(Bloomberg) -- Serbian parliament devolved into chaos on Thursday as President Aleksandar Vucic urged lawmakers to stay in the European Union fold even as the bloc demands “painful” concessions on Kosovo.
The spectacle of suited legislators scuffling on the floor of the assembly in Belgrade, with banners reading “No to Capitulation” and “Treason,” laid bare the resistance the Serbian leader will face as he seeks to make a deal over Kosovo rather than risk the country’s bid to join the EU.
“It’s in Serbia’s vital interest to remain on the European path,” he told lawmakers in a speech during a debate on the latest push by EU and US mediators to secure an agreement with Kosovo, whose secession in 2008 Serbia refuses to recognize.
Accompanied by loud boos from the opposition benches, Vucic said the European course he’s pursuing “means investments and living standard for us, for our wages and pensions.”
But the prospect of reaching a political settlement with the government in Pristina was too much for lawmakers who reject any compromise over Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. Vucic’s coalition controls more than 160 in the 250-seat parliament.
Tensions between Kosovo’s Serbian minority and ethnic Albanians have soared in recent weeks after years of EU-brokered talks have made little progress.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has added urgency to the US and EU efforts to defuse the Balkan tensions. Vucic said an outright refusal to cooperate would make Serbia a “pariah.”
He is seeking a public debate on a proposal that’s reported to call on Serbia and Kosovo to normalize their relations, though falls short of requiring Serbia to officially recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. Both sides must mend ties to qualify for EU membership.
In his speech, the Serbian president reiterated that Belgrade will never recognize Kosovo — or agree to its membership in the United Nations. It’s “one of the most painful” demands presented by Western envoys, he said.
In Kosovo, Prime Minister Albin Kurti reinforced his position that Serbia recognize his nation’s sovereignty before he considers any proposal offering autonomy to local Serbs.
Kosovo split off almost a decade after a war in which NATO intervened against Serbia’s campaign against ethnic Albanians, forcing Belgrade’s forces out of the territory it once controlled.
(Adds Kosovo demands in second-to-last paragraph.)
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