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Serbian authorities preparing people for Kosovo’s independence recognition

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić has recently made a series of significant statements on Kosovo and Metohija. In an interview to RTS state-run TV channel, Vučić said the constitution may be amended to solve the issue of the Kosovo status. Afterwards, talking to Serbian Happy TV, he said Serbia cannot join the EU without clearly determined boundaries and hinted that a referendum is possible to recognize or deny the Kosovo and Metohija status. Talking to EADaily, Serbian and Russian experts have shared their views on whether the Serbian president prepares the nation for a decision he already taken and how possible referendum on Kosovo is.

Srdjan Sljukic, Professor at the University of Novi Sad, a member of the Democratic Party of Serbia Political Council, one of the initiators and signatories of the Petition in support of Kosovo and Metohija says Vučić’s statement that Serbia cannot join the EU without clearly determined boundaries is, in fact, what EU officials keep saying repeatedly. This is EU’s popular trick to make Serbia recognize the quasi-state of Kosovo that was formed through occupation of Kosovo and Metohija southern Serbian region by NATO in 1999, he recalled. In this light, both EU officials and Serbian politicians in power speak about “a legally binding agreement between Serbia and Kosovo,” which is a different way to demand recognition of Kosovo independence, Sljukic said.

At the same time, accession to the EU is still far in the future, he said. All this sounds like “if you do what we demand, we may think about your accession to the EU.” The expert is sure that the West just seeks to make Serbia recognize NATO’s aggression of 1999 as legitimate.

Srdjan Sljukic believes that the Serbian government has been preparing the country for recognition of Kosovo independence for several years already. At first, they deployed the Eulex mission in the region, afterwards the Kosovo talks were transferred from UN to EU control (Brussels regards Kosovo as an independent state). Later, the government signed an evidently anti-constitutional agreement in Brussels (2013), under which all Serbian organizations in the north of Kosovo and Metohija were closed and “integrated” institutions that were, in fact, controlled by the separatists, were introduced there, the expert said. During the last few months, Sljukic said, high-ranking officials of Serbia have been urging “a final solution” to that issue and reaffirming the country’s commitment to Europe, which implies recognition of Kosovo as well.

According to him, Serbian officials stopped speaking about the need to observe the Constitution of Serbia under which Kosovo and Metohija are integral part of Serbia. The so-called “internal dialogue” launched by the government a few months ago was just an attempt to share the responsibility for the future situation with the public. “Perhaps, it is an attempt to prepare the nation for a kind of recognition of Kosovo, so that it is possible to say in future: ‘We had to do it to join the EU for the future of our children’ etc.,” Sljukic said.

As to the referendum, the expert is not sure that it will take place. It may be held through huge pressure on the people and state-controlled mass media. In fact, the referendum is another attempt to shed all responsibility, the Serbian sociologist said.

He recalled that the petition in support of Kosovo and Metohija requires freezing the conflict and not unfreezing it until the composition of forces in the world becomes more favorable to Serbia. The petition was signed by ten academicians, 140 professors, 40 doctors of sciences, 12 bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church and many other influential persons from Serbia, Respublika Srpska, Montenegro and Serbian Diaspora, Sljukic said. “The authorities so far avoid speaking publicly about the content of the petition and the list of signatories, but they do care about it. I think the fight will continue,” he said for conclusion.

Serbian philosopher and political analyst Milan Damjanac is sure that President Vučić is pressed to ensure the Kosovo and Metohija status by 2019 in the way extremely unfavorable to Serbia. He warns that recognition of the southern Serbian region as independent will spark claims by the neighbor-states that will try to interfere and demand parts of the Serbian territory.

Damjanac blames the government for hasty signing of the Brussels Agreement after which Serbia lost control over north of Kosovo and Metohija and received nothing in exchange. “There is no commonwealth of Serbian municipalities. Without the commonwealth, integration of the north of Kosovo and other Serbian municipalities into the Kosovo system will mean a full defeat for Belgrade. On the other hand, it is evident that the authorities try to get something for the Serbian part and ensure some positive result,” the expert said.

According to Damjanac, it is important to understand who Vučić addresses in his interview with Happy TV. “If he addressed the Serbian people, I have got an impression that Vučić would not let a referendum on Kosovo take place unless he was sure in its success. Therefore, his recent words that the Kosovo and Metohija issue cannot be settled within the Serbian constitution was a warning – one should expect a mass media campaign preparing the population to that decision,” the expert said.

