Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Mitrovice Election Despondency
Halit, a retired Albanian, does not believe municipal elections will improve residents' lives after a decade of rule from Belgrade.
"Albanian politicians make promises, but will they keep them? " he asked.
Halit, in his early 70s, lives just north of the bridge over the Iber river which effectively partitions the town. The number of his fellow Albanians in the northern predominantly Serb section of Mitrovice has dropped significantly since the NATO bombing campaign last year.
Local ethnic Albanians want the town reunified, but don't believe these elections will deliver their goal. As a consequence, it seems few care which party wins the October 28 ballot.
There's no complacency however among local politicians as they believe the ballot will give them greater legitimacy and help pave the way for independence.
"I think these are historic elections because they are the first free and democratic ones in post-war Kosovo, " said Bajram Rexhepi, current head of the commune and the local leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK. " It will be a test of the Kosovars' political maturity, determining whether they are capable of making Kosovo an independent state."
The subject of independence dominates the local political campaigns, as it does elsewhere in the province, with parties only paying lip-service to local issues.
"These elections are necessary because they allow us to voice our determination to create a state," said the Albanian Republican Party (PRSH)'s Skender Hoti.
Hoti believes the establishment of the local institutions will serve as a platform for eventual independence, "The municipal administrations will enable us to raise the republican issue."
Rexhep Ahmeti of the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo, LKÇK, agrees. "If we show that we can run our communes effectively then it won't be long before we have general elections and a final resolution of Kosovo' s status."
Like their Albanian neighbours, the Serbs living in the north of this ethnically divided town have little interest in the ballot, but for different reasons. They reject its validity, recognising only Serbian institutions - indeed, many took part in the Yugoslav elections last month.
"I cannot take part in the elections of those who have occupied Kosovo," Stojan, a retired Serb, told IWPR. "Sooner or later, Europe and America will turn their back on the Albanians and hand the province back to us."
Zorica, a Serb student, said, "These are not our elections. I am not going to betray our people. We shall never accept the loss of Kosovo, which was given away by that traitor Milosevic."
Local Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic claimed his call for Mitrovice Serbs to boycott the Kosovo poll was prompted by security concerns. Ivanovic's disingenuous remarks indicate that Albanians do not have a monopoly on ethnic distrust, fear or hatred.
"Reunification of our town is going to be very difficult," admitted Hatixhe, an Albanian living in the Serb dominated north.
Perhaps the best anyone can expect, then, is that municipal polls pass fairly and without violence. That, more than anything else, would reflect positively on Kosovo's future status.
Violeta Hyseni is a journalist with Radio Mitrovice
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