Capital Prishtina
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 377 (Monaco); 381 (Serbia)
Mobile Codes 44
Currency Euro
Land Area 10,908 sq km
Population 1.8 million
Language Albanian, Serbian, Turkish
Major Religions Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism

Who’s Who Among Northern Kosovo’s Political Actors editor’s note: As Kosovo’s period of supervised independence has officially ended, one of the chronic issues facing the government and international powers is how the status of the Serbian-majority municipalities north of the River Ibar will be settled- if it even can be. The issue is emotive, the personalities involved obscure to most outsiders.

The following rundown, therefore, gives a short summary of the major local Serbian and Albanian political figures who will be involved in the unfolding drama of “the North” and how it will conclude.

By Anita McKinna

Kosovo recently marked the official end of the period of ‘supervised independence.’ But the refusal of Serbs to recognize Kosovo’s independence, and the instability that stems from protests against recognition, highlight that the Ahtisaari proposal is far from being implemented in this part of Kosovo.

Serbs in Northern Kosovo have consistently refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Kosovo’s central government in Prishtina. Conditions deteriorated in July 2011, when a Kosovo Police operation attempted to take control of the border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia. Since then, roadblocks (including a barricade on the main bridge over the Ibar River) and violence (including against KFOR) have been common.

Former Serbian President Boris Tadić initiated a policy shift away from supporting Kosovo’s Serbs against integration into Kosovo’s institutions, and towards urging an end to violence against KFOR, in the hope that Serbia would be seen as sufficiently proactive in resolving the conflict to warrant EU candidacy status. In March this year such status was granted, but the perceived abandonment of Kosovo’s Serbs by Belgrade damaged relations. The International Crisis Group reported earlier this year that Belgrade had lost the control and trust of the Serb community in Northern Kosovo, which was now looking to home-grown leaders. Below is a short list of the most prominent political representatives in northern Kosovo.

Krstimir Pantić* (Serbian Progressive Party)– Mayor of North Mitrovica. In July Koha Ditore reported that Pantić asserted after Serb protests in the north that ‘this is a nation to which the more pressure you make, the firmer it becomes and is even ready to go to war be it against its own government or the international community if pressure persists’. In July this year, Pantić responded to the International Steering Group’s decision to end Kosovo’s period of supervised independence by saying that it was good news, because the International Civilian Office supported Kosovo’s independence. It was reported in B92 that Pantić also blamed the international presence in the north for the deteriorating security situation, stating that KFOR was bowing to pressure from Kosovo’s political institutions.

Avni Kastrati  (Democratic Party of Kosovo)– Mayor of (ethnic-Albanian majority) South Mitrovica. Kastrati said that Albanians in northern Kosovo should defend themselves against armed Serbs. In August the Mitrovica Municipality website reported that Kastrati had requested KFOR Commander Erhard Drews to remove the barricade of the main bridge in Mitrovica, saying that it gave a bad impression of the city. In May the Kosovo-based investigative programme Life in Kosovo alleged that Kastrati had not declared major assets and the Anti-Corruption Agency launched an investigation. In July Kastrati made the news again when Kosova Times reported that he had used his position to allow his nephew to use municipal property to open a restaurant.

Marko Jakšić (Democratic Party of Serbia)- former Director of the Mitrovica Medical Centre and member of Serbia’s parliament. Internationals tend to portray him as a radical, and he has been an influential figure in northern Kosovo throughout the period of international supervision. The ICG reported that in 1999 he was responsible for forcing all Albanian patients and doctors to leave the hospital in north Mitrovica. Former Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic’s car was stoned in June 2009, the ICG reported that Jakšić was blamed and fired from his hospital job.

However, on September 8th Albanian-language newspaper Zeri reported that Kosovo PM Hasim Thaci is soon expected to sign a stabilization agreement with Jakšić in return for Kosovo getting started on visa liberalization. If true, it will mark a significant indicator of a new shift away from negotiating with Belgrade and towards direct negotiations with Serb political leaders in Kosovo.

Milan Ivanovic – President of the Serb National Council, and another perceived radical and influential Serb in the north. In 2005, the International Crisis Group reported that ‘he keeps his grip through patronage, intimidation, anti-Albanianism, and Serbia’s backing,’ while some media have claimed ties to criminal groups. For example, B92 in 2011 referred to supposed ‘NATO confidential documents’ that claimed he was involved with fuel smuggling and generally radical activities. Ivanovic denied this and stated that such documents were probably non-existent, calling it ‘Kosovo media propaganda’.

Radenko Nedeljković* – (Democratic Party) Head of Mitrovica District. A Jaksić critic, he was appointed head of Mitrovica District and imposed some control over the formerly DSS-led municipalities. B92 reported recently that Nedeljković announced that he had information that EULEX/KFOR were planning to close all border crossings with Serbia and forcefully integrate Serbs into Kosovo’s institutions.

Oliver Ivanović – former State Secretary at the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo, and the longest-serving and probably most respected Serbian political figure by the international community since the 1999 NATO bombing. A moderate whose car was blown up in 2005 after he defied Belgrade’s orders and participated in Kosovo’s elections, Ivanović was a member of the Kosovo Assembly from 2004 to 2007. Due to his moderate views and ability to speak Albanian he is the most high-profile Kosovo Serb politician in the Albanian-language media in Kosovo.

Dragiša Vasić* – (Serbian Progressive Party) – new Mayor of Leposavić. He replaced the only remaining DS mayor of the four Serb-majority Kosovo municipalities, Branko Ninić, in July 2012 after the coalition between the Democratic Party (DS), the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and the Party of United Pensioners of Serbia (PUPS) disintegrated.

Slavisa Ristić*– (Democratic Party of Serbia) Mayor of Zubin Potok. Shots were fired at his house in late August. Responding to Tadić’s call to remove the blockades in November 2011, B92 reported that Ristic said that he was disappointed but not surprised by Tadić’s withdrawal of support, and declared that ‘those who betrayed the country should be held responsible for treason, and this responsibility cannot be transferred to someone else’.

Dragisa Milović* – (Serbian Progressive Party) re-elected as Zveçan’s mayor in June 2012. In 2011 Milovic reached an agreement with KFOR to unblock roads in the municipality to allow KFOR to travel freely. But tension increased in June when KFOR alleged that Zveçan residents fired missiles at KFOR soldiers who were attempting to remove barricades. Blic reported that Milović denied the allegations and claimed that KFOR members beat up citizens and denied them medical attention.

*These positions are not officially recognized by Kosovo’ institutions and are considered to be ‘parallel structures’.

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