2008 Serbian protests
|This article is outdated. (November 2010)|
|2008 Serbia protests and riots|
|Part of the 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence|
A crowd rallies in front of SKC on February 21, 2008.
|Date||17 February 2008– 28 February 2008|
|Causes||2008 Kosovo declaration of independence|
|Methods||Demonstrations, occupations, rioting, civil disobedience, police violence|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The Prime Minister of Serbia, Vojislav Koštunica, blamed the United States for being "ready to violate the international order for its own military interests" and stated that "Today, this policy of force thinks that it has triumphed by establishing a false state. [...] As long as the Serb people exist, Kosovo will be Serbia."
- 1 February 17–20, 2008
- 2 Kosovo is Serbia protest
- 3 February 22
- 4 February 23
- 5 February 24
- 6 February 25
- 7 February 26
- 8 February 27
- 9 February 28
- 10 March 5–6
- 11 Seizure of UN courthouse in Mitrovica
- 12 Protest in Montenegro
- 13 References
- 14 External links
February 17–20, 2008
- On February 17, approximately 2,000 Serbs protested and stoned, then entered Slovenian embassy in which they made major damage (Slovenia was the governing country of EU at the time), burnt down portions of the United States and Croatian embassy in Belgrade, with some throwing stones and firecrackers at the building before being driven back by riot police.
- On February 18, a false bomb threat was called on a Slovenian Mercator store in Belgrade. It was also announced that Beovizija 2008, originally scheduled for February 19, would be rescheduled to March 10 and 11. In the multi-ethnic northern Serbian town of Subotica, approximately 300 protesting Serbs youths chanted nationalist slogans directed against the country's Albanian, Hungarian and Croat communities.
- On February 19, Serbian protestors destroyed two UNMIK border checkpoints between Kosovo and Serbia. Serbian minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardžić, declared that the act was legitimate and in line with the Government of Serbia's position. A group called Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) also claimed responsibility for a string of hand-grenade attacks after Kosovo's declaration. Protestors also damaged several foreign businesses in Užice, including Société Générale, UniCredit and the Croatian-owned supermarket Idea. The Serbian division of U.S. Steel, based in Smederevo, had a false bomb threat called in. In Belgrade, stones were thrown by protestors at the Turkish embassy.
- On February 20, the Australian embassy in Belgrade was closed in anticipation of the following day's protests. A protest in Niš drew several thousand people and was peaceful.
Kosovo is Serbia protest
On February 21, a very large demonstration called Kosovo is Serbia (Косово је Србија, Kosovo je Srbija) was held in Belgrade in front of the Parliament organized by the Serbian government, with up to hundreds of thousands people attending it.
Speakers at the protest were:
- Vojislav Koštunica, Prime Minister of Serbia (Democratic Party of Serbia)
- Tomislav Nikolić, Serbian opposition leader (Serbian Radical Party)
- Milorad Dodik, Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Republika Srpska (Alliance of Independent Social Democrats)
- Andrija Mandić, Serb opposition leader from Montenegro (Serb People's Party)
- Predrag Popović, opposition politician from Montenegro (People's Party)
- Dejan Bodiroga, basketball player
- Emir Kusturica, filmmaker
- Novak Đoković, tennis player (through video link)
- Ivana Žigon, actress
- Nenad Jezdić, actor
- Nataša Tapušković, actress
- Alexander Karađorđević, Crown Prince of Yugoslavia, successor to the Serbian throne and head of the House of Karadjordjevic
After the protest, people went to the Temple of Saint Sava for a religious service, where a speech was held by acting head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Archbishop Amfilohije Risto Radović of Montenegro and the Littoral.
The president of Serbia and commander-in-chief of Serbian Armed Forces, Boris Tadic (Democratic Party), did not attend. The rally was not supported by the Liberal Democratic Party nor by the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, both of which are represented in Parliament.
