Update No: 130 - (26/03/08)
The Serbs in a huff
There is no doubt that the Serbs are both rattled and disgruntled by the
declaration of independence by Kosovo, which took place on February 17. This was
exactly a fortnight after the re-election of President Boris Dodic, a moderate,
liberal figure, popular in the West.
But it is dangerous to be a liberal in Serbia, once again. Just as they thought
the hostilities of Slobodan Milosevic's era had been relegated to history,
Serbia's pro-Western forces are facing a backlash of nationalist anger over
Kosovo's independence declaration.
Serbia's leaders pledged peaceful resistance after Kosovo's declaration of
independence, but nationalism is strong at the grass roots. Angry protesters
turned to violence in Belgrade and a Serbian stronghold in Kosovo.
Some 2,000 people gathered at the U.S. embassy to vent their anger at American
backing for the breakaway province. "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia,"
many chanted as they ripped up paving stones and prised concrete and tiles from
nearby buildings to throw at riot police along with bottles and flares. Several
police and rioters were bloody and injured. The events culminated in the looting
of Western-owned banks and shops.
In the Kosovo Serb stronghold of Mitrovica, hand grenades were thrown at EU and
U.N. buildings. One exploded causing no major damage.
Local news agencies also reported protests in Novi Sad in northern Serbia and in
Banja Luka, capital of the Bosnian Serb Republic whose leaders look to Kosovo
for a precedent they could use to try and secede from Bosnia.
Prominent human rights activists and liberal politicians have received death
threats and their offices have been ransacked. The independent B92 television
station is receiving hate mail.
"It is all part of a totally changed political climate in Serbia,"
said Natasa Kandic, Serbia's leading human rights activist, who has herself been
publicly branded a "traitor" by the nationalist media and politicians.
"These events are very worrisome and alarming," Kandic said. "It
is hard to predict where Serbia is heading." Riding on the tide of
frustration fueled by the cherished province's secession from Serbia, the Balkan
nation has turned its back on the pro-Western policies launched after
Milosevic's 2000 ouster.
The situation has deteriorated rapidly since Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership
issued its declaration - a move followed by swift recognition by the US and its
Western allies. Serbia and Kosovo's Serb minority have refused to accept the
independence of Kosovo, which Serbs consider the cradle of Serbia's history and
The nationalists also vented their anger at those they consider local traitors:
the pro-Western Liberal Democratic Party, Kandic and her Humanitarian Law Centre,
and the B92 station. Cedomir Jovanovic, the small Liberal Party leader and the
main critic of government policies on Kosovo - he favours independence for the
erstwhile province - received death threats as rioters tried to attack his home
in downtown Belgrade. Several party offices throughout Serbia were ransacked.
Kandic said mobs attempted to set fire to her office in central Belgrade, and
she received death threats.
On February 25, B92 TV said its journalists had received large quantities of
hate mail threatening a "bullet to the head" for some journalists. The
station demanded the government take action against those making the threats.
"Obviously ... someone wants to impose censorship on the station,"
said its lawyer, Slobodan Kremenjak.
In 2003, reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was gunned down by Milosevic's
paramilitaries and mobsters in front of government headquarters. His killing has
come to symbolize the dangers that liberals face in a country crippled
economically and scarred emotionally by the 1990s wars that accompanied the
splintering of Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. Djindjic's followers fear the new
attacks on government critics are designed to silence any dissent and completely
sideline pro-Western groups and politicians. It has after all, worked before.
Those include President Tadic, who won re-election by promising to take Serbia
toward European Union membership, but whose triumph has been overshadowed by the
Meanwhile, nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has seized the
initiative by stoking anger over Kosovo. "This is a dangerous and complex
time for Serbian moderates still wanting a European future," William
Montgomery, a former U.S. ambassador, wrote in the newspaper Danas.
Shedding Kosovo's debt
Serbia's government is to consider plans to stop servicing Kosovo's
international debt following its declaration of independence. Economy minister
Mladjan Dinkic said that the government will form a special team to deal with
the issue and negotiate with foreign creditors.
Serbia has been paying off Kosovo's $1.2 billion debt, although it has not had
any authority over the province since the 1999 war, when Nato bombed the country
to force Belgrade to end a crackdown against Kosovo's separatists and pull out
The idea to end payments on the debt has led to a rift within the Cabinet of
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica because nationalist ministers argue that
Serbia must continue doing so to retain its claim on Kosovo. Infrastructure
minister Velimir Ilic said that "Kosovo is part of Serbia, so we,
automatically must pay Kosovo's debt."
Serbia's ruling coalition also is split over whether the country should pursue
its membership in the European Union after many of the bloc's nations recognised
Kosovo's declared independence. Mr Kostunica suggested in an interview with
Russia Today television that Serbia should seek to establish closer ties with
the EU only if the 27-nation bloc agrees that Kosovo is part of the country, a
most unlikely eventuality - it isn't going to happen since several have already
recognised Kososvan independence. But Serbia always plays up to the sympathy
vote it undoubtedly has in Russia, which is its backstop as an economic 'big
Mr Kostunica's coalition partner, President Tadic, has more temperately argued
that Belgrade must pursue its EU ties, regardless of the dispute over Kosovo.
This drama will run and run!