Raised tempers over Kosovo spark scuffle in Serbian parliament

Raised tempers over Kosovo spark scuffle in Serbian parliament
/ Serbian parliament
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje February 2, 2023

The speech by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in the parliament’s special session on Kosovo on February 2 descended into chaos when opposition lawmakers opposed the president's call to stay on the European path in the face of tough challenges.

Vucic addressed MPs to inform them about the situation that Serbia is facing regarding Kosovo, following the latest meeting with Western officials, who told the president that Serbia must accept the latest Western proposal and if not, the country's EU integration process will be halted.

Most of the opposition parties consider that the latest proposal is unfavourable for Serbia and accuse Vucic for being non-transparent in the negotiation process on Kosovo with the EU and US envoys.

To progress on its EU accession path, Serbia will have to make tough concessions, such as allowing Kosovo to become part of international organisations, even though the recognition of Kosovo by Belgrade was not explicitly required in the latest proposal.

At one point, the bitter discussions in the parliament turned into a melee, when a group of opposition MPs interrupted Vucic by chanting "Treason" and "We don't give Kosovo", and then headed towards the president, footage from the session shows.

After that, MPs from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) got up from their seats and headed towards their opposition rivals, ending in a scuffle that lasted about 15 minutes.

In his address, Vucic said that the most difficult part of the proposed French-German proposal is for Serbia not to oppose Kosovo’s membership in international organisations.

Vucic told members of the opposition that, instead of criticising, they should say what is the “mechanism” for Serbia to prevent Kosovo's membership in the Council of Europe.

“Serbia must hold negotiations and talks on Kosovo, otherwise we will be trampled,” Vucic warned during the debate.

Vucic added that it is in Serbia's interest to become part of the EU, but its military neutrality will remain for a long time. Serbia started EU accession talks in 2014, but it never expressed interest in joining Nato, which bombed the country in 1999 to end the Kosovo conflict.

“If you want to seek a referendum, I have no problem. We have talks with KFOR all the time, because it is in our interest, not joining Nato. We have to cooperate and make friends out of enemies,” Vucic said.

During the debate, dozens of citizens gathered in front of the parliament to support the idea of protecting Serbian national interests in Kosovo and urged MPs not to support the signing of the French-German proposal, nor any other that would seek recognition of independent Kosovo and its admission to the UN.

In the parliament, Vucic presented a ten-point plan on Serbia’s policy in the coming period, saying that the main goal is to preserve peace and stability at any cost.

He said that the purpose of his speech is “to appear before you, but also before the citizens of Serbia as a representative of all our citizens and to share honestly what lies ahead of us as a nation and what we are facing.”

Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo as a separate country since Pristina unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. However, the two countries have been engaged in EU-mediated dialogue since 2011 and are required to normalise their relations if either is to join the EU.

EU special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Miroslav Lajcak said at the end of January that both countries should inform the international community by March whether they accept the latest Western proposal on normalisation of their relations or face consequences for refusing to do so. 

Western officials are trying at any costs to avoid another conflict in Europe, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.