WORLD

Serbian split: choosing the EU or Kosovo

CAMERON AINSWORTH-VINCZE March 24 2008
WORLD

Serbian split: choosing the EU or Kosovo

CAMERON AINSWORTH-VINCZE March 24 2008

Serbian split: choosing the EU or Kosovo

WORLD

CAMERON AINSWORTH-VINCZE

After several years of trying to negotiate a plausible path for entry into the European Union, Serbia may be on the verge of derailing its potential inclusion in the 27-member bloc. With the collapse of the coalition government last weekend, President Boris Tadic was expected to dissolve parliament and call an election within days. The danger now is that when Serbs go to the polls, they may bring to power a new coalition that might pull the plug on pursuing EU membership.

At issue is Kosovo and its unilateral declaration of independence. Nationalists in the government, led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, were livid that certain EU member-states— including France, Britain and Germany—recognized the breakaway majority Albanian region of Serbia as a nation. They wanted to pass a resolution that Serbia turn its back on the EU if the union does not reject Kosovar independence. That move was opposed by coalition moderates led by Tadic’s Democratic party, which does not want the issue of Kosovo tied to EU membership. But the differences proved insurmountable. In the words of an official statement, “The government did not have a united and common policy anymore.”

Now Serbian voters will decide what a new common policy should be. Tadic and other EU proponents hope cooler heads will prevail and that Serbs will realize that a future within Europe should override inflamed emotions over Kosovo. The EU is attempting to retain support among moderate Serbs by proposing easier access to visas, education and transport. But it’s also thrown extra fuel on an already heated situation. Last week, the German government agreed to send 180 police officers to Kosovo—in addition to the 1,800 staff the EU has already committed as part of its Kosovo mission, considered illegal by many Serbs. Many now fear that, after the next election, nationalists will gain the upper hand in parliament, turning away from the EU and increasingly toward Russia, which has traditionally backed Serbia. M