Presevo Albanians Snub Belgrade Again

Western diplomats critical of Presevo Albanians’ plan to repeat presidential poll boycott.

Presevo Albanians Snub Belgrade Again

Western diplomats critical of Presevo Albanians’ plan to repeat presidential poll boycott.

Ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia will press their case for union with neighbouring Kosovo by again boycotting presidential elections, which are to be re-run on December 8 after the initial ballot was annulled due to a low turn out.

To the annoyance of the Serbian authorities and the international community, some 65,000 Albanians stayed away from the polls in the municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja during October’s invalid ballot.

The Albanians hope the Presevo valley region will one day be transferred to Kosovo in exchange for Serb enclaves on the Kosovan side of the border.

Although Kosovo is still formally part of the Yugoslav Federal Republic, FRY, it has effectively been run as a United Nations protectorate since the NATO conflict with Serbia ended in 1999. Talks on the area’s final status have yet to start.

The only concession made by the Presevo valley Albanians was to take part in recent municipal elections, on the basis that local matters concerned them directly. In the ballot, the leading Albanian group, the Party for Democratic Action, or PDD, won control of the Bujanovac and Presevo municipalities while a Serb coalition triumphed in Medvedja.

Until mid-2001, the Presevo valley was torn by armed conflict between FRY security forces and Albanian guerrillas of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, UCPBM. The fighting stopped after the international community and Serbian deputy premier Nebojsa Covic hammered out an agreement under which the guerrillas disarmed in exchange for guarantees of human and democratic rights that were denied to Albanians under former president Slobodan Milosevic.

The official Belgrade view is that Kosovo remains part of the FRY under UN resolution 1244.

However, some circles in Serbia, primarily those surrounding the influential academic and writer Dobrica Cosic, seen as the father of Serbian nationalism, think territorial exchange would be the best option.

Sulejman Hiseni, an ethnic Albanian from Bujanovac, told IWPR, that the boycott of Serbian presidential elections made perfect sense for the local population. “I don’t see what Belgrade can expect from Albanians here because they will never accept Serbia as their country,” he said, reflecting the views of many in the area.

Two of the three most significant Albanian parties - the Party for Democratic Union of Albanians, PDUA and The Movement for Democratic Progress, PDP, which embraces former commanders of the UCPBM - openly shunned the October presidential elections.

Riza Halimi, the moderate leader of the PDD formally invited his members to vote in the contest. But local observers claimed his statement was more a gesture of cooperation with Belgrade and the international community than a serious invitation. Halimi received one of the presidential candidates, the reformist Miroljub Labus, and assured him of support, which never materialised on the day of the ballot. The leader of Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, Dragoljub Filipovic, said Halimi’s actions amounted to “political prostitution”.

International envoys also showed impatience with the Albanian position. One western diplomat reminded IWPR that in local elections Albanian leaders called on their followers to vote in what they termed a fight for political supremacy. “Now these same leaders refrain from contributing to the country’s democratisation,” the diplomat said.

Such criticism looks unlikely to sway the Presevo Albanians. Sources at the heart of the community said the boycott of political activity unrelated to local concerns was likely to continue until final talks on the status of Kosovo.

Serbia, Kosovo
Support our journalists