The second day of the official visit of the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic to Kosovo was marked with road barricades put up by KLA veterans and mixed messages of the President to several thousand people packed into the pedestrian zone in North Mitrovica. The pedestrian zone itself was a product of one of many of the Brussels Agreement elements on the freedom of movement, but the Brussels process itself fell short of the attention in the President’s speech. Although announced by Marko Djuric as an historic speech that will explain to Kosovo Serbs the idea for a way forward towards reaching a „compromise with Kosovo“, no such plan was outlined during the two-day official visit. Instead, the President focused on plans for future investments and reminisced about past mistakes. This was the fourth visit of Aleksandar Vucic to Kosovo in an official capacity and unlike other visits, this time he did not meet with any officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The second day of the official visit was kicked off with a tour to the University Hospital in North Mitrovica where Vucic announced investments in the surgery block and the surrounding infrastructure worth €10 million. “Four years ago, I could come countless times and bring you 2-3 machines and one ambulance to renew something, today however I can easily tell you, we will invest €10 million. This money you can get in one day to do a great job”, said the President on the occasion.
Following the visit to the hospital in North Mitrovica, Vucic went back to Zvecan to see progress on the Sunny Valley development, a returnee settlement the construction of which was announced and funded by the Serbian Government Office for Kosovo and Metohija in June 2016. The settlement, when announced, was intended to have between 225 and 300 houses with some 1500 residents. The settlement was supposed to be built by the end of 2016. In Zvecan, Vučić set a new date for the finalization of the works in the Sunny Valley announcing that 350 families will be able to settle there by Vidovdan next year.
In the early morning on Sunday, groups of KLA veterans realised their intentions to block the roads to the Serb enclave of Banje in the municipality of Srbica. In Zvecan, Vucic stated that the roads in Metohija are blocked, preventing Serbs from this part of Kosovo to arrive in North Mitrovica for his speech scheduled for later in the day as a final stop of the official visit. “A certain Rahim Geci from the village Lausha shot from his gun to show how strong he is, I guess. I do not understand him, should I tremble with fear?” remarked Vucic. In Zvecan, he also stated his intention to try and arrive to Banje through “one alternative road – we will not say which.” He also added that “we know who the organisers are” and that the issues between the communities should be resolved with “laptops, notepads and books, not guns.”
Four female journalists were attacked on Sunday in the Drenica region by protesters opposing the arrival of Aleksandar Vucic to Banje
Upon receiving information of the road blocks to the Banje enclave, Vucic advised the Serbian media present at Sunny Valley not to follow him. The municipality of Srbica is in the region of Drenica, one of the KLA strongholds during the war in the vicinity of which KLA “General” Adem Jashari and members of his family were murdered by the Serbian police. The region is largely unsafe for Kosovo Serbs. Four female journalists, one Albanian and three Serbs were attacked by protesters because of their Serbian licence plates. The attacked journalists work for Serbian portal Insajder and the Serbian language edition of Deutsche Welle.
As announced to media, Vucic did attempt to go to Banje via an alternative road but was eventually stopped by Kosovo Police, Serb media reported, on the order of Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj who said that he forbade this part of the visit to ensure the safety of Kosovo citizens. President Vucic returned to North Mitrovica but spoke to residents of Banje on a phone.
Vucic visited the Oliver Ivanovic memorial for the second time
Upon returning to North Mitrovica, President Vucic went to place a wreath at the memorial where the murder of Oliver Ivanovic took place. This was not a part of the official itinerary of the visit. President Vucic was in the company of Milena Popovic, former life partner of Oliver Ivanovic, recently employed in the Cabinet of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia. No other members of the Ivanovic family were present. Oliver Ivanovic, President of SDP, and the most recognisable leader of Kosovo Serbs in the past years was murdered on 16th January in North Mitrovica. Prior to his murder, he was subject to a smear campaign orchestrated by Srpska Lista denouncing him as a traitor. His car was set ablaze in July following his announcement as a possible candidate for Mayor of North Mitrovica in the local elections organised in 2017.
At noon on Sunday, President Vucic gave his final speech in North Mitrovica quoting the motto on a famous piece of graffiti in the centre of the north part of the city, loosely translated to: “This is the final frontier, we retreat no further”. The graffiti refers to the events of February 2000 when the city was effectively split in an Albanian-majority south part and a Serb-majority north part; thus stopping the refugee wave of Kosovo Serbs from throughout Kosovo at Ibar river.
In a 35-minute speech Vucic focused on unspecific hardships of Kosovo Serbs, recounted different historic events and references from the past, even mentioning Milosevic’s “best intentions” but unrealistic view of the world and Serbia’s position in the world. He opened his speech with a proclaimed intention to tell Kosovo Serbs the hard truth, the truth that due to the unrealistic beliefs in the might of the Serbian nation, Serbs have lost wars and no longer live in Knin and Pristina, whereas their numbers have decreased significantly in Sarajevo.
“We were not in touch with reality. Milosevic was a great Serbian leader, his intentions were the best, but his results were bad. Not because he, or anyone else wanted this, but because his wishes were not realistic, whereas the interests and wishes of others were dismissed or underestimated, because of this we have paid a grave and difficult price. And we did not become greater in the meantime, or we did not become greater in that sense how some people envisaged us.”
He spoke of a different Serbia, a Serbia that today is turned to hard work and knowledge, that is more respected in the world, not Serbia with guns and fear of bombing.
