Thousands have protested in downtown Belgrade against the implementation of an EU-brokered pact aimed at normalizing ties between the Serbia and its breakaway neighbor Kosovo.
Signed in Brussels in mid-April, "the landmark agreement
between Belgrade and Pristina" is seen by ultra-nationalists as
Serbia's recognition of Kosovo that declared independence in
The protest was called by northern Kosovo Serb political leaders who also fiercely oppose the implementation of the 15-point pact. Serbia’s Parliament backed the deal in a 173-24 vote on April 26.
Protesters gathered at Republic Square in downtown Belgrade at
12:44 local time (10:44 GMT) as a symbolic reference to UN Security
Council Resolution 1244. Signed in June 1999 it placed Kosovo under
transitional UN administration (UNMIK) and authorized KFOR, a
NATO-led peacekeeping force.
Many of those who attended the rally were wearing flags and chanted "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia" and "Treason!" referring to the government, which protesters are calling to reject the Brussels agreement.
Banners unfolded above the crowd read “Serbia comes before everything else”, “We will liberate Kosovo”, “Kosovo is Serbia”, and “We will not give up Kosovo”.
Reports on the number of protesters vary with local InSerbia
news saying up to 10,000 people attended the rally, while AFP
reported about 3,000 people.
Top officials of the ultra-nationalist Democratic Party of
Serbia, the country’s former Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica,
dignitaries from the Serbian Orthodox Church and officials, who
strongly oppose the deal, addressed protesters from the stage.
“We are just one of you, ordinary Serbs who have been forced
by world powers, and recently by our own authorities, to fight and
defend the lives of our children, our homes and holy places,”
Slavisa Ristic, the Mayor of Zubin Potok, a city in northern
Kosovo, said from the stage.
He called the Brussels agreement a betrayal of Serbia, adding
the government was intent on “selling Kosovo and the Serbian
people”, local B92 news reported.
After the protest was over at 15:00 local time, demonstrators
headed toward to the Serbian Government building, where they
chanted “Traitors” and “You sold Kosovo!”
They then continues their way towards the Russian embassy, where
when arrived they started chanting “Serbia, Russia, We do need
Union!” InSerbia news said.
The agreement reached during the EU-mediated negotiations between Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci, provides for the merger of the four Serb municipalities in the north (North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic) subject to Kosovo law.
This urban district would have powers over economic development,
education, healthcare and town planning.
Under the new deal, Serbs in northern Kosovo will have their own
police and appeal court.
Both sides also agreed to not block each other's efforts to seek
Prior to the deal, Serbia rejected an agreement proposal because
the terms did not "guarantee full security and protection of
human rights to the Serb people in Kosovo".
The move is widely regarded as a step towards Serbia’s entry
into the European Union. EU lawmakers called on the European
Council to grant Belgrade long-anticipated candidate status at a
session in March. However, Kosovo remains the main obstacle to
Belgrade and Pristina have seen sporadic ethnic tensions over
sovereignty, as the Kosovo region has a Serbian population of over
220,000. The most serious in recent years was in 2004, when dozens
of Serbian Orthodox churches across Kosovo were set on fire.
In 2011 Kosovo Serbs proved their resistance against Pristina’s control, constructing barricades to prevent authorities from entering their enclave in a bid to show their opposition Kosovo’s independence, insisting the province – which has a majority Albanian population – was still part of Serbia.
The both sides managed to agree that the border would be jointly policed.