By Igor Jovanovic
Serbia says the decision of Kosovo Serbs to hold a referendum in mid-February on their attitude toward Kosovo institutions will greatly reduce Belgrade’s chances of obtaining EU candidate status.
The Serbs in four municipalities in the north of Kosovo are scheduled to vote on February 14th and 15th, on whether to accept or reject Kosovo institutions in the country’s north — a region over which Pristina currently has no control.
“The referendum will not contribute to solving the problem in northern Kosovo and will only make the Serbian side’s position worse. Holding the referendum is contrary to the interests of Serbia and Serbs in Kosovo,” Serbian government spokesman Milivoje Mihajlovic told SETimes.
Though the heads of northern Kosovo municipalities – who are predominantly members of opposition parties in the Serbian parliament — did not pay much attention to Belgrade’s calls, they had a slightly different tone after meeting with Minister for Kosovo and Metohija Goran Bogdanovic in Belgrade on Thursday (January 19th).
Bogdanovic had previously said it was unnecessary to hold a referendum in the north at this time.
The municipality heads have said that full co-operation and joint action with the state leadership of Serbia on the issue is needed in order to achieve the most acceptable solution.
Mitrovica Mayor Krstimir Pantic told reporters that the Serbs in northern Kosovo “do not wish to make decisions contrary to state interests”.
“If it turns out the postponing of the referendum will improve or facilitate the position of the government and President Boris Tadic, we are ready to discuss a delay,” he said.
However, after the meeting, Pantic told SETimes the decision on the referendum would be made by the municipal assemblies in the north, and that only they could change it.
“No one has given the [Kosovo] Serbs convincing arguments as to why the referendum is against the interests of Serbia,” he said.
Mihajlovic said this was only the first of a number of meetings in which the government and representatives of municipalities would try to harmonise their policies.
Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences Professor Predrag Simic told SETimes that Belgrade’s efforts could be in vain. “The barricades and incidents in the north cost Belgrade its EU candidacy, and now Brussels is not looking kindly upon the announced referendum. Belgrade has no control over the Serbs in northern Kosovo and it is uncertain whether it can convince them to postpone the referendum,” Simic said.
On the other hand, Kosovo Compromise project director Aleksandar Mitic believes the referendum can in no way damage Serbia’s interests.
“A referendum, as any other expression of public will, clearly states that no agreement reached in the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina can be imposed without the consent of the people living in the north,” Mitic told SETimes.
“We wish all the best for Serbia and we want Serbia to gain EU candidate status. But Serbs from North should not suffer because of it. We just want to be the part of Serbia, and we will clearly say it during the plebiscite. I can not see how it could damage Serbia’s chances [for EU accession],” Mitrovica resident Branko Savic, 25, told SETimes.
Meanwhile, Serbian President Boris Tadic has launched a diplomatic initiative directed towards Western countries in a bid to find a lasting solution for Kosovo.
Reportedly, the initiative comprises four points: a special solution for Serb monasteries and control of monastery facilities, special guarantees for the Serbs in enclaves, addressing the issues regarding the property of Serbia and its citizens, and a special solution for northern Kosovo.
“There are many models, from the example of two Germanies to South Tyrol, Aland Islands to the Irish model, from which we should take what is good and applicable to Kosovo,” said Mitic.
However, Mitic said that Tadic’s offer was only a reworked version of the plan by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, which Serbia had previously rejected and was not adopted in the UN Security Council.
“The goal of that would probably be the inclusion of Serbs from northern Kosovo into the Pristina government system. That initiative would stand a chance of success if the Kosovo Serbs trusted Tadic, which apparently isn’t the case,” Mitic said.
“It is clear there is a stalemate in Kosovo and the talks in Brussels cannot solve everything,” Simic said, praising the Serbia president’s move.