Attacks on diplomatic missions and businesses
The protest was peaceful until participants arrived at the US, Slovenian and Croatian embassies, where a group of about 1000 rioters separated themselves and started attacking the embassies. They burned the US embassy, entered and destroyed interior and exterior of Slovenian embassy and caused minor damage to the Croatian embassy. The security cameras in Slovenian embassy also filmed the action outside the embassy where Serbian police didn't try to stop the protesters from entering the embassy, instead they moved away which caused protests in Slovenia. Emergency services were able to put the fire out in embassies after protesters dissipated. At around 21:00 UTC, American news service CNN reported that "charred remains" of an individual had been found inside the burnt-out offices. Flags of United States, Croatia, Slovenia and European Union were also burnt. In response, a group of around fifty Croatian protesters burnt the Serbian flag in central Zagreb, after which the police arrested 44 of them. Police guarded the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade on February 22.  Other foreign embassies damaged in the course of the protest included those of Belgium, Germany and Turkey. In Belgrade and Novi Sad, McDonald's shops were damaged by protestors. According to Serbian sources, the violent protestors were ad hoc football fans. 54 policemen and 34 citizens were injured. A Dutch journalist suffered broken ribs. Serbian politicians condemned the violence. The total damage from the violence was estimated at over 8 million Serbian dinars ($US 143,000). The United Nations Security Council responded to these incidents by issuing a unanimous statement that, "The members of the Security Council condemn in the strongest terms the mob attacks against embassies in Belgrade, which have resulted in damage to embassy premises and have endangered diplomatic personnel," noting that the 1961 Vienna Convention requires host states to protect embassies. In response to the attacks, the German embassy announced that it would temporarily stop granting visas to Serbian citizens. Also on February 21, Serbian army reservists from Kuršumlija took their protest into Kosovo, during which time they attacked the Kosovo Police Service with stones. An explosive was set off in the Kosovo Serb enclave of Kosovska Mitrovica near a United Nations-run courthouse. During the rally there were people who carried portraits of ICTY-fugitive former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the blue-red flag of the far-right Orthodox organization Obraz. In Kraljevo, Obraz was responsible for the vandalization of an Evangelical church. In Valjevo, a Slovenian firm Sava Osiguranje was set on fire, most likely by protesting youths. The Radio Television of Serbia took American films and sitcoms off the air, replacing them with content from Spain and Russia, who have been against Kosovo's independence.
On February 22, NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) began blocking entrance into Kosovo from Serbia to those who "threaten public order" after several hundred students from Belgrade, Niš, and Kragujevac attempted to cross in. Despite the blockade, some of the protestors managed to make their way to Kosovska Mitrovica where they took part in clashes against UN police. The Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration warned against travelling to Belgrade, resulting in the cancellation of an Adriatic League basketball match between Zagreb's KK Cibona and Belgrade's KK Partizan. A concert by the Croatian band Hladno pivo scheduled for February 29 was similarly cancelled. Also on February 22, the United States embassy in Serbia ordered the temporary evacuation of all non-essential personnel, after the protests and attacks on the embassy. Rian Harris, a U.S. embassy spokeswoman, explained the evacuation to AFP saying that "Dependents are being temporarily ordered to depart Belgrade. We do not have confidence that Serbian authorities can provide security for our staff members." Slovenia also closed its own embassy, recommending its citizens not to travel to Serbia. The European Union froze talks with Serbia on the Stabilization and Association Agreement, the country's next step in EU-integration. Meanwhile, nationalist organizations were reportedly spreading leaflets urging citizens to boycott banks and goods coming from the countries that support the independence of Kosovo.
BBC News reported that nationalist Serbs are seeking to permanently separate North Kosovo from Priština, through a strategy of confrontation, sabotage, and low-level violence directed against international institutions. With continued Serb protests in northern Mitrovica, EU staff withdrew from the area. The American embassy drew down staffing in Belgrade with a convoy headed to Croatia.
With the seventh consecutive day of Serb protesting in Mitrovica, the February 24 protest drew approximately 1000 people. Despite some Serbian media outlets' claim to the contrary, Serbs from Northern Kosovo (which includes Mitrovica) have not been leaving the Kosovo Police Service. The United States' ambassador to Serbia called on the country's leaders to do more to protect foreign diplomatic missions.
Protest in Mitrovica drew 2,000 people on February 25, during which the EU flag was burnt. On the Kosovo-Serbia border, 19 Kosovo police officers were injured by Serb protestors, before receiving additional help from NATO peacekeepers who dispersed the group.
Serbia's National Security Council met to discuss how police had failed to stop the mob from attacking the embassy on the 21st. Later on the 26th, about 10,000 protested in Banja Luka; a small group of them later approached the U.S. embassy branch office, damaging shopfronts and stoning police who blocked their path. Eventually, they were dispersed by tear gas. The United States raised its travel alert for Serbia to a travel warning. Protests continued in Mitrovica where students staged a mock football game in which one team represented Serbia and the other team states which have recognized Kosovo. Zoran Vujović, the protestor who died during the attack on the U.S. embassy, was buried in Novi Sad on February 26. Several thousand people attended the funeral.
