Whilst Serbia’s decision to hold local elections in Kosovo has agitated Pristina and the Quint, there are signs of an openness for a political settlement on the north that goes beyond simple imposition of Pristina control.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
It seems like Belgrade is looking for a way to thread the camel through the eye of the EU needle. Despite pressure from the EU and US, the government announced May 6th as the date for parliamentary elections in the country, with the speaker of parliament calling local elections for the same day. There are, however, two caveats: there will be no elections in 17 municipalities where terms started after the last elections in 2008, including five in Kosovo. Holding elections in the south, meanwhile, will be contingent on “cooperation” with UNMIK under UNSCR 1244.
The first caveat means that – perhaps coincidently – Belgrade has softened the blow by scheduling local elections in the north only in Zvecan and Zubin Potok, avoiding the need for a poll in North Mitrovica (or Leposavic). With the second, it seems Belgrade is bowing to the difficulty of holding elections anywhere south of the Ibar. State secretary, Oliver Ivanovic, clarified the speaker’s reference to UNMIK and 1244 by explaining that it is “technically impossible to hold elections, especially south of the Ibar river, if we do not have the support of international missions in Kosovo.” Indeed, with Pristina arresting Serb police living in Kosovo and postmen carrying mail there, it seems unlikely Kosovo police would allow Serbian election workers to even carry ballots into the territory. So the Tadic government seems to have called elections for Kosovo while limiting local polls to two municipalities in the north. (Presumably, parliamentary elections may be held in a few more places.)
Nevertheless, Pristina and its international allies remain agitated about elections north of the Ibar as they see them working against their agenda of bringing the area under “control” this year. Pristina sees the elections as illegal and the verbally combative interior minister of Kosovo has said his government will take steps to prevent them.
On the international side, UNMIK says it has no position on the elections and doesn’t anticipate having any unless Belgrade raises the matter. (UNSCR1244 is essentially silent on the question of Serbian elections in Kosovo.) KFOR also says the elections are none of its business. As the Serbs do not need anyone’s “cooperation” to hold election north of the Ibar, they will probably go ahead there on May 6.
Meanwhile, the northern Kosovo Serbs appear to have grown less comfortable with previous Belgrade deals with EULEX on its activities on the boundary. EULEX continues to ferry Kosovo Albanian police and customs to the two northern Gates by helicopter. It also jumped the gun on a yet-to-be-implemented agreement on license plates and IDs by telling the northerners that they must get ready to use Kosovo license plates. The northerners respond by repeatedly stopping EULEX convoys into the north.
KFOR continues to take a more cautious line than EULEX, perhaps because it’s troops would be on the front line of any foolish effort to use force against the north. While reiterating its demand for complete freedom of movement, the KFOR commander has said that an approach to settling the north must be acceptable also to those who live there. Interestingly, the British ambassador to Pristina reportedly has gone even further saying that northerners will have to be part of eventual discussions on a solution for the north.
It seems that Belgrade and the EU will continue their careful dance for at least a while longer. President Tadic will bend as far as he can – now on elections – and at least some of the Quint – the Brits and KFOR have stood out in this regard recently – will hint at openness for a political settlement on the north that goes beyond simple imposition of Pristina control. Wishful thinking?
Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board.