As was expected, after the January elections in Serbia, the UN special envoy Marti Ahtissari revealed the plan on the future status of Kosovo. It seems that all sides in this struggle are responding as expected. The international community is maintaining its vague language by refraining from an implicit use of the word ‘independence,’ while practically paving the road to an independent and sovereign Kosovo. The Albanian leadership mostly accepts the plan while promising its constituency that Kosovo will eventually be independent. The Serbian leadership, on the other hand, unequivocally declares that Serbia will never give up Kosovo. Headed by Vojslav Ko?tunica, the Serbian leadership has lined up with the Serbian Radical Party, declaring that it will never recognize an independent Kosovo.
Kosovo was not the main issue in last month’s election campaign in Serbia. Other issues related to corruption, economic and social affairs received more attention in politician’s public speeches and on billboard posters. Only if one looked closely enough at a number of buildings in Belgrade, the capital, one could find graffiti announcing “we shall not give up Kosovo, 1389.” In spite of those graffiti artists, though it is correct to say that a significant portion of the Serbian population of Serbia lost any interest in Kosovo a long time ago. After more than a decade of three wars, eleven years of the Milosevic regime, the assassination of a democratic Prime Minister Zoran Dindic, and on-going promises for improvement and change in the standards of living, the future of Kosovo is not the most important issue of the citizens of Serbia. Most of them have never been to Kosovo and quite frankly have no interest in going.
But beyond those Serbian voices covered in the local and international media when they declare that Kosovo will stay Serbian forever, there are other voices in Serbia that we should pay attention to. These are alternative voices that oppose to Serbia’s claim over Kosovo and reject Serbian nationalism. They recognize the war crimes that were done in their name in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, acknowledge the demographic changes in Kosovo over the last two decades and support the right of Albanians to have self-determination.
Cedomir Jovanovic, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader who headed the liberal coalition in Serbia, announced more than once during his campaign that what truly stands at the center of the political life in Serbia is not the future of Kosovo but the future of Serbia and its citizens – whether they will walk towards the EU or will remain to dwell on their past. In his mid-thirties, a former student leader opposing Milosevic in the 1990s and a minister in Zoran Dindic’s government (before ?in?i? was assassinated in the heart of the capital for his liberal views), Jovanovi? was one of the only politicians in the January elections to explicitly express his support for the independence of the Albanians in Kosovo. The coalition he headed won fifteen seats in the Parliament, supported mostly by the young, urban and educated Serbs who wish to continue to live in Serbia and not emigrate, as many of their relatives and friends did in the 1990s. The coalition slogan “Od Nas Zavisi” (“It Depends On Us”) promotes this plea for another Serbia, a forward-looking society that rehabilitates itself, takes responsibility for war crimes and allows the Albanians in Kosovo to build their lives and future as well.
Many people among Serbia’s civil society strongly support these ideas. Non governmental Organizations working for social change in Serbia predominantly identify with these alternative ideas and struggle for their voices to be heard in the public sphere. They are concerned that the current Prime Minister, Vojslav Kostunica, takes them back in time with the way he expresses himself in regard to Kosovo. He reminds them of Milosevic. And yet unlike Bosnia (and particularly Sarajevo), which elicit memories of the old days of economic and social stability – a sort of Yugo-nostalgia along with memories of the siege on Sarajevo and its bombing, Kosovo raises very different sentiments – nothing as sentimental about it, but among those trying to reinforce Serbian nationalism.
In my conversations with young men and women active for social change in Serbia, I heard various explanations as for the attitudes towards Kosovo and the gap between politicians’ announcements on one hand and the apathy of the public on the other. As one young man heading the “Youth Initiative for Human Rights” explained: “when people in Serbia, mostly politicians, refer to Kosovo, especially after the Nato Bombing (1999), they only relate to Kosovo as to a territory completely ignoring its population.”
Hence, when the international community and local leaders will reconvene next month in Vienne to discuss the future of Kosovo (or Kosova as named by the Albanians), one of the questions left is whether they will discuss the future of the territory only, or perhaps they will also discuss the future of its residents, an estimation of almost 2,000,000 Kosovar Albanians and more than 100,000 Serbs (and other minorities) who live in enclaves, who do not speak Albanian and are afraid to move freely.