Violence may damage Serbia’s chances of joining EU – The Sunday Business Post

Serb demonstration in Mitrovica (Simon Roughneen)

MITROVICA — There are fears that violence –- especially attacks on embassies  resulting from Kosovo’s declaration of independence — could spiral out of control and harm Serbia’s chances of joining the European Union.

Since prime minister Hasim Thaci called the Republic of Kosova into being last Sunday, there have been many incidents of unrest.

The declaration set off a diplomatic firestorm and raised the ire of Russia-backed Serbia. It also sparked fears in countries such as Spain and China that ethnic minority groups would have a new basis for resistance.

Last Thursday, Serbian protesters stormed the US embassy in Belgrade and set it alight. This followed a rally by 200,000 people denouncing the western-backed declaration. More than 100 people were injured and a charred body was later found in the embassy. The US embassy later withdrew non-essential staff from Belgrade.

Other embassies were also targeted, including Croatia’s. This led to 44 people being arrested in Croatia after the Serbian flag was burned in Zagreb’s main square, in an act of retaliation. The violence – which flared at the end of a peaceful protest – also included the vandalism of shops and banks in Belgrade.

Free rail travel and a school holiday facilitated the rally after defiant rhetoric from Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica stirred up the crowd.

Last Friday, EU officials called on Serbia to do more to protect foreign embassies from attacks – some saying the violence could harm progress on a deal with the union. Olli Rehn, enlargement commissioner, said he could understand the protests, but said the use of violence was unacceptable.

Washington demanded a swift response from Belgrade, with US president George W Bush saying he was being kept up to date on the unrest in the region.

Supporters of Kosovar independence say Pristina’s is a standalone case, legitimate under international law. ‘‘Kosovo is not like anywhere else, and we deserve our independence,” Pristina pharmacy student Laura told The Sunday Business Post.

At a Serb demonstration in Mitrovica last Wednesday, Mario Jovanovic, from Vranje in southern Serbia, said: ‘‘For us, Kosovo is holy land.”

He said hundreds of Serbs had crossed into Kosovo’s majority-Serb municipalities, after mobs torched and bulldozed two border posts earlier that day. Even if Serb regular forces do not attempt to retake Kosovo, most experts expect partition of the new state.

Belgrade controls the region north of Mitrovica, and Daniel Serwer, Balkan expert at the United States Institute for Peace, told this newspaper that ‘‘only with great difficulty’’ would Nato and the EU alter this status quo.

Follow us on Twitter
, , , ,