By Marija Ristic
Serb leaders in northern Kosovo say their preparations for a referendum later this month on the territory’s Albanian-dominated institutions are advancing despite heavy snow and freezing temperatures.
Residents of the Serb-dominated north oppose Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and believe the referendum will underscore their stance.
But the initiative does not have the support of the Serbian government, even though Belgrade also opposes Kosovo independence. Serbian officials fear the referendum may damage Serbia’s prospects of becoming a candidate for European Union membership.
Northern Kosovo Serb representatives say around 35,500 people will have the right to vote in 82 polling places in the municipalities of Zubin Potok, Zvecan, Leposavic and Kosovska Mitrovica.
“Voting material is currently at the printing press and will be printed by tomorrow. Municipal committees are updating voters’ lists and taking care of other technicalities,” Ljubo Radovic, a member of the committee in the Zvecan area, said on Wednesday.
The vote is scheduled for February 15, Serbia’s national day. Voters will be asked whether they “accept the institutions of so-called Republic of Kosovo”.
Belgrade confirmed on Tuesday it opposed the referendum, saying it would do more harm than good and could damage Serbia’s EU bid.
“The referendum diminishes our credibility and capacity for negotiations with the international community. We know the results already because we are against Kosovo’s institutions,” Goran Bogdanovic, Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo, said during a session of parliament.
But Kosovo Serb leaders say they are determined to resist pressure from Belgrade. They have accused Serbian government officials of siding with Pristina and Brussels against Serbia’s national interest.
“The Serbian people in North Kosovo are united in their stance that a referendum must be held. We want to demonstrate our position through a regular democratic procedure and no influence from Belgrade or Pristina can make us change our minds,” said Milan Ivanovic, president of the Serbian National Council of North Kosovo.
“It is clear that the Serbian government has failed in its Kosovo and EU policy,” added Ivanovic.
The office of Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, has said that the planned referendum is another factor delaying a lasting solution to Kosovo’s problems.