Serbian opposition figures criticised President Aleksandar Vucic as he moved closer to a deal with Kosovo at talks in Ohrid, North Macedonia, at the weekend.
While nothing was signed at the summit on March 18, mediated by EU officials, Kosovo and Serbia agreed on an annex to the implementation of the agreement on normalisation of their relations, said the EU's high representative for foreign policy and security, Josep Borrell, after 12 hours of talks.
Critical comments by opposition leaders after the meeting followed a protest by right-wingers before it took place, confirming that Vucic will struggle to secure acceptance for any deal with Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008.
Members and supporters of several rightwing opposition parties and movements gathered in front of the Church of St. Sava on March 17, in order to protest against the EU mediated deal between Belgrade and Pristina.
The gathering was organised by the Dveri movement and the parliamentary parties New DSS, POKS and Zavetnici under the slogan "Serbia remembers, defends, does not give". The protest was peaceful, though it was reported that some people were stopped on the way to the gathering.
The protesters had three demands: to reject the European plan for the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, Vucic’s resignation and a snap general election.
Banners at the rally read "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia", "No to capitulation” and "We don't give up holy places", and insulting chants against Vucic could be heard.
The protest took place the day before the top-level talks in Ohrid under the auspices of the European Union. After the talks, Vucic stated that he had not signed anything, that "some kind of agreement" had been reached, that several points had been agreed on the negotiation framework, and that progress in European integration will depend on their implementation.
"It was immediately stated that the process of forming the ZSO [Association of the Serbian municipalities] will get underway," said Vucic on March 19, after talks ended late the previous evening.
He emphasised that both parties will be bound by the agreement that will be part of their European journey.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, meanwhile, criticised Vucic for “running away” from signing the agreement. He also said the deal represented de facto recognition of Serbia.
In an address to the Serbian public later, Vucic said Serbia is not recognising Kosovan independence.
He added that after reading the annex to the agreement, he did not sign either the agreement or the annex "primarily because Serbia is an internationally legally recognised state, Kosovo is not a state for me, and I do not want to make international legal agreements with the Republic of Kosovo”.
Representatives of rightwing groups that protested on March 17 again made their objections clear, with Dveri leading a demonstration outside broadcaster RTS.
Dveri leader Bosko Obradovic called again for Vucic to resign. "From this annex, it is clear that the EU treats Kosovo as a state, with the support of the President of the Republic of Serbia, who capitulated and accepted this new Western ultimatum on the non-existent path to the EU at any cost. That is why the only solution to this crisis is the resignation of Vucic and extraordinary elections at all levels!” he tweeted.
Zavetnici leader Milica Djurdjevic-Stamenkovski told N1 that the deal would “open a Pandora’s box” and encourage other regions to break away from Serbia.
Other opposition leaders also criticised the Serbian president.
“Vucic frantically repeats that he did not sign the agreement. Our citizens must know that this agreement does not even have to be signed, because it has already been accepted as a platform for negotiations in which Vucic is heavily involved,” wrote former president Boris Tadic of the Social Democratic Party on Twitter on March 18.
“Our history does not remember such deception of citizens!”
Vuk Jeremic of the People’s Party tweeted that the agreement was “high treason” and called for a referendum.
“This is very serious. In Brussels, the principle of sovereign equality of Serbia and "Kosovo" was accepted, as well as the membership of Pristina in ALL international organisations. Now the implementation plan has been accepted, as Borrell says, "in full",” he wrote. “This high treason can only be prevented by a referendum.”