Serbian prime minister pushes Kosovo deal

Belgrade seeks to cut ties with dark past in bid to secure EU future

Serbia’s prime minister Ivica Dacic walks past Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (left) during a meeting in Brussels recently. Photograph: Yves Logghe/Pool/Reuters

Serbia’s prime minister Ivica Dacic walks past Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (left) during a meeting in Brussels recently. Photograph: Yves Logghe/Pool/Reuters

Sat, Apr 27, 2013, 01:00

Serbian prime minister Ivica Dacic has urged his country to accept that Kosovo now runs its own affairs and to work towards a future in the European Union, a day after president Tomislav Nikolic sought to mend ties with Bosnia by apologising for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica.

A week after Mr Dacic and Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci accepted an EU-brokered deal to normalise relations between their states, the Serb premier told parliament the agreement, while far from ideal, represented Serbia’s only hope of returning to the European fold.

If it had rejected the deal, Serbia would almost certainly not have received a date to start EU membership talks in the near future. Now, if the deal is implemented, Brussels plans to give Belgrade the green light for accession negotiations in June, under Ireland’s presidency of the bloc.

“Many of you are not happy . . . But somebody had to put an end to the past, poverty and endless defeats,” Mr Dacic told parliament to mingled jeers and applause.

Opposition nationalists, many Kosovo Serbs and the influential Serb Orthodox Church have denounced the deal as capitulation to the West and to Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian majority. The agreement was nonetheless expected to win approval from parliament in yesterday evening’s vote.

“We are choosing whether tomorrow we will have a Serbia of soup kitchens and tears or one that is strong and prosperous,” Mr Dacic said, adding that “we have not had Kosovo for a long time” and that Serb-dominated northern Kosovo would have some autonomy from Pristina. The alternative for Serbia, he said, was an isolated future as “the North Korea of Europe”.

In another move to soothe relations with Serbia’s neighbours, Mr Nikolic on Thursday apologised for July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces.

“I am on my knees and asking for a pardon for Serbia,” said the former hardline nationalist, while refusing to explicitly acknowledge that genocide was committed.

“Genocide must be proven,” he said, before adding that “everything that happened during the wars of the former Yugoslavia had the characteristics of genocide.