Kosovo: Will Serbs Enter Government?

Serbs flocked to the polls in Kosovo's recent election, but doubts remain over their willingness to participate in the province's new administration

Kosovo: Will Serbs Enter Government?

Serbs flocked to the polls in Kosovo's recent election, but doubts remain over their willingness to participate in the province's new administration

A young Serb yawned as he dawdled next to his local polling station during Kosovo's first free, democratic elections last Sunday. "Don't expect too many people," he said.

His estimate looked about right. Only 200 of 525 registered Serb voters in the Serbian enclave of Gorazhdec turned up at the ballot box.

But over Kosovo as a whole, the minority's turnout was better than expected. According to OSCE estimates, roughly half the 170,000 registered Serb voters cast their ballots, which should translate into 20 per cent of the seats in the Kosovo assembly.

Many Serbs had feared that taking part in the election would simply consolidate Kosovo as an independent state and extinguish forever their dream of reuniting with Serbia. A large number placed themselves on the election register purely as a demonstration of Serb numbers without any intention of actually voting.

It took a great deal of prodding from the international community, the Yugoslav leadership and the Serbian Orthodox Church to propel Kosovo Serbs to the ballot box.

"We are doing what we are ordered to do," said an Orthodox nun, referring to the politicians in Belgrade. "We hope that God will make things better, and that they know what they are doing". One furious old man declared, "Why should I vote, when these elections are about the independence of Kosovo. I will not be deceived." He decided to go out and cut wood for winter rather than vote.

Albanian politicians said they were surprised at the result. "We wanted the Serbs to participate but I'm a little surprised with their number of votes. It's very big," AAK member Bujar Dugolli said on a TV programme.

Prior to 1999, there were some 200,000 Serbs in Kosovo, around 10 percent

of the province's population. When Yugoslav troops withdrew after the NATO bombing, about half the Serb population left too. Those remaining live in scattered enclaves with restricted freedom of movement. They are often afraid to speak their own language on the streets and in public institutions.

Most Kosovo Serbs opposed the election of a parliament and president for the province which is currently an international protectorate. Demographics dictated that any assembly would inevitably be Albanian-dominated. Their attitude is a mirror image of that taken by the Albanian majority in the days of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, when they consistently refused to go to the polls.

Serb participation in the election was important to the international administration in

Kosovo. UNMIK chief, Hans Haekkerup, and Daan Everts, head of the OSCE mission in the province, held a series of meetings with Belgrade and local Serb officials, urging them to get the community to go to the polls.

On November 5, Haekkerup and Nebojsa Covic, special representative of the Yugoslav and Serbian governments, signed an agreement that was instrumental in persuading Belgrade to support participation of Kosovo Serbs in the elections and their subsequent involvement in a provincial government.

The document confirmed the basic principles of UN resolution 1244; the return of all displaced people and refugees; and committed to investigating the fate of missing persons.

After the elections, Kosovo Serb leaders said that under no circumstances would they enter coalition administration with two nationalist Albanian parties, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, and Alliance for Future of Kosovo, AAK. But they left open the possibility of collaborating with the more moderate Ibrahim Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, which won the election.

Such collaboration is unlikely, however. Rugova would fear the taunts of the nationalist parties, especially the PDK which every once in a while reminds Rugova of the much criticised meeting he once had with Milosevic during the Kosovo war.

Even if the Serbs get their 20 seats in the Kosovo assembly, it is likely that more than half of them will not turn up for sessions. Those living outside Kosovo would shy from the risks of travelling there. And those who did attend might soon feel frustrated by being repeatedly outvoted by Albanian deputies.

Haeekerup challenged Kosovo leaders to make the assembly work. "The world will be watching to see if they have the maturity to deal with the substantive issues of government and not become bogged down in the rhetoric of vetos and resolutions on independence," he said. Haeekerup has veto powers over assembly decisions and has publicly stated he will not hesitate to use them.

It is too early to say if Kosovo Serbs will work within the new institutions, although they seem happy enough with the election results. "These elections confirmed that the Serb community in Kosovo still exists and will not give up," said Oliver Ivanovic, one of the leaders of the Serb coalition, Povratak. He added, "We will continue to fight."

Stanimirka Krstovic, an elderly Serb woman, said, "We hope things will get better. We now expect more security, more jobs and for our youngsters to return. If they do not come back - we will leave too."

Adriatic Kelmendi is a journalist with the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore

Serbia, Kosovo
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