Tadic Reaches Out to Kosovo Serbs

A vist to Kosovo by Serbia's president is being seen as an attempt at reconciliation with the protectorate's isolated Serb community.

Tadic Reaches Out to Kosovo Serbs

A vist to Kosovo by Serbia's president is being seen as an attempt at reconciliation with the protectorate's isolated Serb community.

Serbian president Boris Tadic promised to improve the lot of Serbs living in Kosovo during a two-day visit earier this week, the first by the country's head of state since the 1999 war.

In a trip widely regarded as a gesture of reconciliation with the protectorate's isolated Serb community, Tadic also vowed to prevent independence for Kosovo. Talks on the province's status are expected to begin later this year.

The president, leader of the Democratic Party, DS, told Serbs who rallied around in the village of Leposavic that he intended to provoke no one, and that he had travelled to Kosovo with a message of peace. He also came armed with around 10 Serbian national flags which he handed out around the region.

“I did not come here to say big words. I am only interested in what I can do to improve the life of Serbs in Kosovo,” Tadic said amid tight security that included thousands of UN troops, the Kosovo police force, two helicopters and the Serbian and international press.

Kosovo has been under UN protection since 1999 when a NATO bombing campaign ended the war between Serb and Albanian forces. According to the UN, around 160,000 Kosovo Serbs have since left the territory and come to Serbia. Around 80,000 remain, living in isolated enclaves surrounded by the ethnic Albanian majority.

They have so far voted predominantly for radical nationalist parties and rebuffed Tadic's suggestion to take part in Kosovo's parliamentary elections last October.

At an hour-long meeting in Pristina with Soren Jesen Petersen, head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Tadic demanded checkpoints in all areas where Serbs feel unsafe and extra security in enclaves where members of the minority fear an Albanian backlash as a result of his visit.

He also raised the issue of living conditions in certain Serb communities, which have been without electricity since mid-December when power companies cut supplies, saying some customers hadn't paid their bills for five years.

The Serbs countered that they have been unable to pay, because they're isolated from the rest of the world with no freedom of movement, leaving them unable to reach their fields or to get jobs. A source in the Serbian president’s cabinet said Tadic devoted special attention to families threatening to leave the enclave as a result of the power blackout, reassuring them and attempting to pursuade them to stay in Kosovo.

Tadic said he contacted the UN administration in Kosovo last June, shortly after taking office, to arrange the vist, making it clear he came to represent the Serbian government and not as a “common citizen”. His isn't the first visit by a Serb politician in recent weeks. On January 7, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica arrived unexpectedly in Pec to mark the Serbian Orthodox Christmas, though he came as a private citizen.

“Kosovo is a part of Serbia and Montenegro. This is a normal visit by the Serbian president to one of the country’s areas,” Tadic told residents of the village of Silovo, the first destination on his tour.

In the Serbian enclave of Strpce in southeast Kosovo, Tadic reiterated his opposition to Kosovo's independence, saying this would be unacceptable for him.

Analysts said Tadic's visit succeeded in appeasing the Serb community and also opened the channels of communication between Belgrade and the UN administration in Kosovo, crucial during a year when negotiations about the future status of this international protectorate are set to begin.

Though Belgrade is clear in its refusal to entertain the idea of an independent Kosovo, the protectorate's two million Albanians are unlikely to ever willingly return to Serb rule.

Dusan Janjic, director of the Forum for Ethnic Relations, told IWPR that Tadic's attempted reconciliation with the Serb community will bolster his standing in the entity.

However, according to Janjic, good relations with the UN and Kosovo's Serbs also depends on the Serbian government, because as president he has no real power to implement his Kosovo pledges.

Analysts say Tadic would also be at risk if he is seen to have isolated Kostunica by communicating independently with the UN in Kosovo.

There is also the risk, analysts say, that in the year of negotiations over Kosovo's status Serbian parties may begin to compete with each other on who can provide more help to the protectorate, leading to inter-party squabbling.

The last Serbian president to visit Kosovo was Slobodan Milosevic, who removed its autonomy in 1989, sowing the seeds of the unprising that followed.

Pedja Obradovic is a journalist with B92.

Serbia, Kosovo
Support our journalists