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The government has to suggest a national benefit to the people to make it refuse from Kosovo, no other benefits will make the people do it. Accession to the EU is no longer a goal everyone pursues in Serbia. That is why, he said, the ideal scenario for the Serbian government would be division of Kosovo. This is the only initiative they can set to a referendum, Damjanac said.

“On the other hand, I still think Vučić has been delaying with the decision on Kosovo for years and his statements on possible recognition of Kosovo were, in fact, addressed to the West that exerts pressure on him. In this sense, the referendum could help ‘getting rid of’ obtrusive foreigners,” Milan Damjanac said. He is sure that Vučić can use the referendum to lay the responsibility for failing to recognize Kosovo on the population and hinting the West that he could not do what they demand him to do, unless they give him what he wants.

Georgi Engelhardt, Russian historian, expert in the Balkans, research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences, recalled that Vučić has been waging the same policy since last summer, when “an internal dialogue on the future of Kosovo” was launched. The expert thinks that it is not Vučić’s decision, but an informal requirement by Brussels and Berlin. “He has to ensure a decision ‘on full normalization of the relations with Kosovo’ within a very limited period of time – maybe by late 2018 or early 2019,” Engelhardt said. “Actually, they mean recognition of independence of the self-proclaimed republic,” he said. According to him, Belgrade may not be required to recognize Kosovo with such formula, but it will have to “admit the reality” i.e. existence of an actual state border between a part of Serbia and Kosovo and stop opposing Kosovo’s involvement in international organizations, namely the UN and NATO.

“Five EU countries still do not recognize independence of Kosovo. To settle this problem, Belgrade’s recognition of Kosovo is needed. In such cases, these five European countries will no longer oppose Kosovo’s independence. If Serbia recognizes Kosovo, Russia, China, India and other countries will not mind against its accession to UN. For NATO, this will be an opportunity to give that territory a status of an official member. I think, they have set such a condition to Vučić and it appears that he has agreed on it. Now, they need to push this policy through inside the country,” Engelhardt said.

The Russian historian is sure that all the recent statements by Aleksandar Vučić were addressed to the Serbian people. “With all due respect to Happy TV, they in Brussels are not likely to watch it. That TV channel is for Serbian TV viewers,” he said.

As for the referendum, Georgi Engelhardt does not think that a fair referendum during which the Serbian people will confirm their refusal from Kosovo is possible in Serbia. He thinks that it should be a “well-organized referendum,” which will be very hard an undertaking, given the current sentiments in the Serbian public and the government.

Engelhardt assumes that the idea of referendum is an attempt to protract the issue or disclaim all responsibility. He recalled that in Serbia under Slobodan Milošević and Bosnia under Radovan Karadžić, they used to hold referendums on painful issues, when the government sought to disclaim responsibility for this or other decisions. However, this game will not work now, Engelhardt said, Brussels and Berlin are sure that the political system in Serbia is quite manageable and the president will make all the key decisions. “Any appeals to formal legal institutions will be deemed as deception. They will hold Vučić responsible,” he said.

In response to EADaily’s question if Russia has any space to maneuver in such circumstances – it is no secret that patriotic quarters of Serbia anticipate Moscow’s support in the Kosovo issue – the historian said the issue is hanging in the air so far.

“What we have now is blossoming relations of Moscow and Belgrade,” the historian said recalling the words of gratitude the Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Chepurin has recently conveyed to President Vučić on behalf of President Vladimir Putin and his aide Yuri Ushakov. Engelhardt emphasized that Moscow has always been working with the government not the opposition of Serbia and will hardly change that workstyle any time soon, despite some failures, for instance, in Montenegro.

“Does Russia have any objective reasons to work with the Serbian people in various segments? It does, actually. The point is whether it will do it in case of a critical situation,” the expert said. In this light, he recalled the report by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin on “Russia’s undermining activity” in the world. The report contains a special section on Serbia, the historian said. According to him, the report is very poorly prepared, with unverified events and facts, so it is hard to say if Russia is capable of doing what the report tells about.

Georgi Engelhardt is sure that the fight for Kosovo has not been lost, as there are many patriotic forces and people in Serbia. Although it is an unequal fight between EU and US on the one side and small groups of people lacking media and financial support on the other side, many inside the Serbian government do not accept the capitulation policy so far, the historian said.

He recalled the public opposition to the Petition in support of Kosovo and Metohija that was issued two weeks ago. “The petition was harshly criticized. Even not so loud voice of opposition creates big problems. This means that resistance is still possible,” Georgi Engelhardt said for conclusion.

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