Serbian Vote Sets Stage for Kosovo Secession
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Serbia has elected a new president who's pro-western. It's rejected a strong Nationalist candidate who leaned towards Russia. All of which will affect the future of a would be country, Kosovo. Kosovo is now a province of Serbia. It's been under U.N. control since a NATO bombing campaign nine years ago took the province out of the hands of the late Serbian strongman, Slobodan Milosevic. Kosovo has long been eager to declare its independence from Serbia, but Serbians still consider Kosovo the cradle of their nation.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, and she joins us to sort out this complicated relationship.
Now, just back to the winner of this election, Boris Tadic is the name of the man who will be president, won by just a slim margin, what does that mean?
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Well, the results of this election confirm what's been described as the existence of two diametrically opposed Serbias, which can't neatly be pigeonholed into pro-western, and hard line Nationalist categories. Those do exist but the fault line is mainly an economic one, similar to that in all post-Communist countries. There are the so-called transition losers, those who have lost their jobs and status in the process of privatization, and those who have benefited from the shift toward a market economy.
The Radical Party candidate, Tomislav Nikolic was very able in presenting himself as the champion of the transition losers, and he was also able to exploit the resentment many Serbs still feel toward the European Union which maintains very strict visa controls on Serbs, virtually isolating them from the rest of Europe. So Nikolic and the Radical Party with their two million votes are a force that can't be ignored in Serbia.
MONTAGNE: So Boris Tadic, though, winning - the man who look towards Europe and the E.U., Kosovo, as we have just mentioned, loomed large over this presidential election, why did it figure in so critically?
POGGIOLI: Well, both Tadic and Nikolic strongly opposed Kosovo's independence. But analysts say that Tadic won't be as confrontational as Nikolic would've been and will not break with the west once European Union countries and the U.S. recognize an independent Kosovo, as is expected. Political Analyst Braca Grubacic, in Belgrade, says that with a Tadic victory, Serbia will not carry out any military action to defend Kosovo.
Mr. BRACA GRUBACIC (Political Analyst): So we can say that Serbia will not provoke war. They might upgrade the level of alert in the army, they might put some troops on the border. So I don't see that there will be any dramatic threats to security in the region. Well, we cannot exclude some isolated incidents, terrorist acts and all this stuff.
POGGIOLI: But most analysts believe that the Serbs living in their enclave in northern Kosovo closest to Serbia proper will never recognize an independent Kosovo and will push for a de facto partition of the province.
MONTAGNE: Though, finally, Sylvia, Kosovo is expected to secede?
POGGIOLI: Absolutely. What was likely is that if Nikolic had won, it was very likely that the Kosovo or Albanians, the majority of Albanians here would declare independence as early as next weekend. Now it appears the declaration won't occur for another several weeks, as requested by the European Union, which is expected to take over from the U.N. mission on the ground here. And as a fact, that Kosovo still have not completed their new constitution, nor decided on their new flag.
MONTAGNE: Sylvia, thank you.
POGGIOLI: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli speaking to us from Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
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