Serbia’s new president calls for ‘dialogue’ over Kosovo

Italian members of Kosovo Force (KFOR) peacekeeping force secure the bridge on the river Ibar which separates northern Kosovska Mitrovica inhabited by Serbs from south Mitrovica, inhabited by Albanians in Kosovska Mitrovica. Kosovo, March 2017. [Djordje Savic/EPA]

Serbia’s Aleksandar Vučić, who was sworn in as the country’s president yesterday (31 May), wants to open a debate over the future of Kosovo, the breakaway province whose independence Belgrade has refused to recognise.

Vučić, 47, won a decisive 55.02% of votes in the 2 April election, confirming his domination over the Balkan country as he pursues a balancing act between Europe and Russia. Since then, many are protesting against his dictatorial trends.

Hundreds rally in Belgrade to protest Vucic election victory

Hundreds of people rallied peacefully for a second night in Belgrade yesterday (4 April) to protest against the overwhelming victory of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić in a presidential election.

“I will preserve Serbia’s integrity but I will always accept talks with Kosovo Albanians,” Vučić told lawmakers after taking his oath of office in parliament.

“I want that we open an internal dialogue over Kosovo… without prejudices, while respecting our constitution” which says Kosovo is part of Serbia, he said, adding that Serbia “should get rid of a mythic approach towards Kosovo.”

Many Serbs consider Kosovo the cradle of their country’s history, religion and culture.

Its independence was declared a decade after the 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian Kosovo rebels and Serbian armed forces, a conflict that claimed 13,000 lives, of which 10,000 were ethnic Albanians.

Serbian forces, led by Slobodan Milošević, were eventually ousted from the breakaway territory after a three-month NATO bombing campaign.

But 100,000 to 150,000 Serbs remained in Kosovo, mainly in the northern region of Mitrovica, under the supervision of NATO-led troops.

Vučić, a former hardline nationalist, won the presidential election with a pledge to pursue Serbia’s bid for EU membership while maintaining ties with Russia and developing strong economic relations with China.

‘Chinese Balkan corridor’ pits EU north against south

The Western Balkans have become China’s preferred access point to the EU, and a corridor to Europe’s north from the Greek port of Piraeus is being financed by Beijing. But Brussels fears EU rules will not be respected, while in northern countries, big ports resent the competition.

Kosovo is also hoping to join the EU, and both sides agreed in 2011 to open talks aimed at normalising ties, under the auspices of the European Union.

“There should be no doubt into the European path to which we are dedicated,” Vučić said.

Kosovo’s independence has been recognised by over 110 countries, but not by Russia nor by five EU members: Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania.

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