Protests mar Serbia Statehood Day, arrests follow–and Prez Vucic’s job only gets harder from here

With at least the beginning of a beginning to normalization in relations between Serbia and Kosovo under way—although this appears to be a matter of debate for even Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic—far right politicians and supporters made their displeasure known on Serbian Statehood Day, Wednesday, Feb. 15, with vehement protests that included threats, violence and the arrest Thursday, Feb. 16, of Narodna Patrola/People’s Patrol leader Damjan K..

Protesters demanded a stop to normalization talks and made no secret of the violence they plan to foment should recognition of Kosovo become a reality, congregating before the Serbian presidential seat, shouting “treason” and also voicing support for Russia at a time when the war in Ukraine has become more unpredictable by the day.

The protests were not widespread—estimates given by local media put the number in front of the Serbian presidential building at about 1,000—but still they illustrate the difficulties faced by Vucic at a critical moment in time for Serbia. The EU—while also going back and forth on statements—has appeared to link Kosovo recognition as key to eventual EU succession (although this would come no sooner than 2030). The US—always a key side in Kosovo politics—has been more even-handed, stating that the long awaited (and ignored) Community (or association) of Serbs must come to fruition.

As for Vucic, he remains between a rocks and a hard place. Kosovo politicians have alleged that Serbia has welcome Wagner mercenaries and that said mercenaries have been shipping weapons and uniforms to Kosovo to foment rebellion in the North. That said, while there is proof of at least past recruiting in Serbia—which Vucic has condemned—Serbia Monthly has seen nothing of the kind in Kosovo. On the flip side, harassment and even shooting incidents with Serb victims have made headlines since the recent standoff over license-plate re-registration for ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, which came close to destabilizing the region.

Following protest and the arrest of Damjan K.—an affirmed Wagner supporter—Vucic doubled down on enforcing security measures to halt the wishes of “thugs,” not unlike his recent condemnation of attempted recruiting for Wagner and the Russian war machine in Serbia itself.

That said—and although Vucic has said that Serbia may be forced to join the EU political train—sanctions against Russia do not yet seem to be on the table.

But much may be about to change. For all of their mediation exercises (and quiet, but apparent behind-the-scenes frustration with the  hard line of Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti) on Wednesday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken included in a US State Department press release covering Serbian Statehood Day congratulations the line that “normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo will bring security and prosperity for Serbia and all citizens of the Western Balkans.”

Possiby, but at the moment Vucic may well tend to disagree.

Moreover, considering that a number of EU countries appear opposed to recognizing Kosovo—including for different reasons Hungary and Spain—this is a rocky road that is by no means certain to come to fruition any time in the near future.

But it’s Friday. The weekend and the ski slopes are ahead of us.

Perhaps let’s not digress.

Wagner Group boss (and FBI fugitive) Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin has been accused of heading an organization that has meddled in the politics of Africa, Serbia and Kosovo. Photo by FBI, Field Office: Washington D.C., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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