Serbs are voting this weekend in a referendum on a new constitution that declares Kosovo an integral part of Serbia. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has campaigned hard to sell the hastily-drafted charter with a message that it is for the “good of Serbia”, which considers Kosovo its religious and national heartland.
“The new constitution is a way to protect the integrity of the Serbian state,” he said, “to develop and strengthen the democratic institutions, to guarantee human and minority rights, so that all Serbian citizens, regardless of their religion or nationality, can feel at home in Serbia.”
In a rare show of unity, pro-Western president Boris Tadic has backed the document. Montenegro’s secession from Serbia in its own referendum in June forced Belgrade to draw up a new constitution. The vote comes at a sensitive time as UN-mediated talks are underway to try to determine the future status of Kosovo which has been administered by the United Nations since 1999.
It is widely expected the West will give Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority the independence they want. They have not been invited to vote in the referendum which has been rejected by the Kosovo parliament. But the province’s minorities Serbs are determined to cast their ballot:
“Everybody who remained here and also those who left believe Kosovo should be Serbian,” said one man in the capital Pristina. “Kosovo will always be Serbian.” But whatever the outcome, many analysts say the constitution will change little and have no impact on the fate of Kosovo.