Orthodox protest against holding EuroPride, although the Serbian authorities have already canceled the pan-European event – Copyright AFP OLIVER BUNIC
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic visited northern Kosovo on Monday, marking the first trip by a senior official from Belgrade to the former breakaway province in years since the recent outbreak of unrest.
The visit comes just over a week after Serbia and Kosovo signed a landmark agreement that would allow their citizens to move freely between the territories of longtime rivals.
The deal follows weeks of negotiations in Brussels after unrest rocked northern Kosovo this summer as Serbian protesters blocked border crossings and fired on police over a plan by Kosovo authorities to introduce a new set of travel documents for people entering the territory with Serbian identity cards.
In the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica, about a thousand local Serbs greeted Brnabić, waving Serbian flags and holding placards reading “We have only one prime minister” and “Welcome to Serbia, Kosovo’s holy land.”
“I sincerely hope that the Provisional Institutions in Pristina will become sincerely committed to dialogue and finding some kind of compromise necessary for the long-term normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina,” Brnabic said at a press conference, referring to the Kosovo authorities.
“This is what we need – not only for our European integration – but also for ourselves,” she added.
Serbia has been a candidate for EU membership since 2012, but most experts doubt that the country has a chance of joining the bloc until Belgrade works out an agreement to normalize relations with Kosovo.
– High security –
The Brnabić delegation traveled with a strong bodyguard while NATO troops were stationed along the main roads in the area, with a helicopter circling overhead.
During her one-day tour of Kosovo, the 46-year-old was supposed to visit educational institutions, a Serbian Orthodox monastery and interact with local farmers.
The area has long been a hotspot between the two communities after a bitter war in the 1990s that sparked a NATO bombing campaign that paved the way for Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.
Serbia deeply resents Kosovo’s breakaway status and has never recognized its independence.
Serbs in northern Kosovo have long refused to recognize Pristina’s authority and remain largely loyal to the Serbian government in Belgrade.
Another point of tension between the two countries is related to the vehicle license plates that Pristina has imposed throughout Kosovo, including the Serb minority living in the north.
On Sunday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Germany and France had offered to send additional ambassadors to help negotiate with Pristina.
Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority fought Serbian forces in 1999, supported by NATO warplanes.
In 2008, it declared independence, which was recognized by most, but not all, EU member states.
The latest unrest in Kosovo has prompted NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg to say that the 3,700 NATO peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo will do whatever is necessary to ensure a secure environment.