Serbian lawmakers are debating a crucial EU-brokered agreement to normalize relations with Serbia's former province of Kosovo.
The deal was agreed between Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Kosovo's Hashim Thaci in Brussels on April 19, after marathon negotiations mediated by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Dacic, who opened debate on April 26, told lawmakers that, considering Serbia's current situation, the agreement represents an achievement.
"As we were not allowed to decide whose land [Kosovo] is, we decided on the issue of what kind of rights [there should be] and who will have them there," he said. "The agreement in front of you is the most that Serbia could accomplish at the moment."
Dacic described the deal as a break from Serbia's troubled recent past.
"Today our country is devastated. And only if we have courage, if we do not lie to ourselves and others, and only if we have a clear vision, then we, our generation, will be able to build a country so that our children don't have to clean up the ruins," he said. "This is why we negotiated: to put a stop to the past, to the poverty, and to never-ending defeats. Someone had to do this so that out of nothing, we could make something."
Serbia, which lost control of majority-Albanian Kosovo after a NATO bombing campaign in 1999, has rejected Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.
One of the sticking points during negotiations was the status of Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority.
Under the final version of the deal, ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo will have local autonomy and their own police force in exchange for recognizing the central government in Pristina.
Kosovo's parliament endorsed the pact on April 21 and the Serbian cabinet approved it the next day.
The parliament in Belgrade is expected to vote on the agreement later on April 26. The deal is expected to pass after all major political parties endorsed it before the debate.
Implementation of the agreement is an important precondition for Serbia's opening accession talks with the European Union. It is also crucial for Kosovo's signing of an association agreement with the European Union.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, who was in Belgrade for a conference on April 26, said that the beginning of membership talks was now “within Serbia’s reach."
However, some Serbian nationalists and ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo oppose the agreement. A group of protesters picketed the parliament building in Belgrade on April 26.
With reporting by AP, B92, RTS, and dpa