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news 17 Nov 11

Kosovo Serbs Urged to Emigrate to Russia

A petition signed by thousands of Kosovo Serbs seeking Russian citizenship has prompted some leading Russian officials to suggest that they should move "en bloc" to Russia and help ease its demographic problems.

Bojana Barlovac Belgrade

A petition by Kosovo Serbs, seeking Russian citizenship, has drawn an enthusiastic from some top Russian officials who have said Kosovo Serbs should consider emigrating there.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has started reviewing a petition by Kosovo Serbs to be allowed to take out Russian citizenship in order to guarantee their security in the Albanian-dominated country.

Zlatibor Djordjevic, representative of the association called "Old Serbia" from central Kosovo municipality of Gracanica, handed the request to the Russian embassy on Monday on behalf of more than 21,000 Serbs.   

Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said on Wednesday that Kremlin understands the request and Moscow will consider it seriously.

"In political terms we fully understand the motives of Serbs from Kosovo in submitting such a request and we will carefully study it," Russia's DPA quoted him as saying.

But Dmitry Rogozin, Russian ambassador to NATO, added a new note to the discussion by suggesting that the Kosovo Serbs might want to emigrate to Russia and fill a useful demographic hole.

An exodus of Serbs to Russia would represent "a treasure" for his country which is experiencing "great demographic problems", he said.

Russia's population is expected to fall sharply in coming decades as a consequence of emigration and low birth rates.

According to Rogozin, Kosovo Serbs would easily adapt to their new surroundings, "and there should be no issues with employment".

"Serbs from Kosovo should be accepted as part of the program of repatriation of Russians [from abroad]," he said.

"Serbs are not foreigners to us. This is a nation that can find a second homeland in Russia and precisely because of that the repatriation program should be applied [to them]," he told news agency Interfax.

Rogozin said Russian political parties could start by helping to organize the transfer and accommodation of Serbs in appropriate regions.

"I cannot imagine the opposite - how could Russia turn down such a request?" he asked.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation was among the first to stand in the support of the idea.

"We should satisfy their request [for passports] and my party will support it, if it enters the Duma," Serbia's daily Vecernje Novosti quoted Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader, as saying.

Meanwhile, the Russian Federal migration service said that Kosovo Serbs can obtain Russian identity cards, but a decision on citizenship is up to President Dmitri Medvedev.

Serbia and Russia have long had close political and economic relations. Many Serbs view Russia as a "big brother" and both peoples belong to the same Orthodox branch of Christianity.

Russia is a strong diplomatic ally of Serbia's and has been its most vocal champion on the issue of Kosovo, fiercely denouncing Kosovo's independence, proclaimed in 2008.

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