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07 Nov 13

Kosovo - what next?

Gerard M. Gallucci

When the election is run again, it will hopefully take place with adequate EULEX presence and with UN as well as OSCE observation. Whatever the outcome, the EU, US and NATO should resist pressures from Pristina to simply “take over” and impose its rule in the north.

A few days ago, I asked what if the elections fail. Well, they took place on November 3 as scheduled and were mostly, kinda successful. Turnout in Serb areas north and south of the Ibar was not high but probably sufficient to be termed credible everywhere but North Mitrovica and Zvecan in the north. In North Mitrovica, in late afternoon, masked men trashed three polling places using tear gas and destroying ballots. Voting there – and maybe Zvecan – will be redone (perhaps on December 1).

How the masked men were able to get near and into the polling places might be questioned. Where were the EULEX police and what were they doing? It may be that they (and KFOR) decided that their too-visible presence at the polling places might brand the election as an “imposition” from the international community and keep people away. That call would have presumably been made at the Pristina HQ level. The internationals based there often believe too much in their own optimistic view of how well their plans are going. They also give too much credit to Belgrade’s supposed “control” of the north and may have thought that with its support for the vote, everything would go okay.

It seems that the “thugs” who attacked the polling places may have waited until it became clear that just enough non-Serbs voted to elect Pristina’s candidate – Adrijana Hodzic, a local Bosniak – as mayor. A simple EULEX police presence would not have kept away those relatively few Serbs ready to vote but would have allowed the polls to remain open and the vote to be completed. In any case, now the vote will be repeated and that may not be a bad thing.

Two possibilities present themselves in a re-vote: Kosovo Serbs may make use of another chance to turn out in sufficient numbers to elect one of their own or not. In the latter case, Ms. Hodzic would be elected. The election of Hodzic might not be the worst thing to happen. She has experience in north Mitrovica and has been running Pristina’s office there for two years. Hodzic would have to resist Albanian pressures for unilateral moves into the north but as a non-Serb/non-Albanian, and with both Belgrade and Pristina support, she could over time become a transition figure at least minimally acceptable to all sides.

Or enough Serbs could turn out to elect someone from their community. It may be that the low Serb turnout in north Mitrovica was due in part to dissatisfaction with Belgrade’s insistence on a unified list and support for its preferred candidate, Krstimir Pantic. Some in the north see Pantic as an opportunist too close to Belgrade and too ready to cooperate with its plans to put the north under Pristina. A re-vote without him might allow a more acceptable candidate to emerge. Leaving aside the possibility of Oliver Ivanovic, there is reportedly a split within the more “nationalist” local leadership that might lead to a candidate considered more “authentic” by the local Serbs.

It is clear that Belgrade remains intent on urging the northern Kosovo Serbs to vote. Prime Minister Dacic issued a not-so-veiled threat to leave the Serbs to their fate should they not take advantage of a second opportunity. He told reporters in Brussels – after an EU hosted meeting with Kosovo Prime Minister Thaci – that “if the Serbs in north Mitrovica do not turn out in sufficient numbers, they will have an Albanian (sic) as mayor. That could cause conflicts, and perhaps even armed conflicts, and in that case Serbia would not be able to help very much at all.” Will Belgrade now leave it up to the local Serbs in Mitrovica to choose their own candidate? And will the Serbs decide to take their fate into their own hands?

When the election is again run, hopefully it will take place with adequate EULEX presence and with UN as well as OSCE observation. Whatever the outcome, the EU, US and NATO should resist pressures from Pristina to simply “take over” and impose its rule in the north. Low turnout from the northern Serb community shows there is no support there for being incorporated into Albanian-majority Kosovo.

This blog was originally published on TransConflict's website.

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. He will serve as Diplomat-in-Residence at Drake University for the 2013-14 school year.

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