Kosovo Unites Serbia's Political Rivals

Serbia's opposition leaders share Milosevic's hard-line stance on Kosovo - some even consider he has been "too soft."

Kosovo Unites Serbia's Political Rivals

Serbia's opposition leaders share Milosevic's hard-line stance on Kosovo - some even consider he has been "too soft."

Western leaders searching for a lasting peace in Kosovo would be ill advised to pin their hopes on Serbia's political opposition.

Many believe that toppling Slobodan Milosevic from power would solve Kosovo's problems in one fell swoop. But they should also remember that both the president's potential successors and his rivals share the view that Kosovo is - and should always be - Serbian territory.

In fact, even now, Serbian opposition leaders are all too ready to parrot the regime's well-worn slogans and fuel its propaganda machine. Any talk of Kosovo's independence is nothing short of heresy.

Last month, Vladan Batic, of the Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO, was quick to condemn the appearance of Albanian guerrilla units in South Serbia. "It's high time the international community put an end to Albanian terrorism and protected innocent victims instead of threatening the Yugoslav Army," he said.

Meanwhile, Predrag Simic, political advisor to SPO leader Vuk Draskovic, dubbed Kosovo "the issue of all issues in Serbian politics" - more important, he inferred, than economic reform, relations with Europe and the progress of democracy.

Statesmen right across the political spectrum are eager to portray themselves as patriots, fighting to protect the Serbs in Kosovo.

The political mood of the opposition is largely a product of what they see as the failure of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, to protect Serbs from Albanian violence. They brand UNMIK, "a failure" and KFOR peace-keeping forces "Serb-haters".

Many see UNMIK chief, Bernard Kouchner, as an American lackey who hold talks with radical Albanians but makes little effort to find Serbs who went missing during the fighting.

The Alliance for Change, a coalition of opposition parties fronted by Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic, recently pressed Kouchner to let them visit Kosovo - an invitation he turned down on "safety grounds". This was interpreted as a direct refusal to enter into negotiations with Serbian democratic forces.

While KFOR struggles to keep the peace in Kosovo, streams of refugees continue to pour into Serbia, exhausting local patience and resources. In the wake of the recent violence, the number of displaced people in Serbia is thought to have reached the one million-mark.

Opposition politicians argue that the international community fails to realise Serbia is the only multi-ethnic state in the Balkans, while regions once protected by international peace-keepers, such as Krajina in Croatia, have been ethnically cleansed. To a large extent, these blinkered attitudes stem from a lack of access to objective information.

Nevertheless, the plight of the Serbs in Kosovo is likely to become a focal point of the local elections in Serbia this year, with politicians from all parties eager to be seen as patriots.

This consensus is hardly a recent development: Belgrade's political opposition was quick to support Milosevic's crackdown on Kosovo in 1998 and 1999, interpreting his actions as proof of the rebirth of a strong Serb state.

Kosovo and the myth of a Serbian holyland are among the few issues on which all Belgrade politicians find common ground. In fact, the opposition has criticised Milosevic of being too "soft" on the Albanians and for "selling" or losing Kosovo to foreign powers.

Thus far, only marginal social democrat factions have shown any desire to forge links with both Albanian and Serbian leaders in Kosovo. Nenad Canak, of the Vojvodina League of Social Democrats, proposed that ethnically volatile areas such as Vojvodina, Sandzak and Kosovo should be given the status of republics within the Serbian state.

Meanwhile, Zarko Korac, of the Social Democratic Union, is calling on Serbs to take a more positive approach towards foreign intervention and face up to the demands of living in an integrated society. Korac believes the interests of Kosovo Serbs should be represented by non-governmental organisations.

None of the opposition though have formulated realistic strategy for Kosovo's future. The Alliance for Change supports the democratic initiatives proposed by moderate Kosovo Serbs Archbishop Artemije and Momcilo Trajkovic but has little idea how to defuse the enclave's ethnic timebomb.

In any case, even if the opposition should succeed in toppling Milosevic, it has no guarantees from international mediators that Kosovo will remain in the Serbian state.

Zvonko Tarle is the director and editor-in-chief of Radio Contact in Pristina.

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