THOUSANDS of people protested in front of Montenegro’s parliament overnight against the government’s decision to recognise Kosovo’s independence, which many see as a stab in the back for Serbia.
Around 10,000 protesters from all over the country gathered in the capital Podgorica in the early evening. Waving Serbian flags and shouting “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia”, they demanded the immediate reversal of the decision.
Montenegro, a former Yugoslav republic of some 650,000 people, voted to end its loose union with Serbia in 2006 and has since enjoyed strong growth, especially from tourism.
But many Montenegrins still consider themselves Serbs and say the country should support Serbia in its opposition to the secession of Kosovo, which declared independence in February.
“We demand the government revoke its decision on the recognition of Kosovo. We also demand a nationwide referendum to be called on the issue,” said Vasilije Lalosevic, a member of parliament for the opposition, pro-Serbian Socialist People’s Party.
Some of the demonstrators held the flags of Greece and Spain – two of the five European Union member countries that have not recognised Kosovo, compared with 22 that have.
Montenegro recognised Kosovo on Friday but pro-Serb opposition parties said this did not reflect popular feeling in the Balkan state, citing opinion polls showing that as many as 80 percent of Montenegrins opposed the move.
They said they would demand early elections if the government turned a deaf ear to their referendum request.
Freed from its ties to Serbia and the historical burden of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Montenegro signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union in 2007.
Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and other officials say Western countries have exerted pressure on Montenegro to define its stance on Kosovo.
“Djukanovic broke promises given in the election campaign,” said Nebojsa Medojevic, a leader of the opposition Alliance for Changes. “It is not clear why he spoiled relations with Serbia.”
Montenegro’s decision was met with anger in Belgrade, which ordered its ambassador to leave the country immediately.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO waged a bombing campaign to stop its ethnic cleansing of civilians in a counter-insurgency war in the province.
Since Kosovo declared independence on February 17 this year, 50 countries, also including the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, have recognised it.