Raising banners, flags, and fists, a polyglot crowd descended on the U.S. Consulate with a deafeningly simple point: “Kosovo Je Srbije”—Kosovo is Serbia.
Saturday’s demonstration comes on the heels of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, a move that has sparked outrage among Serbs and many in the international community. Despite this, Kosovo’s declaration of independence on February 17th has been recognized by many Western nations, including the United States, Germany, France, Denmark, and Turkey. While a similar Albanian-backed declaration was made in 1990, the immense bloc of international support behind last week’s secession came off as more than a little fishy to those assembled at 360 University Avenue.
According to Cst. Vango of the Toronto Police Services, the demonstration’s numbers were estimated to be at least two thousand; by six o’clock, the crowd could have easily doubled that. Gathered in phalanxes in front of the vacant embassy, a massive police presence maintained a state of paramilitary readiness. Bike cops, riot squads, mounted units, and even the Emergency Task Force stood by, helmets and plastic cuffs in hand, likely recalling Saturday’s ugly March 1999 precedent. Asked if there were any concerns, Vango replied, “We hope not.”
From the way the demonstration went ahead, Vango and her colleagues had nothing to worry about. Unlike the events of Belgrade earlier in the week, the protest proceeded less as an act of chaotic aggression than a well-orchestrated urban teach-in. While the word “independence” has a fairly rosy connotation on this side of the Atlantic, those with signs and megaphones raised more than a few concerns about the way “independence” sells itself in the Balkans.
Alleging a contravention of international law, demonstrators raised the spectre of Western expansion with Kosovo in its sights, supported by claims that UN Resolution 1244 was violated by Kosovo’s unilateral secession. With Manas Petroleum’s January 10th report confirming the existence of an enormous oil and gas deposit in Albania, the idea that the U.S. and other Western-allied states would throw themselves behind an independent Kosovo, free of Russo-Serbian administration, isn’t very surprising.
At center, however, is the concern that an independent Kosovo has stripped Serbia of its soul. Serbs see Kosovo as their country’s heartland, with some of the oldest churches and monasteries in the Serbian Orthodox tradition. Citing this, demonstrators called on the Harper government to fulfill its commitment to international law and, while repeatedly evoking Quebec, to recognize that an independent Kosovo risks the national character of Serbia. Following a moment of silence, children lit candles at the embassy’s perimeter to honour Serbian churches and monasteries burned in Kosovo since 1999.
“We’re demonstrating that Kosovo is the heartland of Serbia,” shouted Ana Vrakela, marching with the thousands down University. Comparing the loss of Kosovo to the loss of Quebec, Vrakela demanded that the “Canadian government should not allow that.”
Canada has yet to take a position on Kosovo’s newfound independence.
Photos by Miles Storey.