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Despite Trouble in Northern Municipalities, Kosovo Elections Mark Historic Step Forward

November 9, 2013

By Anita McKinna

Western media coverage of the recent municipal elections in Kosovo largely preferred to focus on disturbances at polling stations in the north, with the majority of media using the word ‘violence’ in headlines. Such headlines include ‘Kosovo violence leaves elections in tatters’ (BBC), ‘Violence on Election Day’ (Economist), ‘Violence mars Kosovo Elections’ (Guardian), ‘Masked gang’s attack on polling station in Kosovo threatens elections’ (Independent).

These headlines refer to the events of Sunday afternoon, in which masked intruders entered a polling station in north Mitrovicë/Mitrovica, with the aim of damaging election material and removing election officials, monitors and voters, thus disrupting the electoral process. As a precaution, all polling stations in northern Kosovo were closed early.

Such disruption is unsurprising for observers of Kosovo’s transition from a war-torn society towards democracy and independence. Indeed this election campaign period saw intimidation of candidates, and widespread anti-election protests in the north. Krstimir Pantić and the wife of Oliver Ivanović were attacked in the run-up to the elections in apparent attempts to dissuade them from participating in the elections. It would be naïve to believe, whatever the support for the elections from political entities in Kosovo or Serbia, that those who would benefit, either financially or politically from failed elections would simply allow events to unfold peacefully and successfully.

But even despite such disruptions, looking back only a relatively short time reveals just how much these elections can be considered a symbol of progress for Kosovo. Fourteen years ago Kosovo’s ethnic communities were at war. And nine years ago the country experienced extremely violent riots that saw people killed, people forced from their houses, and homes and churches destroyed.

Two years ago, following unilateral action by Kosovo Police to take control of border points in the north, road blockades and violent protests erupted. Ethnically-motivated incidents and violence are still not uncommon in Kosovo. So while Sunday’s events should be strongly condemned by proponents of democracy, these events should be put into context and whatever the media headlines imply, noone was killed or seriously injured on Sunday, and the incidents at the polling station did not incite widespread violence.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the electoral process in the south of Kosovo, including municipalities with a Serb majority, was praised by election monitors. It has been announced that a re-run will be held on 17November in north Mitrovicë/Mitrovica.

More importantly, these elections represent historic progress for Kosovo, even despite the disruptions, as they are the first Kosovo elections since the end of the war that have been actively promoted by Serbia’s political establishment and the Serbian Orthodox Church. Past elections saw vehement opposition from these two groups to Kosovo Serbs participation in Kosovo’s political system and elections. Their approval currently illustrates just how far things have come in a relatively short period of time.

For example, in August 2004, Bishop Artemije declared that ‘there is no single reason’ why Serbs should vote… participation in these elections would mean our ruin’. On election day that year it was also reported that a Serb priest blocked the opening of a polling station in Viti/Vitina. In October 2007 UNMIK Spokesman Alexander Ivanko acknowledged that ‘UNMIK has received concerning reports that both Belgrade and part of the Serb leadership in Kosovo have not only discouraged Kosovo Serbs from participating in the elections but have also intimidated registered voters’. Bishop Artemije again urged Kosovo’s Serbs to boycott the November 2009 municipal elections.

In contrast, last week Sava Janjic from Dečani Monastery, Serbian Patriarch Irinej and Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić were among those who called on Serbs to participate in the elections. Whatever the motives behind this support, it would have been unbelievable just two years ago.

Of course, the attempts to disrupt the election process should not be condoned or belittled, and it cannot be ignored that Kosovo still has a long way to go before Kosovo’s Serbs embrace its institutions, but to focus solely on these problems ignores the significant progress that has been made in Kosovo since 1999.

The following data on election turnout, while admittedly not comprehensive, indicates the participation of Serbs in the southern parts of Kosovo. Indeed, when comparing the situations in some municipalities, it is interesting to note that Serbian turnout was actually higher proportionally than was the case with some Albanian municipalities.

Appendix: Turnout by municipality

Municipality *Turnout %
Ferizaj/ Uroševac

48.65%

Gjakova/ Djakovica

43.85%

Gjilan/ Gnjilane

51.64%

Graçanica/ Gračanica**

54.66%

Leposaviq/ Leposavić**

?

Lipjan/ Lipljan

53.72%

North Mitrovicë/ Mitrovica**

?

South Mitrovicë/ Mitrovica

46.22%

Novo Brdo/Novobërdë**

59.42%

Peja/Peć

44.45%

Prishtina/ Priština

51.11%

Prizren/Prizren

43.80%

Ranilug/Ranillug**

57.79%

Shtërpcë/ Štrpce**

59.17%

Zubin Potok/ Zubin Potok**

?

Zveçan/ Zvečan**

?

Central Election Commission*

Majority or significant Serb population**

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