Serbian Dismayed over Independent Kosovo

Kosovo declares itself an independent state, and Serbian Unity Congress President Mirjana Samardzija isn't thrilled. She says Kosovo is integral of the part of the Serbian nation, and has been forever.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

I wonder if Martha would start saying bam.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Or is it boom. More of that, boom. All right, yesterday we talked a lot about Kosovo declaring its independence from Serbia on Sunday. And while Kosovars celebrated in the street, making that declaration, while symbolic, is just the first step in what could be a long and difficult process.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

UN member states are picking sides in this battle. The U.S., Britain, France, Italy, and Germany have all recognized the new state of Kosovo. Other states including Russia and Spain have not. Serbia withdrew its ambassador from Washington in protest the U.S. support of Kosovo saying the declaration of independence violates international law. And the situation on the ground in Kosovo is tense. Yesterday, ethnic Serbs attacked two border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia and NATO peacekeepers from France and the U.S. have put up razor wire to seal off that border.

Now, as Alison mentioned, yesterday we spoke about this issue and we talk with Zana Blaku, a Kosovar living in New York who supports independence. Today we'll hear from the other side. On the line is Mirjana Samardzija. She's the president of Serbian Unity Congress in Washington, D.C., and she joins me now. Hi, Mirjana.

Ms. MIRJANA SAMARDZIJA (President, Serbian Unity Congress): Hi. How are you?

MARTIN: Doing well. Thanks for being with us this morning.

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Kosovo's declaration was not necessarily a surprise. This was expected to a certain degree. But when you heard that it was official, what was your first reaction?

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: Well, it wasn't a surprise but, you know, it was still not something that the Serbian community welcomed with glee.

MARTIN: Why?

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: Well, because Kosovo, for one, is a part, an integral part, of Serbia and the Serbian nation, and it has been forever. And this was an imposed, and not a negotiated, solution to the problem of Kosovo, where a portion of its population wants independence, all or nothing. And the other portion, which does not, because it feels that Kosovo is its heartland, its religious heartland, has absolutely no say in it. So it is an imposed solution, not a negotiated solution, and that is never the appropriate to way to handle an issue like this.

MARTIN: Now, there are two million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and a Serb minority population of about 120,000. The Albanians say that they have a right to form their own state because they were systemically driven out by Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s and were subjected to mass ethnic cleansing by Belgrade, specifically in 1999. So they say they're entitled to this land and to their own independent nationhood. What's your response to that?

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: Well, I think that that is a very weak argument because Milosevic is long gone. The current government in Serbia is the most democratic government of all the former republics of Yugoslavia. The fact that they are today 90 percent is a function of how they became 90 percent. Much of the current population of Kosovo is an illegally - is a population that was - that gained the numbers through illegal immigration from Albania over the years.

The fact that today there are as few non-Albanians in Kosovo, the majority of whom are Serbs, is also a function of the fact that after '99 the Albanian majority of Kosovo drove out more than half of the Serbian population out of Kosovo through the burning of their villages and homes and churches and hospitals, through murder, disappearances and harassment.

So the point is that when you have a part of the population whose behavior is one that has consisted of these types of acts without - and that behavior has taken place with impunity because the leadership of the Kosovo Albanian majority is one that has condoned it. When that same entity is one that harbors criminals, that harbors the center in Europe for organized crime and the illicit, illegal trafficking in drugs and arms and arms and sex slaves...

MARTIN: We should also say that those in Kosovo would make similar allegations against groups in Serbia. It's a very divisive, very complicated issue. We have seen some violence already as a result of Kosovo's declaration. Ethnic Serbs burned down two border crossings yesterday, set fire to control posts. And Serbia's minister for Kosovo said the attacks were perhaps not pretty, but legitimate. That's according to reports. Is it likely that the violence may escalate there?

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: I can't speak for the Koso - I mean for the Serbs and other parties' behavior going forward. I don't know.

MARTIN: What do you propose as a solution? If Kosovo's independence is not the way to handle this, what do you think is the best way to handle it?

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: Well, their resolution 1244...

MARTIN: That's the U.N. resolution.

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: I'm sorry?

MARTIN: That's the United Nations resolution.

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: That's the United Nations resolution, established at the time that the sovereign borders of Serbia were to be respected until that was changed by the United Nations. The U.S. was a signatory to that resolution. In recognizing the declaration of independence by the Albanians, the United States violated something that it had signed to begin with.

The solution is not to impose a settlement, but to allow for negotiations. The U.S. absolutely did not - they undermined these negotiations by announcing, while the negotiations were in process, that regardless of the outcome they would recognize the independence of Kosovo. That is not an honest broker's approach.

So what is the solution? I think the solution is for negotiations to continue. I think certain standards of human rights, respect for human rights, return of refugees, return of the properties that were burned and stolen, has to take place before a nation can earn something like independence.

MARTIN: And this is definitely a long way away. The declaration is the first step, as we see, in this long process. Mirjana Samardzija, president of the Serbian Unity Congress in Washington D.C., thank you very much for helping walk us through this.

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Take care.

Ms. SAMARDZIJA: Bye.

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