“Kosovo,” according to a popular adage that was coined in the 1990s during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, “is the most expensive Serbian word.”
It has cost the country four lost wars, international isolation and triggered an unprecedented economic decline. It now even risks undermining Serbia’s European future as the sarcastic saying is still casting its spell.
European Pressphoto Agency
More than 20 years after former president Slobodan Milosevic ignited the Balkan powder key by trying to resurrect Kosovo as Serbia’s cultural heartland, the former province — which unilaterally declared independence in 2008 — means little but costs for this impoverished southeastern European country.
According to a study by the Belgrade Center for Practical Politics, Serbia’s 8 million citizens spend 16 euros every second to keep Kosovo in the country’s fold. The website, www.kolikokostakosovo.info
, puts the total cost since 1999 — the end of the Kosovo war — at above six billion euros.
Serbia has made big strides to break with its belligerent past and renew its economy. This has helped the country Wednesday to win candidate status to join the European Union some day. But the launch of accession talks hasn’t been fixed yet, and if they will ever start remains doubtful, given that the commission warned that relations with Kosovo need to normalize first.
The European Union has as of yet officially abstained from urging the country to acknowledge the independence of Kosovo, where Albanians outnumber Serbs by 20 to 1. But pressure is likely to mount, further complicating the life of pro-European Serb politicians, who want to see the country in the European Union, but together with Kosovo as its own province.
Serbia’s president Boris Tadic on Wednesday made it clear that in relation to Kosovo Serbia’s stance remains unchanged. “There are principles which we won’t give up — such as the indivisibility of our territory,” he told journalists in Belgrade. Maybe to please an international audience, he also said that Serbia has opened a dialogue with Kosovo and wants it to continue to find a solution acceptable to all.
Growing European pressure on Serbia to come to terms with an independent Kosovo has prompted some Serbian politicians to take an even more radical stance than Mr. Tadic’s and suggest Serbia should seek an ally in Russia rather than the EU, a trend that might accelerate before Serbs go to the poll, probably next year.
Earlier this week, Socialist Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, talking to Russian TV, said that Serbia won’t jeopardize its national interests because of the EU. He suggested that a partition of Kosovo could be envisaged to safeguard the interests of the 100,000 Serbs who still live in Kosovo, which is also home to more than 1,000 Orthodox churches and monasteries.
Some Serbian politicians appear willing to pursue this avenue to win votes, a strategy that would entail seeking closer ties with traditional partners such as Russia, China and India, while dropping the idea of ever joining the European block.
Under such a scenario, Kosovo will likely stay Serbia’s most cumbersome cost driver for some time to come.