TENSE MOMENTS: A European Union police officer watches as Serb protesters approach the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica on May 8. About 50 Serbs were protesting against the rebuilding of seven destroyed houses belonging to Albanian returnees near the flashpoint town.
More than a year after Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, observers have become accustomed to Belgrade deploying every legal and diplomatic means against the breakaway.
Recent public protests and violent incidents in Kosovo, first by Serbs in Mitrovica against the rebuilding of Albanian houses destroyed in the 1998/99 war, and then over the refusal by Serbs in northern Kosovo to be billed for electricity by a Kosovo-run power supplier, have done nothing to add to the notion that the fledgling state is on its way to stability, even though internationally-backed interventions helped to restore calm in both cases.
There were attempts to lay the blame for the problems at the door of Serbians and Serbs.On May 11, dailies in Kosovo reported that in an interview with FoNet news agency, US ambassador to Serbia Belgrade Cameron Munter said that in the northern part of Kosovo irresponsible Serb leaders were behind the violence, and constituted a danger to their own safety and the safety of others. Munter called on Belgrade to stop these leaders being irresponsible.
"I am talking about people living in Mitrovica and your government knows who they are. These are people that incite violence; they are a threat to their safety and the safety of others. This is not the way to solve problems," Munter was quoted as saying.
There was a boost for Kosovo when, on May 8, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that it was offering membership to Kosovo. The proposed initial quota for Kosovo is 59 million Special Drawing Rights, which the IMF said was the equivalent of about $88.64 million.
Serbia’s reaction, predictably, was to reject the idea that the IMF decision represented an acknowledgement of sovereignty. At the same time, the IMF move created a dilemma for Belgrade, going by media reports about the stance it was taking.
Serbia’s economy minister Mladjan Dinkic said that Serbia would benefit because it would no longer have to pay Kosovo’s debts, though he added that the ‘’(IMF) decision is of no political significance".
However, media reports swiftly followed indicating that Belgrade was repudiating the first element of Dinkic’s statement, saying that Serbia would rather continue servicing Kosovo’s debt rather than stop and by so doing, risk being seen as tacitly acknowledging Kosovo as a separate state.
"This outcome could have been expected and it was difficult to prevent it, but in any case we will not give up defending our integrity in the key institutions where the independence of a state is confirmed, which is at the United Nations.
For that reason, our efforts will mainly go in the direction of the International Court of Justice and the proceedings which will be taking place in the next year or two," Serbian president Boris Tadic said, as reported by Belgrade-based Politika.
On other fronts, Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic spoke out strongly against Kosovo’s attempts to join the Council of Europe. "The Council of Europe is an organisation whose members are sovereign and internationally-recognised countries, and Kosovo is not one of them," Jeremic said.
There was another symbolic victory when it emerged that in spite of an official announcement that an invitation had been issued to Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu to attend the May 12 inauguration of Macedonia’s new president Gjorge Ivanov, it had been hinted to him behind the scenes not to attend. Skopje did not, it was reported, want to offend Serbia’s Tadic.
The photographic record showed Tadic among leaders being welcomed, while reports said that the consolation for Sejdiu would be that he would be the first foreign head of state to be formally received by Ivanov – at a later date.
In a report released on May 12, the International Crisis Group, an independent international conflict prevention NGO, urged Kosovo, Serbia and the international community to take a number of steps to facilitate ethnic Serb integration in Kosovo.
Forthcoming events being keenly awaited included the planned visit by US vice president Joe Biden to the Western Balkans, which reportedly would include a visit to Kosovo.
On May 12, Kosovo media reported US deputy assistant secretary for the Western Balkans Stuart Jones as saying that in Kosovo, Biden would reaffirm the strong support of the US for "Europe’s newest democracy".