Serbia recalls embassy staff from Macedonia in spat over Kosovo

Serbian President-elect Aleksandar Vučić celebrates after declaring a victory in Belgrade, Serbia, 2 April 2017. Vučić won by a majority of votes in the first round. [Andrej Cukic/ EPA]

Serbia recalled embassy staff from its southern neighbour Macedonia on Monday (21 August), after reports that Skopje was joining international diplomatic efforts to grant the former Serbian province of Kosovo membership of the UN cultural agency UNESCO.

Kosovo, whose population is more than 90% made up of ethnic Albanians, declared independence from Serbia in 2008. It is recognised by 114 countries, including Macedonia and 23 European Union members, but Serbia’s allies – Russia and China – are still blocking its full membership of the United Nations.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić told reporters that embassy staff were recalled after Serbia had gathered enough evidence about “very offensive intelligence activities against certain bodies and institutions of Serbia”. He did not elaborate, but added:

“There is a lot of speculation right now. I think everything will be a lot clearer within the next ten days,” Serbian media quoted Vučić as saying.

Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić said Macedonia’s intention to press for Kosovo membership of UNESCO could further burden relations, hinting that Serbia could stop recognising the name of ‘Macedonia’, which is the subject of a row between Skopje and its EU neighbour Greece.

Macedonia is an EU candidate but has yet to start negotiation talks. Its bid has been blocked by Greece, which accuses it of territorial pretensions and does not allow it to use the name ‘Macedonia’, which is the same as a northern Greek province.

New Macedonia leaders vow to revive EU/NATO bid

Macedonia’s new leaders showed fresh resolve to revive the country’s stalled bid for membership of the EU and NATO on Monday (June 12) by vowing to mend relations with estranged EU neighbours Greece and Bulgaria and implement long-delayed reforms.

A Macedonian government statement on Monday said: “In voting on Kosovo membership to UNESCO, Macedonia will take into account the position of a majority of the EU members states.”

Nearly one-third of Macedonia’s population is ethnic Albanian.

Relations between Serbia and Macedonia were soured in April following media reports that a Serbian intelligence officer had been in the Macedonian parliament when protesters stormed the building and beat up several deputies including the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.