Serbia's prime minister clashed with his visiting Albanian counterpart Monday in Belgrade over the independence of Kosovo, which was a province of Serbia until 2008.
Just before a televised joint press conference, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia and Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania had pledged to leave aside their differences and focus on mutual aspirations to join the European Union.
During the first visit to Serbia by an Albanian leader in 68 years, however, Rama called on Serbia to recognize the “irreversible reality“ of Kosovo’s independence.
"We have two entirely different positions on Kosovo, but the reality is one and totally unchangeable," said Rama. "The independent Kosova, so far recognized by 108 countries and supported by the International Court of Justice, is an undeniable and unalienable regional and European reality.''
In response, Vucic said he had not expected such “provocation” and that according to Serbia's constitution, “Kosovo and Metohija is Serbian.” He said he couldn't allow anyone to humiliate Serbia in Belgrade.
"First of all I want to say, I did not expect any provocation from Prime Minister Rama, and did not expect he would talk about Kosovo, I have no idea what he has to do with Kosovo and Metohija, but I must answer to him, because my job is to prevent anybody to humiliate Serbia in Belgrade," said Vucic.
"According to the constitution, Kosovo and Metohija is part of Serbia, it did not have and will not have any relation to Albania. I am sorry that Mr. Rama has used this opportunity to talk about (Kosovo and Metohija), something we did not discuss, but my duty is to say that no one will humiliate Serbia.''
Vucic's statement prompted Rama to assure his Serbian counterpart that “in Tirana, we would not feel provoked" if he had again raised Serbia's position on the mainly ethnic Albanian region.
"Aleksandar, I assure you than in Tirana we will not feel provoked if you will have again the same position on Kosovo, but we will simply feel sorry because this is a reality publicly recognized by more than half of the United Nations' member countries," said Rama. "It is a reality the sooner we recognize, the faster we move forward in all directions and understandings.”
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, after a period of ethnic fighting and NATO airstrikes. The United States and most of the European Union member states were among the first to recognize it.
This visit of the Albanian prime minister to Belgrade was postponed from October 22 following nationalism-based incidents during a football [soccer] match between Albania and Serbia in Belgrade.
On October 14, a qualifying match for the UEFA Cup 2016 was suspended after a drone pulling a “Greater Albania” banner was flown over the pitch at Belgrade's Partizan stadium.
That triggered a brawl as a Serb player pulled the banner down, Albanian players tried to protect it, and Serbian fans invaded the pitch.