Kosovo – moderation in Mitrovica

The result of local elections in Northern Mitrovica suggests a shift towards more moderate voices that may help facilitate constructive dialogue between Kosovo Serbs and Pristina.

By Florian Bieber

Amidst the anticipation of the opinion of the International Court of Justice on whether the declaration of independence of Kosovo was illegal or not, other developments are easily overlooked. One little reported election was the local election in Northern Mitrovica on 30 May 2010, organized by Serbia for the parallel municipal structure.

Although the elections by themselves re-affirm the parallel structures supported by Serbia, the results suggest a more intriguing picture. Mitrovica is at the front-line of the dispute over Kosovo’s independence and has long been the site for radical politics. Results of the previous elections, held in May 2008, just a few months after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, confirmed this: The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of Prime Minister Kostunica and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) together gained 60.68 percent of the vote. During earlier votes in Mitrovica for general Serbian parliamentary or presidential elections, usually the Radical Party gained most votes.

Fast forward to 2010: at the recent elections, the parties of the current government gained nearly 47 percent of their vote. The much reduced SRS did not enter the municipal assembly and the support for the DSS dropped by 10 percent. Even the Serbian Progressive Party, the more moderate wing of the Radicals under the leadership of Tomislav Nikolic, gained only marginally more than than the government Democrats. In addition, both G17 and the new Socialdemocratic Party of Rasim Ljajic managed to gain seats.

While the position of the governing coalition regarding Kosovo do not fundamentally differ from the more radical parties, the government has not supported the radical confrontation strategy in pursuing this policy as DSS or SRS did and reduced the financial incentives for obstructionism. The double moderation through the split of the SRS and the voters’ shift towards the governing coalition is thus highly significant for both Serbia and for Kosovo:

The significance for Serbia lies in the fact that nationalist policies and an intransigent position does not win a majority even in a ‘frontline’ city such as Mitrovica. It thus seems to underpin a larger shift toward more moderate politics in Serbia. The importance for Kosovo arises from the bad performance of political elites that derived legitimacy for their radical agenda in the North, such as Milan Ivanovic whose group did not even enter the municipal assembly. Thus, the deputy minister for Kosovo in the Serbian government and head of the list “Serbia, Democracy and Justice” Oliver Ivanovic noted that the results would lead to a reduction of tensions in Mitrovica. This is unlikely to immediately allow for a shift towards dialogue between Kosovo’s institution and the parallel structures. After the significant participation of Kosovo Serbs in Southern enclaves in Kosovo’s local elections in 2009, this move towards moderation signals that new opportunities for more constructive relations between Serbs and the Kosovo institutions than just a few months ago.

Florian Bieber is a Lecturer of East European Politics, University of Kent and a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This article originally appeared on the blog of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, which focuses upon nationalism, ethnicity and national identity around the world.

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