Serbia: Kosovo hurdle on track to EU

Belgrade is preparing for a new round of negotiations with Pristina on Wednesday, as a pre-condition for the discussion of its EU-candidate status at an EU Summit on December 9.

­Meanwhile, there is no sign of the standoff ending in northern Kosovo, where Serbs are struggling to defend for their rights.

Serbia is awaiting the December 9 European Union summit, at which EU leaders are to decide whether or not Serbia will be granted the status of EU candidate.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy earlier announced the decision would depend upon the progress of negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, the capital and largest city of Kosovo. Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence in 2008, a move that has never been recognized by Belgrade or Kosovo Serbs living in the area.

Serbs in northern Kosovo are building more roadblocks along the border despite the NATO’s attempts to remove a barricade made of buses and trucks that was blocking a main road in the region.

This comes after days of confrontation with troops who have been firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Serbian protesters, leaving dozens injured.

Violence between Kosovan Serbs and NATO troops with Kosovan police flared up this summer after the self-proclaimed Kosovan government sought to set up customs and border posts in the north of the province to take control of border checkpoints in order to impose a ban on Serbian goods. Serbs, although an overall minority in Kosovo, make up a majority in that area.

RT’s Igor Ogorodnev has traveled to Kosovo to talk to people in the streets, who say they are fed up with living in the conflict zone. They see the move to put in customs as an underhand step to drive them out. So they set up roadblocks, and now they keep watch there day and night.

More and more are calling for independence – from Albanian Kosovo, and from Belgrade.

They say the extreme measures they resorted to are their only means of survival.

In September, Milan Premovic was shot in the leg by NATO soldiers who were trying to take down the barricades. As he prepares to return there, he says he now realizes that the price of the stand-off is too high. Milan says he never wanted independence – just for Kosovo to reunite with Serbia. But he admits that this is unlikely to happen and that a compromise is necessary.

“We are isolated now anyway. Maybe us talking about this put pressure on Belgrade to pay more attention to Serbs in Kosovo, to help us,” he told RT.

For 12 years since the conflict that divided Kosovo, the politicians in Belgrade have repeated that the area is an integral part of Serbia.

But, under the presidency of Western-oriented Boris Tadic, joining the European Union has become a bigger priority.

To satisfy EU demands, Tadic has recently called for the barricades to be dismantled, and branded their defenders "extremists."

“Belgrade has abandoned Kosovo, and the people of Kosovo are fighting for themselves,” Miroslav Petkovic, an opposition politician told RT. “The EU keeps making new demands – first handing over Milosevic, then Karadjic then Mladic. But they will never be satisfied. Meanwhile, the situation for the Serbs in Kosovo is getting worse.”

Clashes on the barricades happen almost weekly now.

But despite the toll of simmering violence, the resolve of Kosovan Serbs remains firm.

“This is our homeland. We will not leave it. And we will defend it, regardless of what anyone else tells us to do,” Marko Jaksic, head of the Assembly of Serb Municipalities of Kosovo told RT.

The European Union, most of the leaders in Belgrade and Albanian Kosovans have brushed off the idea of an independent Serbian Kosovo.

But until a compromise of some sort is found for the Serb minority living there, a destructive stand-off will continue indefinitely.