By Bojana Barlovac
Serbs in the north head to the polls today to vote in a controversial referendum, which both the international community and the authorities in Belgrade had hoped they would abandon.
Kosovo Serb representatives say around 35,500 people will have the right to vote in 82 polling stations in the four mostly Serb northern municipalities of Zubin Potok, Zvecan, northern Mitrovica and Leposavic.
Krstimir Pantic, the Serb mayor of Mitrovica, said the referendum will strengthen the position of Serbs in the north, as well as that of Serbs south of the Ibar river in mainly Albanian parts of Kosovo.
“I believe they [the Serbs elsewhere in Kosovo] will soon organize a referendum too and show that none of us has given up on Kosovo and Metohija,” Pantic told local media.
Polling stations opened at 7am Tuesday. Voters will be asked simply whether or not they accept the “institutions of the so-called Republic of Kosovo”.
Members of municipal election commissions have started checking whether all polling stations are open because the territory on which the referendum is conducted is dispersed, with many polling stations in remote villages cut off due to heavy snow.
“In urban areas, all [polling stations] are open and everything is running smoothly. We are yet to get the information on villages,” Ljubo Radovic, a member of the commission, said.
The initiative does not have the support of the Serbian government, even though Belgrade also strongly opposes Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008.
Serbian officials fear the referendum may damage Serbia’s prospects of becoming a candidate for European Union membership.
“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, told parliament last week.
But Kosovo Serb leaders say they are determined to resist outside pressure and some haveaccused Serbian government officials of siding with Pristina and Brussels against Serbia’s national interest.