Kosovo – elections and the north

Pristina and the Quint could have chosen to ignore the elections by dismissing their significance and taking the high road; instead, the EU’s warnings and threats have only served to fuel confrontation.

By Gerard M. Gallucci

There continues to be gnashing of teeth over the prospect of Serbian elections in Kosovo. Kosovo Albanian leaders are threatening use of all measures – including force – to prevent them. Serbian officials are talking about pressures from the internationals. EU bigwigs are even tweeting about it. All this even after Serbia’s president, Boris Tadic, appeared to have tried to limit the scope of local elections in Kosovo.

Pristina can prevent Serbian elections in the south, or at least make them very difficult to hold openly. The southern Kosovo Serbs are anyway not the real problem. They are surrounded and more or less accepting of the Kosovo reality. The real issue is the north. Holding Serbian local elections there – even if in just two of the four municipalities – reaffirms the reality that the north still functions as part of Serbia. Elections there do not create this reality but do underline it.

Pristina and its international friends could have chosen to ignore the elections, accept that Tadic softened the blow and dismissed their significance and taken the high road. The issue of the north, however, has long been used by Kosovo Albanian politicians to distract their citizens from Kosovo’s real problems – a weak and dependent economy and continuing corruption. So they huff and puff about the north and elections. Hopefully the peacekeepers – KFOR and EULEX – won’t actually allow them to blow the house down.

Of course, the question of who “controls” the north comes at a particularly sensitive time. Sensitive because it appears more people are considering new approaches for the north. KFOR appears quite uninterested is seeking to “resolve” the northern issue through using force. EULEX – still refusing to act in a status neutral manner – seems to be waiting for Tadic to clear the northern barricades away for it. One can now hear voices suggesting that somehow the northern Kosovo Serbs must be included in efforts to decide the future of the north along the lines of a special autonomy going beyond Ahtisaari.

Pristina would love to find a way to short-circuit any consideration of new approaches for the north. The preferred option for the north is still to absorb it into Kosovo institutions and “rule of law.” No Kosovo Albanian politician wants to be seen open to any compromise. So this circles back to the Serbian elections and the tough talk about stopping them.

It may be that president Tadic – ever eager to please the EU if at all possible – yet finds a way to cancel all elections in Kosovo. This would leave open the question of the legitimacy of the municipal government in Zvecan and Zubin Potok unless their mandates were simply extended by someone. Maybe Belgrade itself or even UNMIK? Seeking to place these opposition-controlled towns under a Tadic-appointed administration might itself engender new conflict.

It really would be better for everyone to take a deep breath and step back from any confrontation over the elections. The EU bears chief responsibility for any violence that might emerge from the situation otherwise. It is supposed to be the grown-up in the house and instead its been adding fuel to the fire with threats and warnings. Like a teenager busy bullying through Twitter.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board.

To read TransConflict’s policy paper, written by Gerard and entitled ‘The Ahtisaari Plan and North Kosovo’, please click here.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here.

To learn more about both Serbia and Kosovo, please check out TransConflict’s new reading lists series by clicking here.

To keep up-to-date with the work of TransConflict, please click here. If you are interested in supporting TransConflict, please click here.

Email