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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I think your cautions are in order about what the Mitrovica vote represents. Clearly Belgrade has been able to restrain the locals and to convince many that the traditional Serb support for the government in power is the wisest way to go. But much of Belgrade’s advantage on Kosovo has come from not letting the nationalists flank them by appearing ready to give it away. None of those who won seats in the municipal assembly would likely support surrender to Pristina in any form. Probably not even the mere three that won on Oliver’s ticket. (Interestingly, despite being a “state secretary” and a very clever guy, Oliver Ivanovic remains with a very blotted record as far as the Mitrovica Serbs are concerned.) If Belgrade, the Albanians or the EULEX/ICO crowd seek to impose something unacceptable, it will probably not invoke a “moderate” reaction.
You have to understand a few very important facts.
Firstly, the Serbs on Kosmet are de facto on their own considering that Belgrade (in its current political incarnation) is doing nothing on their case but offering meak vocal support. Still, the vast majority of voters in Serbia wouldnt stand for Belgrade backing down completely, so the Kosmet Serbs still have some base in their capitol. Between the prospect of looking at Pristina (that is to say the separatists, and the “internationals”), which is doing what they have been doing since the end of the 1999. war – expelling and frightening the local Serbs; and of looking at Belgrade (with any given political majority), the Kosmet Serbs will choose the latter, as for them its a matter of survival (bot physical, of themself and their community, as well as cultural, historic, religious, etc). In that perspective, the local elections in Mitrovica are not an omen of the things to come, but likely a projection of the past and specially of the present.
If the government in Belgrade changes, and it likely will due to more prosaic reasons, namely the breaking down of a transition model that was in effect for the last 10 years, and which devastated the economy, if the government changes again, the Kosmet Serbs will offer their support for the new government as well. In fact, considering their past and present situation, they would welcome the change. And who is to blame them..
For more on the recent incident in Northern Mitrovica: