Serbian citizens not ready for personal sacrifice over Kosovo

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic talks to local Kosovo Serbs, while visiting the village of Laplje Self near the Kosovo's capital Pristian, Kosovo, 20 January 2018. [EPA-EFE/VALDRIN XHEMAJ]

Many Serbians see Kosovo’s independence as a realistic option, according to a new survey. A majority are also not ready to make any personal sacrifices to regain control over the former Serbian province, whose independence Belgrade refuses to recognise, and are much more preoccupied with economic issues instead.

A survey commissioned by the Open Society Foundation revealed that, where Serbia’s EU membership hopes are concerned, 42% of respondents think Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, is lost and the focus should now be on European integration.

But a significant 36% in the poll, conducted by Ipsos Strategic Marketing, believe that Serbia will not benefit from EU membership in any way and should not compromise regarding Kosovo.

However, most citizens are not ready to make personal sacrifices for the sake of continuing the fight for Kosovo – 85% of them are not ready to move there with their families, 78% do not want to give away a portion of their salary for the struggle for Kosovo, while 60% are not willing to give up visa-free travel to Europe over Kosovo.

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As Bulgaria prepares for a Western Balkan summit in May, seen by many as the centrepiece of its EU Council Presidency, Sofia has realised that not all its guests want to sit at the same table.

The fear that recognising Kosovo’s independence would lead to Serbia’s further fragmentation is harboured by 40% of those polled, while two-thirds find the idea of Albanian representatives occupying top state posts unacceptable, if Kosovo were to be reabsorbed by Serbia.

Kosovo has so far been recognised by more than 100 countries, including 23 EU member states.

Reaching a comprehensive agreement on normalising Kosovo-Serbia relations is one of the key elements of Serbia’s EU membership bid.

But the two parties disagree on many crucial issues. Pristina wants a full recognition and a chair in the UN, while Belgrade, according to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, is ready to accept a solution that will not wholly satisfy either side.

Juncker: Normalisation deal with Kosovo is key for Serbia's EU bid

The rule of law, judiciary and a legally binding agreement on normalising relations with Kosovo are the main challenges Serbia faces with on the road to EU membership, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker highlighted during a visit to Belgrade.

Serbia has long seen Kosovo as a cradle of its culture and identity. But 44% of those surveyed think Serbia’s rich cultural heritage in Kosovo, as well as the remaining Serbs there, will be safeguarded through cooperation with the international community and a compromise solution with Kosovo Albanians, rather than through conflict.

But 39% of citizens believe that in order for that goal to be achieved, Kosovo must stay a part of Serbia.

Also, more than 40% think that the first politician to acknowledge the loss of Kosovo would demonstrate great courage and gain the respect of the people but most of them also think that act would be their “political suicide”. Serbia’s powerful president Vučić is widely seen in the EU as the only statesman who can resolve the Kosovo issue and advance Serbia’s EU bid.

Kosovo Serbs worried about EU proposal for visa-free travel

Kosovo Serbs voiced concerns on Thursday (5 May) about an EU proposal to allow visa-free travel for citizens of Kosovo, fearing it would force the Serb minority to recognize the territory’s disputed independence.

Asked what they felt as their biggest problem, more than a third said it was unemployment, one in 10 said it was the low standard of living, 5% said it was corruption, while 4% said it was Kosovo, the same as pensions, crime and general poverty.

Kosovo’s low ranking among citizen priorities is also backed up by the fact that more than half of respondents do not follow events related to Kosovo, while just over a quarter of them follow the subject only “in general terms”.

Ipsos Strategic Marketing’s Srdjan Bogosavljević said at the presentation of the survey results last month that in the 60 or so opinion polls on Kosovo the agency had conducted in 21 years, “the most shocking thing is that there are no shocking novelties.”

The opinion poll was conducted in late December on a standard sample of 1,045 respondents.

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