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NO 177-178

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Helsinki Charter No. 177-178

July - August 2013


On the Eve of Local Elections in Kosovo

Kosovo visa to EU

By Ivan Torov


As it seemed in the first half of August, Belgrade authorities were going to seize a “perfect opportunity” offered by Prishtina and postpone the November local elections in Kosovo till, say, next spring when the ruling SNS-SPS coalition, by its own calculation, would cope with the /un/expected outcome of the Brussels Agreement without risking too much its image and ratings. Prishtina’s announcement that the ballots for the November 3 vote would bear some emblems of “the state of Kosovo” raised at least a short-live hue and cry among Serbia’s political circles, revived the almost forgotten patriotic rhetoric, created the impression that actually nothing should be taken for granted, including local elections that would not generate new confrontations either within the traditionally confronted “Serb bloc” in Kosovo or between Belgrade and Prishtina – as planned and agreed on in Brussels, under Dacic-Thaci agreement.

True, domestic analysts were not exactly surprised by the possible whys of Belgrade’s demand for postponed elections. They banked not so much on the claims of nationalistic custodians – among Serbs in Kosovo and Serbia alike – that the Albanian side “uses tricks” to prevent massive turnout of Serbs, especially in Kosovo North, as they banked on the fact that having signed the Brussels Agreement Belgrade had done little, almost nothing, to demonstrate its cooperativeness in the November 3 elections. Except for Nikolic’s, Dacic’s and Vucic’s endeavors (that were in vain) to persuade Kosovo Serbs to act at Belgrade’s dictate. No matter how hard they tried they failed to make Serbs in Kosovo North change their mind about the elections “organized by the state of Kosovo.” Besides the division between Serbs south of the Ibar River and those in the North is too deep to make a “joint list” possible. And a forceful anti-election and antigovernment campaign by nationalistic parties led by Vojislav Kostunica further deepens this anyway deep gap. Up to now Belgrade has tried not to respond strongly to discipline pretty capricious leaders of the four municipalities in Kosovo North. As it seems, Belgrade takes that any direct confrontation with them would jeopardize its not exactly radically changed Kosovo policy.

Another two whys are crucial so to say: first, whether or not a “unique Serb election list” for the entire Kosovo is possible is still a dilemma, the same as whether Belgrade’s ruling coalition is after keeping Kosovo Serbs’ institutions under its control or fears that “disconnected” electoral lists could result with Albanians in power in the municipalities with Serb majority population; second, several months after publication of the agreement with Thachi’s government Belgrade hardly did anything to develop norms for a future community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo that should, according to its plan, keep alive as much as possible the puffed up impression that Serbia “had not given up a part of its territory” and that this community of municipalities would best protect “Serb identity in Kosovo,” as well as maintain the illusion about a “status neutral Kosovo.”

And then, while the campaign against Serbs’ participation in local elections in Kosovo was culminating Serbia’s leadership took yet another /un/expected step. Whether because Brussels would not hear about any postponement of the elections or because it realized it was more than up to its ears in obligations to say no to everything and face the consequences, it was in mid-August that the Serbian regime had to be more explicit in appealing to Kosovo Serbs to go to the November polls. And it put across a clear message to Serb leaders in the North: whether they like it or not makes no difference – the elections will be held. Belgrade obviously has no choice. Having to choose between boycott of the elections – which would take Serbia several steps back in the process of Euro-integration (turning the expected beginning of accession negotiations into a pipe dream) and deepen the confusion at the political scene – and participation in the elections and the opportunity for taking off its agenda the problem of a community of Serbs municipalities in Kosovo – at the moment when new masters of Serbia hope to have the remaining social and political energy harnessed for overcoming the agonizing economic and social crisis - Belgrade opted for the later. Serb leaders in Kosovo were given a couple of days to make up their mind to invite or not their compatriots to go to the polls and clear up the situation for Vucic and Dacic to make the best of the time left till the elections.

So, officially, there will be no boycott. But, unofficially, a boycott is possible and very much so. The only question is who Kosovo Serbs will listen to: the state of Serbia that, without its symptomatic hesitation but not quite decisively, called on them to massively participate in the November 3 polls and thus “defend their right to existence” or local party leaders who would postpone everything at least until “a spontaneous breakup of the system” results in a chaos or until a dramatic split between the electorate south and north of the Ibar River shakes Nikolic’s, Vucic’s and Dacic’s safe positions. Kosovo Serb leaders are aware that the government of Serbia – having wasted months on the so-called reconstruction, hardly done anything to make its Euro-integration activities dynamic and in chronic dilemma whether or not to call early parliamentary elections that could strengthen its rule but also badly affect its pro-European ambition – is running out of time for constantly debating Kosovo elections. On the other hand, unless Belgrade does nothing to localize the under-the-table dealing of local leaders in four municipalities in Kosovo the threat of new tensions, road blockades, barricades and boycotts will be more and more in the wind.


NO 177-178

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