Serbia’s president said during a chaotic parliamentary session that the country could become a European “pariah” state if it rejects a Western plan for normalising relations with Kosovo.
President Aleksandar Vucic faced a hostile reception from the right-wing opposition, which urged parliament to reject the plan and accused him of betraying Serbia.
The plan hasn’t been made public formally, but Vucic said it stipulates that Serbia wouldn’t object to Kosovo’s inclusion in international organizations, including the United Nations, though it wouldn’t have to formally recognize its statehood.
“I haven’t signed anything. I said we will continue with the talks,” Vucic said. “People need to understand … Would we become a European pariah? Yes, we would.”
The session on Thursday included pushing and shoving, and shouting matches between Vucic’s ruling party and opposition lawmakers.
They chanted “Treason, treason” and “We won’t give up Kosovo,” and demanded Vucic's resignation. Vucic responded by shouting at the protesting lawmakers that they are “thieves and traitors.”
Western plan is 'ultimatum'
The hard-line pro-Russia opposition lawmakers in parliament described the Western plan for Kosovo as an “ultimatum".
They said it would mean Serbia would have to recognize Kosovo's independence as a condition of eventually joining the European Union.
“We don't see a single reason why we should accept this Western ultimatum,” said Bosko Obradovic of the far-right Dveri party, urging the assembly to vote to reject it.
Serbia has relied on support from Russia and China in its rejection of Kosovo’s independence. This is one of the reasons why Belgrade hasn't imposed any sanctions on Moscow over the war in Ukraine.
Vucic said it is of “vital interest” for Serbia to continue with the accession process into the EU, but reiterated that the country wouldn't join NATO. Rejection of Western efforts would result in “complete isolation,” he warned. "You cannot function alone.”
READ MORE: Kosovo Serbs remove barricades, border traffic smooth: police
The sovereignty of Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared independence in 2008, isn't recognized by the Serbian government.
The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has been a source of tension in the Balkans since the war in 1998-99 that ended when a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbia to pull out of the former Serbian province.
The United States and the European Union recently have stepped up efforts to solve the problem, fearing instability as Russia's war rages in Ukraine.
Vucic said that Western envoys told him last month that Serbia's accession process into the EU would be halted and economic investment stopped if Belgrade decides to reject the latest Western bid to reach a solution.
READ MORE: Kosovo reopens major border crossing with Serbia as standoff eases