Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica persuaded the cabinet to step down following a rift over Kosovo's independence and EU integration.
Kostunica insisted on breaking relations with those Western countries which have recognized Kosovo. Ministers from the Tadic-led Democratic Party suggested that the two issues be treated separately. They urged parliament to uphold Serbian territorial integrity and to continue the talks with the European Union. As a result, a new government crisis broke out. Serbia is going to have its third elections in less than two years.
An amputated limb cannot grow back. But when the shaman tries to convince that he is capable of a miracle, he finds a following. This is exactly how I see Kostunica's position, who after the amputation of Kosovo has been trying to tell the world not to recognize this fact.
Kostunica's opponents have been increasingly comparing him to the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whom he replaced during the October revolution in 2000. Milosevic used to say that Kosovo mattered more for him than his own head. His career was propelled by the statement that Kosovo is Serbia's heart. To keep the rebellious province, he abrogated the Marshal Tito-granted autonomy and established direct Belgrade rule there. At that time, Kosovo's security forces mostly consisted of ethnic Serbs. In reply, the Albanians set up parallel bodies of government, and conducted their own presidential and parliamentary elections, which Belgrade did not recognize. They had a shadow government abroad (the Albanian diaspora in the West is very strong).
As a result, Kosovo started receiving foreign financial injections and weapons from the neighboring Albania. The illegal Kosovo Liberation Army was set up in the late 1990s. Both Serbian policemen and civilians were killed in clashes with its militants. Belgrade's response infuriated the West and led to NATO's bombings in 1999.
Milosevic was legally defending the country's territorial integrity but he was not flexible enough to make concessions and regarded compromise as a weakness. At that time, he no longer had real power or allies. He wanted to rely on the United States, but for America he remained the last communist dictator in Europe. He tried to win Moscow's support but Russia did not want to quarrel with the West over him. As a result, he remained alone.
Kostunica is from the same breed of irreconcilable Serbs as Milosevic. For eight years he had occupied top positions in former Yugoslavia and today's Serbia. But except for rhetorical chanting about Kosovo's inalienability, he has done nothing to keep the province within Serbia.
For many years, members of Serbia's wealthiest family - the Karic brothers - tried to persuade the authorities that only close economic contacts and Albanian-Serbian joint ventures can span bridges between Belgrade and Pristina.
In 2002, Bogoljub Karic did the impossible - he organized a meeting between Serbian and Albanian businessmen, which led to a vigorous development of business ties. This guaranteed freedom of movement to Serbs in Kosovo, and allowed Belgrade and Pristina to conduct joint talks on the entry into the European Union.
But last winter Belgrade urged Serbs to boycott parliamentary elections in Kosovo despite the fact that about 400,000 Serbs with the right to vote live in Kosovo or have a refugee status in Serbia. Some 700,000 Albanians took part in the Kosovo elections, and the party of President Hacim Taci collected 280,000 votes. It is clear that Serbs could have a solid faction in Kosovo's parliament and decide the province's destiny on a par with Albanians. Unfortunately, this chance was lost as well.
Kostunica and leader of the Serbian Radical Party Tomislav Nikolic preferred to hold rallies and chant their mantra - "We won't give Kosovo away!" Tormented by national humiliation, the Serbs believed them and all but elected Nikolic president.
President Tadic and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic are also saying that they do not accept Kosovo's cessation. But under the circumstances, this is just a required figure of speech - otherwise, the voters will turn away from the government.
But in reality, Serbia has lost its chance to make joint life attractive for Kosovars. The impoverished republic, whose economy has been destroyed by NATO, has no resources for financial aid to the Kosovo Albanians. Even the Serbian minority in Kosovo lives a meager existence and cannot leave refugee camps to return home. Belgrade cannot offer the Kosovars any social support, or fund medical or educational programs. NATO peacekeepers are still in charge of Kosovo's defense.
In the meantime, the EU is still holding Serbia on a hook - recognize Kosovo's independence, extradite military criminals to the Hague Tribunal, and you'll get a prize. This has been EU policy for the last nine years. This is how Serbian society has to pay for the mistakes of its leaders.
In what way can the early elections in May change the situation? People are sick and tired of the stubborn Kostunica, who is unable to achieve anything. He is not likely to remain prime minister. The victory of radicals will alienate the EU from Belgrade. In this case, the West should render real economic support to Belgrade, or the advocates of Serbia's European integration will get nowhere in the years to come. But whatever the past, Serbia's future is linked with Europe.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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