Depopulation of Kosovo Serbs was another major point of his speech in North Mitrovica, but also a day earlier in Zvecan.
“Aleksandar Tijanic reminded us in 2003, here from Podujevo that – we speak of how we live for Kosovo, but that we do not want to live in Kosovo. You are the exception that proves this rule, and hundreds of thousands confirmed he was right.”
“You stayed here – the bravest and the strongest, and do not forget that in 1999, there were three times more Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija than today, three times more only 30 years ago. This is why I speak of reality and why I am not singing the war songs.”
At times, the speech turned ominous, and the President spoke of prices he is willing to pay and “sacrifice my present for the sake of a future for my country and its children”. However, what this price is or may be was not implied once during the speech.
“Myths, dreams and visions, not lunatic visions of Kosovo without Albanians, or worse, of Kosovo without Serbs are not my job. My job is the reality, what it is, here and now, in this Kosovo, in this Serbia, not a heavenly Serbia. From that Heaven we fell one too many times. We fell and got hurt, our heads are bloody, our arms broken, and we have no one else to send to Heaven.”
Vucic touched on what was expected to be the main point of the visit – the delimitation – only to say that rumours are false.
“This is why, when they tell you how I strive to change borders, they do not speak the truth, because borders today, where are those borders? Does anyone know?
We are convinced in one thing, the Albanians – who are more numerous and stronger than we are – think differently, one part of the world is convinced of one thing, the other of another. In reality, I want to change your rights and do all in our power to preserve everything we can in Kosovo and Metohija, because the situation is not as it was 30, 50 or 60 years ago.”
Part of the speech was directed towards Vucic’s opposition in Serbia who he accused of delivering Kosovo long ago, even when nobody was asking, that they have moved their children to London and New York, far away from Mitrovica and Gracanica. Furthermore, he stated that accounts of him having to recognize Kosovo’s independence by the end of the year are false.
Referring to the events of 1999, Vucic said that Serbs defended themselves valiantly against NATO, who were “much stronger, richer and a greater coward, who were in the position to throw bombs from the sky on people. We lost, the same as we did 610 years ago, we lost important territories, Serbs fled their homes, not wanting to live under Albanian rule.” He continued to ask who partook “under pressure of the West and out of stupidity in proving our own guilt for the conflict in Kosovo and Metohija.”
“Did we, or somebody else, brothers and sisters extradite the former President of Serbia, among other individuals? And because of our so-called criminal politics? Did we extradite army and police generals to the Hague Tribunal – Ojdanic and Vladimir Lazarevic and Nebojsa Pavkovic and Sreten Lukic? Did we, or not?” These individuals were cumulatively sentenced to 81 years in prison for the forced deportation of Kosovo Albanians and war crimes against civilians.
In addition to criticizing former governments for cooperating with the Hague Tribunal, Vucic also said that it was their “stupidity” that caused the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo, and the consequent removal of Kosovo from the UN format of negotiations in 2009. He then mentioned the “shameful” question to the International Court of Justice on the validity of the unilateral declaration of independence and the placement of integrated border/boundary management points in Jarinje and Brnjak.
“Do we want an agreement with Albanians or do we procrastinate this agony in which we lose everything either way? And do we have any chance here in Kosovo if we do not reach an agreement with Albanians? Do Serbs in the south have a chance, even if Serbs in the North do have some sort of a chance?”
Regional water supply system, similar to Sunny Valley remains unfinished
The work on the regional water supply system for North Kosovo started in 2013 and was supposed to be finalised in September 2016. The water supply system would ensure independent water supply for North Mitrovica and Zvecan and improve the infrastructure in the municipality of Zubin Potok. Although the supply of drinking water for the north comes from the Gazivode lake through the channel, Ibar-Lepenac, the water treatment pant is located in the village Sipolje in South Mitrovica. This is why North Mitrovica and Zvecan water supply is dependent on the water supply system of South Mitrovica.
“This is why. As the President of Serbia, I did not want to dig my head in the sand, but I wanted to fight for you and for the future of your and our children. Do we have a draft of a solution in Brussels? […] Here, before you, I am openly and responsibly stating, there is no draft solution. We are not even close to it, but for the first time, it seems that we know that we have to talk and at least try to arrange our relations.”
The final speech was again used for the announcement of new investments, this time in the Trepca complex, to the amount of €13 million. Roads for better connectivity in Kamenica, Ranilug, Novo Brdo, Budriga, Klokot, Partes and Pasjane, then €2 million for the hospital in Gracanica, new kindergartens in Strpce and the regional water supply system in North Kosovo. Vucic announced a sort of an economic battle for Kosovo reminding everyone that Serbia is getting economically stronger and that the current yearly sum of €71 million for employees of the Serbian public sector in Kosovo can be increased in order to entice people to stay in Kosovo.
Finally, Vucic stated that he knows that “had I mentioned guns I would get a louder applause. But I cannot do that, I do not know how. You have elected me for life, not death and honours.” He reassured everyone that once a solution is clear “we will not announce it in Belgrade, not Brussels, we will announce it here in North Mitrovica, Gracanica.”
President Vucic thanked everyone for coming to see him stating he had been in North Mitrovica many times but have never seen so many people. He also thanked Milena Popovic for showing her support and promised the new Oliver Ivanovic street will be the most beautiful street in the city.
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