By Alexander Vatutin
At Orthodox Christmas, Serbian President Boris Tadic visited the Visoki Decani monastery on the territory of the self-proclaimed Kosovo Republic (Serbian Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija). During his visit he made several political declarations which raised Pristina authorities’ displeasure.
The Serbian president declared that he would never agree to providing independence to Kosovo in exchange for membership in the EU. In this way he rejected the conditions put forward by Brussels which forced Serbia to make unpopular unilateral concessions. In many ways this was caused by the falling ratings of the Democratic Party, headed by Boris Tadic, ahead of the parliamentary elections. The ruling coalition’s striving for EU membership is very unpopular with most ordinary Serbs. So if recently the Serbian president’s speeches had a compromising character, now the president is expressing different views of the EU. Observers associate this with the refusal of Brussels to grant Serbia the status of a candidate for entering the EU which was promised several years ago. This is the opinion of Pyotr Iskenderov, an expert in the Balkan countries:
“In the current situation Belgrade has two options. One is to meet all the EU demands and de facto recognize the independence of Kosovo. This version is fraught with serious losses on the internal political arena and further drop in the ruling coalition’s rating. The second option is to toughen its position on Kosovo and in this way to start a conflict with the EU. This step would be beneficial for the internal political situation because it would give the ruling coalition an opportunity to win back a number of points from the radical opposition. At present the Serbian president does not stand to lose much while making these declarations because the Serbian request is unlikely to be complied with anyway when the EU resumes the discussion of it in March. Thus, Boris Tadic will get some room for manoeuvre and in the near future will be able to rather painlessly make declarations meant for his own voters.”
Brussels repeatedly put forward demands to Belgrade which the latter had to meet. First it was the extradition of Serbian politicians and army generals suspected of military crimes during the civil war in Yugoslavia. General Ratko Mladic, ex-president of the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and the former leader of Serbs in Croatia Goran Hadzic were handed over to the Hague tribunal, which brought a very negative response in Serbian society. For many Serbs those people are national heroes who fought for the unity of Yugoslavia. Tadic hoped that after they were extradited to the Hague the EU would not insist on the independence of Kosovo but he was mistaken because Serbia recently became a kind of a small coin in the large-scale European policy. For this reason, Serbia’s integration with the EU at the expense of losing part of its national territory is more and more losing popularity with the Serbian citizens. The latest public opinion polls have shown that the number of those in favour of Serbia’s joining the EU is lower than the number of opponents to it. Boris Tadic has to take this into consideration.