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Serbia Hints at Referendum on Kosovo Deal

Serbian government officials are contining to hint at a nationwide referendum on the Kosovo issue, as any solution to the dispute would likely require changes to the country's constitution.

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Serbian officials have continued to hint that citizens will be given an opportunity to declare their views on any proposed settlement of the Kosovo issue.

Many believe a referendum is the most likely solution, as Serbia’s constitution mentions Kosovo as part of the national territory.  

“The obligation is to call a referendum if the preamble of the constitution changes … and essential changes to that issue, which must happen due to the obligation to sign a legally binding agreement, require a referendum,” Bojan Klacar, from the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, CeSid, told BIRN.

Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic, on May 11 said that Serbian citizens “will be given an opportunity to voice their opinion on what we think is a rational and compromise solution”, without explaining the likely solution, or how citizens would make their views known.

Earlier, on February 10, the head of the parliamentary group of Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party, Aleksandar Martinovic, said Serbia’s citizens “should give the final word on what will be agreed between Belgrade and Pristina in a referendum”.

“They [citizens] are sovereign, they are those who will give their opinion on whether what we have agreed is good for Serbia or not. We never ran away from that referendum,” he said, according to N1 television.  

Rasim Ljajic, Tourism Minister and head of the Progressive’s junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, agreed with Martinovic a few weeks later.

Latest survey, published in April, shows that while most Serbs don’t want to abandon their claim to Kosovo, they do not want to make any personal sacrifices, or lose out on EU membership, over it.

Survey conducted between December 17 and 27 by Open Society Foundation and IPSOS Strategic Marketing showed 19 per cent believe that Serbia will end up with same or less influence on Kosovo than it has today.

Another 20 per cent said they think that Kosovo “will become an independent state regardless of the effort of Serbia and that Serbia will lose all influence in Kosovo”.

Some 28 per cent of citizens believe the best solution for Kosovo would be “essential autonomy within the state of Serbia”. Only seven per cent answered that the best solution for Serbia would be Kosovo as an independent state.

“A referendum in which citizens declare about the Kosovo issue is not an option to resolve this issue, but rather a way for citizens to express themselves freely and democratically about a solution proposed by the politicians,” Ljajic was quoted saying by Serbia’s Tanjug news agency on January 28.

Serbia’s constitution, adopted in 2006, treats Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia and contains a special preamble on Kosovo.

The newspaper Danas has reported that Vucic will resolve the doubts about whether citizens will vote on Kosovo in a referendum or in elections in June. 

But it quoted its sources, which said the West would not be happy with a referendum as a solution.

“Differing statements by the Progressives are result of several things: Vucic has most of the information, not the rest of the Progressive officials; a solution is probably not yet ready or not final, but in the end, the impression is that the deadlines are accelerating and that the Progressives itself are unprepared for such a narrow maneuvering space,” Klacar explained.

“The Progressives have another strategy now – to persuade citizens that a resolution of the Kosovo problem is necessary and that a state of ‘frozen conflict’ is not good for Serbia,” Klacar concluded. 

The mainly ethnic Albanian former Serbian province declared independence in 2008. However, Serbia has said it will never recognise Kosovo’s statehood.

A referendum on Kosovo is also sought by Serbian right-wingers who recently launched a campaign for a referendum which, they told BIRN, would block any legal agreement with Kosovo.

President Vucic has repeated several times recently that the international community seeks a legally binding agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.

Serbia also needs some kind of resolutrion to proceed with its hopes of joining the EU, which  has said it will not import any more open border disputes.

“If we sign this agreement, we will receive all guarantees, and the guarantees we receive in Berlin are the guarantees I trust most,” Vucic said on February 27 after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  

Read more:

Serbian Nationalists Demand Referendum on Kosovo
Kosovo not a Priority for Most Serbs, Survey Shows
Serbia-Kosovo Relations

Maja Zivanovic