Serbs protest Kosova independence; Bosniaks protest Serbia genocide acquittal

Thousands of Serbs protested in front of the US embassy in Belgrade Feb. 27 against independence for Kosova, which has been under United Nations control since 1999. The protest, organised by the Serb National Council of Kosovo (SNV), drew some 40,000 people. Many came by bus directly from Kosova, carrying banners reading “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia”, “We won’t give up Kosovo” and “Russia, help!” Some carried pictures of Vladimir Putin or signs calling for Moscow to veto Kosova’s independence at the Security Council.

SNV president Milan Ivanovic told the crowd that the decision to rally in front of the US embassy was taken because Washington is “the creator of the Ahtisaari plan”, a reference to chief UN negotiator, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari who drew up a plan which would effectively grant Kosova independence. The rally was held with the blessing of three parliamentarian parties, including Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia. Serbian President Boris Tadic’s Democratic Party said in a statement it understood “the need of some people to protest,” but refrained from endorsing the rally. Ahtisaari is holding a last round of talks with Kosovar Albanian leaders and a Belgrade delegation before sending his proposal for the approval to the UN Security Council. (AKI, Feb. 27)

While welcomed by most Kosovar Albanian leaders, Ahtisaari’s plan actually calls for “supervised independence” with a long-term international oversight role in Kosova. It is opposed by the radically pro-independence Vetevendosja movement, which organized the recent marches in Kosova which turned violent. Vetevendosja has denied responsibility for the Feb. 26 grenade attack on an OSCE parking lot in Pristnia, which damaged several cars, but has called for more marches in the coming weeks. (DPA, Feb. 27)

Meanwhile, several thousand Bosnian Muslims protested in Sarajevo Feb. 27 against the acquittal of Serbia on genocide charges. Protesters blocked the main road into the city, expressing outrage at the previous day’s verdict by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Some carried banners bearing the words “Betrayed Again”. The court ruled that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre constituted an act of genocide, and that Serbia had failed to use its influence with the Bosnian Serbs to prevent it, but cleared Serbia of direct responsibility for genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

International authorities have decided to postpone handing over full powers of self-rule to Bosnia until the end of June 2008. The office of the High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the power to dismiss Bosnia’s top officials, will stay open a year longer than planned. The decision was taken in Brussels by the 55-nation Peace Implementation Council. It steers the Dayton peace process agreed in 1995. Bosnia’s Muslims, Serbs and Croats still disagree over the High Representative’s demand that the country’s 15 police forces be integrated into a single ethnically-mixed force. (BBC, Feb. 27)

In an illustration of the surreal nature of Bosnia’s internationally-crafted political system, Jakob Finci, the leader of Sarajevo’s small Jewish community, has asked the European Court of Human Rights to lift the prohibition on Jews and other minorities running for the Bosnian presidency. Under the country’s post-war constitution, only ethnic Serbs (Orthodox), Croats (Catholic) and Bosniaks (Muslim) are allowed to run for presidency. Bosnia has three presidents, each representing one of Bosnia’s principal constituent groups.

The Minority Rights Group International in London and Sheri Rosenberg, director of the program in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cordozo Law school in New York, are supporting Finci’s application. “As far as [we] are aware, there is no other case in Europe where Jews are actually prevented from contesting the presidency,” the Minority Rights Group said in a statement. “Ironically, the Bosnian constitution is a modern day creation, but de facto reinforces centuries-old discrimination.” There are about 500 Jews living in Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 18)

See our last posts on Bosnia and Kosova.