Serbia’s relations with its neighbours are under strain amid allegations that Belgrade is destabilising the Balkans and has failed to fully abandon the aggressive nationalism that was the main cause of the 1990s wars that destroyed Yugoslavia.
Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo have lambasted Belgrade in recent days, angering allies of Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic, who served as information minister under Slobodan Milosevic when Serbia fought a 1998-9 war in Kosovo, but later broke with the ultra-nationalists and their “Greater Serbia” ideology.
Critics of Mr Vucic say he still has authoritarian tendencies and courts the far right, however, and on Sunday his interior minister Aleksandar Vulin caused controversy by calling for the creation of “a Serbian world ... to unite Serbs wherever they live”.
“For the Serbian world to form, Serbia needs to be economically successful, well led, and to have an army that is able to protect Serbia and Serbs, wherever they live. To protect such a Serbia we must do everything to continue the policy of Aleksandar Vucic,” he told a political rally attended by the president.
Bosnian foreign minister Bisera Turkovic urged Mr Vucic to reject the comments, or else tacitly admit that Serbia seeks to “annex parts of Bosnia” by overturning the deal that ended the country’s 1992-5 war.
“Such rhetoric renders meaningless the Serbian president’s statements and policies claiming that Serbia wants peace and good neighbourly relations with Bosnia. On the contrary, Vulin’s comments show where regional destabilisation and the blocking of Bosnia’s and the region’s European path are coming from.”
In response, Mr Vulin said he had made clear that “Serbs would unite peacefully, without a single bullet ... If the Germans could do it [reunite in 1990] why can’t the Serbs?”
The row erupted shortly after the anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, when Bosnian Serb forces killed some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. International courts have recognised the atrocity as genocide, but Serb political leaders reject that description.
Belgrade was furious last month when Montenegro made it illegal to deny the Srebrenica genocide and then sacked pro-Serb justice minister Vladimir Leposavic for saying the massacre was not an “unequivocally established” fact.
Montenegrin foreign minister Djordje Radulovic on Monday dismissed Belgrade’s allegation that his country’s 30 per cent ethnic Serb minority now faced oppression, saying it was “incomprehensible” that Serbia would claim to be their true motherland and defender.
After their EU-brokered talks on normalising relations made no progress on Monday, Mr Vucic accused Kosovo prime minister Albin Kurti of introducing new demands and trying to make him accept that Serbia subjected Kosovo Albanians to genocide.
Mr Kurti said: “For as long as Serbia refuses to face the past and agree on non-aggression, it shows that it is not interested in dialogue and agreement, nor in peace and reconciliation among our peoples.”