Kosovo municipal elections on November, 2013, was the most serious political and security verification of the achieved level of implementation of the agreements within the dialogue between authorities in Belgrade and Priština, provided for by the UN General Assembly Resolution 64/298 and which began in March 2011.
The overall assessment of Kosovo municipal elections is satisfactory:
Firstly, all political entities in Kosovo, in particular Serbs, expressed their interest in participating in the elections. Almost a third of the political entities that were certified to run at the municipal elections were Serbs (33). This number does not reflect the percentage of Serbs in the structure of Kosovo’s population, but particular interest and political fragmentation of the Serbian community;
Kosovo’s institutions have succeeded in creating a conductive environment for holding the elections;
A high level political dialogue – meetings of prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo with Katherine Ashton have proved successful in preventing conflict;
The European Union and the international community, sought to encourage participation of Serbs in the local elections, especially in the north Kosovo, by supporting motivation campaign, through individual calls and various activities with the election participants.
Despite attempts to ensure the right of IDPs and voters in the north Kosovo to vote, the OSCE failed. The reason for failure was excessive fear for physical security of some members of the OSCE mission. This reinforces some old doubts about the capacity and credibility of the OSCE operations in the area of conflict prevention and resolution.
On the Serbian side, Serbs in municipalities south of the Ibar river, turned out in significant numbers, thus enabling good results at the municipal elections. Serbs in the north Kosovo were subjected to strong pressures due to:
– Lack of information on the course of implementation of the Brussels Agreement and on the voting procedures;
– Confusion caused by untimely information, and often by receiving contradictory messages from representatives of the Government of Serbia and political parties that make up the ruling coalition in Serbia;
– Feeling neglected and excluded from the agreements which affect their lives;
– Difficult social and economic situation and uncertainty of employment opportunities;
– Wedespread corruption and insecurity due to the absence of rule of law;
– Ideological pressure, intimidation and even violence by those opposing the elections, who were allegedly opposing the Brussels agreement and political fear and violence. They were joined by many who supported the elections, but wanted to intimidate others, believing that it will help them win and continue to have monopoly control over the political life of Serbs in the north and south of the Ibar River.
– Despite all that, a significant number of voters decided make choices that affect them and take responsibility for their own lives and for the right and wrong decisions made by their leadership.
– On the whole, local elections proved to be an important step on the path toward “normalization” of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as the normalization of societies of Serbia and Kosovo, and also the Serbian community. It was a step that brings obligations for the Serbs in Kosovo, and for all others, especially Belgrade, Priština and the EU.
These elections ended the “parallelism of institutions”, as defined by the agreement signed by Kosovo and Serbia’s prime ministers in Brussels on 19 April, 2013. This agreement also sets up a framework for resolving the status of the north Kosovo and for the Serbian community in Kosovo.
The status of north Kosovo was resolved by overcoming the “parallelism of institutions” and integrating the four municipalities in the north into the institutional framework of Kosovo. For the government of Kosovo, this meant extending its authority in the entire territory of Kosovo; for the Serbian community, putting in place the rule of law and for economic development, with the promised financial assistance from Priština, Belgrade and the EU (Interim Fund for Development of North Kosovo). For Serbia, this meant fulfilling an important requirement for EU accession negotiations.
On the other hand, the formulation of the “association/community of Serb-majority municipalities” was suggested, which includes the four municipalities north of the Ibar and the six municipalities south of the river. Even though most Kosovo Serbs have no clear idea about what the Association should actually do, it was one of the goals to be achieved in the local elections.
Local elections in Kosovo confirmed that the process of normalization will be long and complex, and that both leaders and citizens will have to make many difficult decisions. The elections also showed that dialogue between the Serbs participating in the Kosovo institutions and Serbs from the north of Kosovo, that is, between the majority of Serbs living in Kosovo and the authorities of the Republic of Serbia. The absence of such dialogue could be an insurmountable obstacle to the implementation of the agreed solutions in Brussels. This is especially true, considering that the position of Serbian community in Kosovo is significantly changing with the Brussels Agreement and after the local elections. Firstly, the agreement provides for the expansion of legal and institutional system over the entire territory of Kosovo, including four municipalities in the north. This raises the issue of citizenship of persons belonging to the Serb national community, became one of the “new minorities” created after the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia and the emergence of new national states.
The formation of the community/association of municipalities, as a form of decentralization under control of the Kosovo’s central authorities, can only partly resolve the problem: it can contribute to more efficient institutional functioning and provide for implementation of the institutional administrative self-government. However, this is insufficient to maintain the national identity. Besides, it is necessary to ensure legal protection of the right to self-government of national community, that is, the protection of cultural and personal autonomy of national community, the same as in the Republic of Serbia.