fugitives of The Hague General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are no longer mentioned. The new speaker of the Serbian parliament, Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Radical party, wears a badge with the image of Vojislav Seselj, a man indicted of crimes against humanity for his actions in Kosovo, among others. Serbian tabloids campaign daily against nongovernmental organisations on behalf of the government. We are all ears, waiting for the Kosovo whistle to blow.

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1 comment:

piesal said...

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