Serbs don't care about Kosovo, AP says

Kosovo is Serbia’s nation’s sacred heartland, the province simply can't be allowed to break free – this is the main idea of what is going on in country’s media. The airwaves are filled with patriotic slogans such as "Every Serb is born with Kosovo in his heart."

But many Serbs don't feel that way.

"Kosovo means absolutely nothing to me, I have never been there and I never will go there," says Jelena Simovic, a 38-year-old anthropologist from Belgrade. "I am fed up with Kosovo. I just want to live normally."

That view is shared by many urban, educated Serbs who feel threatened by the resurgent nationalism that has flourished here as Serbia's southernmost province awaits a U.N. Security Council decision on independence.

They fear a hard line on Kosovo would further isolate Serbia from the West and endanger its ambition of joining the European Union as a prosperous democracy.

Serbian leaders portray it as a matter of life and death. Vows to keep Kosovo dominate public debate, pushing to the margins key topics such as economic recovery or tackling corruption.

This week, Parliament approved a resolution stating the country's opposition to secession and threatening to reconsider diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Kosovo's independence.

It's a position supported by many Serbs.

Milos Brocic, a 56-year-old taxi driver, says "snatching away" Kosovo from Serbia would be an injustice and that Serbia "does not need anybody and is well off on its own and together with its friend Russia."

The province has been run by the United Nations and NATO since 1999, when NATO bombing forced the late authoritarian leader Slobodan Milosevic to pull out. Today, Kosovo is inhabited almost solely by independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. A year of U.N.-mediated negotiations between Serbs and Albanians has produced no result.

The Serb attachment to Kosovo dates to 1389, when the province, then the seat of a Serbian empire, fell to the Ottoman Turks. The battle has become the symbol of Serbia's fight for freedom.

The hard-line camp dominates Parliament, and on June 28, the anniversary of the battle, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said a "new Kosovo battle" was under way, pitting Serbia against the United States which strongly backs independence.

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, marked the occasion with a statement that it would be "better to vanish as humans" than lose Kosovo.

Simovic says such statements astound her.

"Do they know what they are doing?" she asked. "Has anyone asked us what we actually want and whether we are ready to risk anything anymore for Kosovo?"

In fact pollsters have asked these questions repeatedly, and their findings suggest that government claims of a Serbia united in keeping Kosovo at all cost are vastly exaggerated. While Serbs overwhelmingly want the province to remain part of Serbia, they differ greatly on what they'd be willing to give up for it.

In a June survey by Serbia's CESID agency, 48 percent said they were ready to sacrifice EU membership to keep Kosovo. And only 39 percent said Serbia should cut diplomatic ties with a state that recognizes Kosovo sovereignty. But only 12 percent, mostly pensioners and housewives, said Serbia should wage war with Kosovo Albanians or the international community if Kosovo is declared independent.

The survey questioned 1,677 people; no margin of error was given.

The government hasn't indicated it will hold a referendum on whether to defy the international community over Kosovo independence, but if it does, the polls indicate the outcome would be highly uncertain.

Gordana Logar of the Strategic Marketing polling agency says its surveys indicate Serbs "are very much capable of making a difference between wishes and reality."

"Quality of life comes first for them," Logar said.

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