The refusal by Serbia's nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to sign an accord with the European Union led to protests in Belgrade as students rallied in support of Serbia's slow march to EU membership.
Students called for continuing integration into the EU during the protests
Several thousand protestors took to the streets of the capital on Monday, Feb. 11, carrying blue EU balloons and pro-European banners to urge their leaders to continue Serbia's process of integration into the European Union.
They chanted anti-Kostunica slogans, demanded the government and parliament be allowed to continue their work and called for the immediate signing of an EU pact, which was originally intended to be agreed on last week.
Marchers said they don't want only the status of Kosovo to determine Serbia's future
"Down with Kostunica, the new Milosevic," some shouted in reference to the late autocratic leader Slobodan Milosevic, ousted in a popular uprising in 2000 as the protests continued despite plummeting temperatures and icy winds.
Last week Kostunica blocked a cabinet meeting, fearing his coalition partners would approve the deal with the EU that he believes would be the first step to the independence of Kosovo. The EU, which plans to send a mission to Kosovo, has made it clear that it would support an independent Kosovo despite protests from nationalist Serbs.
After blocking the meeting, Kostunica requested a debate on the EU mission to Kosovo in the Serbian parliament where he has the support of the ultra-nationalist Radical Party and Socialists once led by Slobodan Milosevic. The request has so far been refused by the official, a supporter of Pro-Western President Boris Tadic, responsible for calling emergency sessions of parliament.
Students call for action on EU membership
The nationalist graffiti reads: "Never EU"
The student protestors marched towards the Serbian government building, led by a band of noisy drummers, where speakers urged the government to push for Serbia's membership of the EU regardless of what happens to the breakaway Kosovo province.
"Whatever the solution for Kosovo, it cannot and does not have to stop our integration with the EU," said Viktor Rajds, a 47-year-old economist taking part in the protest.
"We are protesting against Kostunica," said a student who only identified herself as Dijana. "He would like to destroy everything because of Kosovo, when there are things much more important, such as a better life, which are not possible without the EU."
After presenting their demands to the government, student union leader Simon Simonovic told the demonstrators to give the authorities time to see whether their requests will be met.
Protestors pledge to continue campaign
Tadic supports Serbia's route to EU membership
"Young people want to join the EU and there is no compromise for this," said Simonovic. "If the authorities do not want to take the way of European integration without compromise, we will return the next weeks with radical requests and much more."
Last month, Brussels offered Belgrade the interim deal on political dialogue, free trade, visa relaxation and educational cooperation in place of a wider rapprochement accord.
Tadic, who opposes Kosovo's independence but not at the cost of Serbia's EU integration, was re-elected on Feb. 3 without an endorsement from his coalition partner Kostunica.