“Eventually we have to let go of Kosovo ‘, says one. “Serbia will never give up on Kosovo,” says someone else. Kosovo and the EU are the two most controversial issues in Serbia at the moment. The newspapers are filled with it. Brand new President Nikolic and Prime Minister Dacic (familiar faces from a dark past) let no day pass by without speaking out about either Kosovo (‘Kosovo is ours as long as we do not give it away’) or EU (‘European integration is our main priority’).
The big unanswered question is: Will Serbia have to choose between Europe and Kosovo? Is recognition of Kosovo a condition for becoming an EU-member? Brussels officially stated that a “normalization” of relations between Pristina and Belgrade would be enough. But recently there were other sounds coming from one of the biggest EU Member States. A German parliamentarian told a Serbian news agency that recognition of Kosovo as an independent state is definitely needed to continue the negotiations in Brussels.
Important to note, there are still five EU-countries who don’t recognize Kosovo (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain), some because they don’t want to create a precedent for their own ‘rebellious’ regions. An argument often used by Serbia to oppose stricter conditions from Europe.
Serbs are confused. They finally sent those damn war criminals to The Hague, and it’s still not enough? But the Kosovo issue has always been a problem for a future EU-membership for Serbia. Accepting an other country with an internal border conflict; the EU will try to avoid it. The extradition of Karadzic, Mladic and Hadzic was only a first step.
Today Deputy Prime Minister Vucic came with a remarkable statement. He said a referendum would not be unthinkable as a last resort. Let the citizens speak out. What is more important to you: Being part of European Union or keeping Kosovo?
What if the Serbs will actually have to choose?
Kosovo lays deep, very deep in the hearts of the Serbs. It goes far back in time and one can get into seriously complex disputes when touching the subject. Since history is very arguable (as hundreds of years of Balkan rivalry’s show), lets not go to deep into that.
With Europe Serbs have a love and hate relationship. Europe is west. The west is NATO. And in 1999 that same NATO bombed civilian targets in Serbia for 78 days in response to the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo by Milosevic. I know people who still get terrified when there’s a thunderstorm because they think the bombing started again. This is personal suffering, regardless of whether the bombings were justified.
On the other hand, the west is money, opportunities, the future (and yes, even a crisis in Europe is still better than a deeper crisis in Serbia). A few years ago, when the visa-free zone for Serbia within the EU was established, many Serbs were celebrating. They could travel, go where ever they want without a hassle. My Serbian friends immediately rushed to the Hungarian-Serbian border to party on top of the boundary line before going home again. Only because it was possible.
Choosing between Kosovo and the EU is not going to be easy. But a recent survey shows a tiny indication of what it might turn out to be. Less than half (49%) of the Serbs are pro-EU membership (25% says no to the EU, 19% has no opinion, and 8% does not know what they want). Before 2010 the pro-EU percentage was over 60%.