Passport

George Clooney, PR man for a Serbian Kosovo?

DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images Serbia may be a shrinking country, but international eyes are keeping a close watch on its presidential elections, scheduled for Feb. 3. This Sunday, voters will be asked to choose between pro-European candidate Boris Tadic and Russia-leaning candidate Tomislav Nikolic. Much is at stake in the elections. The next president must navigate ...

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DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images

DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images

Serbia may be a shrinking country, but international eyes are keeping a close watch on its presidential elections, scheduled for Feb. 3. This Sunday, voters will be asked to choose between pro-European candidate Boris Tadic and Russia-leaning candidate Tomislav Nikolic.

Much is at stake in the elections. The next president must navigate Serbia’s path to EU accession and respond to a likely declaration of independence from Kosovo, Serbia’s Albanian-majority southern province. William Montgomery, former U.S. ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, says about Sunday’s election:

[It] will determine whether Serbia continues on a path (slowly or rapidly) towards integration into ‘Europe’ or alternatively, becomes a ‘Belarus of the Balkans,’ belligerently looking East instead of West and in some state of confrontation with the EU, the United States and its new ‘neighbor,’ Kosovo.”

But with Serbian voters facing a choice between Europe and Russia, it is American icons that are getting all the attention. For over a month now, images of great U.S. presidents—George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and JFK—have appeared on Belgrade’s billboards, along with quotes from presidential speeches, tweaked to support Kosovo as a part of Serbia. For instance, beside the face of George Washington appear the following words (in Cyrillic):

‘The time is near at hand which must determine whether we are to be free men or slaves.’ Kosovo is Serbia!”

Hollywood stars have been sucked into the Kosovo debate, too. Last week, Serbian news outlets claimed that George Clooney, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, and Sean Connery all stood in opposition to an independent Kosovo, even crediting Gere with poignant statements such as this:

There must be something in that Kosovo, if they will fight for it so hard.

The Hollywood stars have denied making such claims, but the occasionally sensationalist Serbian newspaper Blic claims to know better: Just as Serbia has a been a pawn of Western powers, Clooney too has succumbed to international pressure, denying his statement against independence for Kosovo only after “the UN exerted pressure on the actor.”

Lucy Moore is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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