By Ivana Jovanovic and Linda Karadaku
Days after achieving candidate status with the EU, Serbia scheduled national, provincial and municipal elections for May 6th, but its plans to open precincts in some Kosovo communities, including Pristina, is drawing rebuke from both the Union and Kosovo.
Serbian officials say they are constitutionally bound to hold elections in Kosovo, which declared independence four years ago and is recognised by more than 80 nations. Belgrade says that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbian territory.
“The president, in fact, had no choice … to act according to our Constitution, but the Resolution 1244 is binding document, which means that missions in Kosovo must be involved in everything,” Oliver Ivanovic, state secretary at the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija (KiM), told SETimes.
EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic criticised the announcement. “We emphasise that the calling of elections in Kosovo is not in accordance with Serbia’s international commitments, notably UNSCR 1244,” she told SETimes, referring to the UN Security Council resolution of 1999 that authorised an international civil and military presence in Kosovo.
In Pristina, the government called plans to hold an election in Kosovo “unacceptable.”
“The European Union should make it clear to Serbia that holding the local elections in Kosovo goes contrary not only to the Kosovo Constitution, but also to the European values and principles,” the government of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said in a news release.
“The government of the Republic of Kosovo reminds official Belgrade one more time, that Kosovo is an independent and sovereign state and Serbia has no jurisdiction or any right at all on the Republic of Kosovo,” it added.
Thaci’s government said the decision shows “the anti-European approach of Serbia towards Kosovo” and demonstrates that Serbia “continues to feed policies of the last century”.
The EU on March 1st granted Serbia candidate status, in part because it negotiated an agreement with Pristina to allow Kosovo to represent itself in regional matters. The agreement allows Pristina to be recognised as Kosovo* — a footnote will state, “This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.”
The compromise was important to Belgrade because German had blocked Serbia’s candidate status last December over tensions with Kosovo.
“The elections of the Republic of Serbia go contrary to all the international documents and resolutions. They make a violation of the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the Republic of Kosovo,” Arber Vllahiu, spokesperson for Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga, told SETimes.
Kosovo analyst Avni Zogiani, head of “Cohu” (Stand up) NGO in Kosovo, said Kosovo will ultimately suffer from the plan to hold elections.
“The sensitivity on this fragile balance in Serbia is bigger in Kosovo than in Serbia itself exactly because Europe has more leverage in Kosovo than in Serbia. This is a game that Tadic has learned well and always on the eve of elections in Serbia, he benefits from both sides, Europe and Kosovo, concessions that at the end, Kosovo pays for,” Zogiani told SETimes.
Jelena Milic, director of the Belgrade Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, sees a potential threat to Serbia’s path towards the EU.
“The danger is, also, how Serbia will carry out of everything that it has agreed, so far, about Kosovo. Based on previous interpretations and concerns about Resolution 1244, we saw that Serbia is not a reliable and credible partner. On the other hand, achieved agreements regarding KiM are not small for the current government and it is, now, looking for ways to stay there as long as possible,” Milic told SETimes.
The announcement was met with mixed reactions.
“I was afraid that our government would forget us and leave us to ourselves and Albanians. With my luck and with luck of all of us here, it did not happen. I’m happy because my government treats me like its citizen and because it did not deny my right to vote.” medical student Marija Djordjevic, from Mitrovica, told SETimes.
Bojana Pavlovic, a doctor in Belgrade, did not support the plan.
“All this looks like Milosevic, who was fighting against the whole world and using all instruments he could. This is wrong, especially now when we are on the doorstep of the EU. The Serbian government needs to be focused on more realistic goals.” Pavlovic told SETimes.