Human Rights Watch said that "Serbia's government should act quickly to reduce the dangerously hostile climate for human rights groups" since the Kosovo declaration. On February 29, Serbian police charged 80 people in connection with the embassy attacks.
Seizure of UN courthouse in Mitrovica
On March 14, 2008, after staging rallies for several weeks that prevented ethnic Albanian court employees from entering a UN courthouse in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, hundreds of Kosovo Serbs broke into the building in the Serb-dominated part of the city, forcing UN police to retreat. UN officials' negotiations with the Serbs to end the occupation were unsuccessful, and on March 17 UN police with the assistance of NATO-led KFOR forces entered the courthouse in a pre-dawn raid. When they arrived they were pelted with stones by around 100 Serbs. When they came out after arresting 53 of the protesters inside the courthouse they were attacked with gunfire, grenades and rocks by several hundred protesters who had massed outside. About half of the protesters who had been arrested were freed by fellow protesters during the clashes with the rest being released by the UN after questioning.
The clashes lasted until around noon. One Ukrainian police officer was killed, 70 Serbs and 61 UN and NATO peacekeepers were wounded, and one UN vehicle and one NATO truck were set ablaze. Among the wounded international troops were 27 Polish and 14 Ukrainian police officers and 20 French soldiers. UN police withdrew from northern Mitrovica, leaving the area under the control of the NATO forces.
Gen. John Craddock, NATO's top commander, said that after speaking with NATO commanders in Kosovo that NATO did not feel it necessary to send reinforcements to Kosovo. On 19 March, UN police began to patrol parts of north Mitrovica again together with local Kosovo police, while the NATO peacekeepers still remained in overall control of security at the courthouse and generally in the north of Kosovo. A gradual transition to civilian control will happen over the next days.
- Kosovo Pieter Feith, the International Civilian Representative in Kosovo and the EU's envoy to Kosovo, accused Serbia of attempting to "sever the links" between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo. Feith added that the international steering group set up to supervise Kosovo's independence "will not tolerate partition, because partition of this country is not foreseen and will not be accepted by us." Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said in a joint press conference with Feith that the "functioning of parallel institutions will not be tolerated."
- US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said Kosovo's response to the "provocations in the north" vindicates the US's decision to recognize Kosovo's independence declaration. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Serbian leaders to press the minority Serb community in Kosovo to avoid "provocative action" following the clashes in Mitrovica March 17.
- European Union officials urged for UNMIK to secure the borders of Kosovo leading up to the arrival of the EU's mission in Kosovo with Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen saying they wanted to avoid a "soft partition" of Kosovo.
- Serbia's President Boris Tadic accused the international forces in Kosovo of using "excessive force" and warned of "an escalation of unrest on all the territory of the province" following clashes in Mitrovica over UN court seizures. Serbia's caretaker Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his government was consulting with Russia on joint steps to stop "all forms of violence against Kosovo Serbs" and accused NATO of "implementing a policy of force against Serbia". It was reported steps could include the deployment of Russian troops in the north. Minister for Kosovo Slobodan Samardzic told protesters, "We will protect you just like we protect the Serbs in Serbia."
- Russia called for a resumption of talks on the status of Kosovo, saying the unrest was a result of the territory's unilateral independence declaration.
- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the attacks against UN and NATO-led forces following the clashes on March 17 and urged "all communities to exercise calm and restraint."
- Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing concern over unrest and calling for Serbs in Kosovo to avoid violence.
- Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik called on Serbia and Kosovo Serb leaders to promote calm in the region adding, "The Serbian government has repeatedly vowed to refrain from violence as a political tool. This must also be carried out consistently."
- Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik, the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska said the use of force against Serb protesters in northern Kosovo was “inappropriate whatever the cause for that might be.”
Protest in Montenegro
On October 9, 2008, Montenegro recognized Kosovo's independence. This move by the Montenegrin government, opposed by many in the country, led to a protest rally in Podgorica on October 13 attended by over 20,000 people. The rally, held in front of the Parliament of Montenegro building, was organized by the Serb List, Socialist People's Party of Montenegro, People's Party, Democratic Serb Party of Montenegro, and other opposition parties. It was backed by Movement for Changes and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović was announced as speaker.  Demonstrators demanded that the Montenegrin government and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic rescind their recognition of Kosovo. They waved Serbian flags, chanting "Kosovo is Serbia" and other slogans against the prime minister and his cabinet, calling them ustashas and shiptars. At the end of the rally, riots broke out and small groups attacked riot police in front of the parliament building. The rioters were eventually driven back by police, and 28 people were arrested. 
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