The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. IFIMES made an analysis of the current political situation in the context of the upcoming extraordinary elections, scheduled to take place on 23 April 2023 in four predominantly-Serb municipalities in the north of Kosovo. We bring the most interesting parts of the extensive analysis “2023 Kosovo 2023: Serb community could permanently cut ties with authorities in Pristina?”
In Kosovo, extraordinary local elections will be held on 23 April 2023 in four predominantly Serb municipalities in the north of Kosovo (Severna Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zubin Potok and Zvečan) to elect the municipal mayors as well as councilors for the municipal councils in Leposavić and Zvečan.
The extraordinary local elections will be held after the mayors and municipal councilors from the Srpska lista /Serb List/ party had left the Kosovo institutions in four municipalities in the north of Kosovo as a protest against the decision of the Kosovo Government on mandatory reregistration of vehicles from former Serbian (KM) to RKS registration plates. The elections were to be held on 18 December 2022, but due to unfavorable security situation have been postponed for 23 April 2023. The official election campaign will take place from 4 April to 21 April 2023.
Srpska lista is the largest political party of Kosovo Serbs and enjoys strong support of the official Belgrade. However, it has not register to participate at the local elections under the explanation that their condition for return to Kosovo institutions had not been fulfilled. Specifically, their request for postponement of the decision on reregistration of vehicles, establishment of community of predominantly Serb municipalities (ZSO) in line with the 2013 Brussels agreement and withdrawal of Kosovo special police force from the north of Kosovo, that is Serb communities. The Srpska lista, has won more than 90% of votes in Serb communities at almost all elections in Kosovo organized since its establishment in 2013.
The Kosovo Election Commission (CIK) has decided to reduce the number of polling stations from 44 to only six, and open 13 alternative polling centers.
The Srpska lista members withdrewfrom authorities in four municipalities in the north of Kosovo (Severna Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zubin Potok and Zvečan) and all institutions in Kosovo in early November 2022. The talks between official Belgrade and Pristina in the previous period, which resulted in the verbal agreement from Ohrid, have not resolved the issue of return of Serb representatives to Kosovo institutions, whereas the issue of organization of extraordinary local elections in the north of Kosovo was not even officially on the agenda. It was expected that after the Ohrid meeting things regarding the north of Kosovo would become clearer, as well as that the Srpska lista would maybe change its decision and participate at the elections, which has not happened.
According to CIK data, two out of four municipalities in the north of Kosovo will have candidates for the position of the municipal mayor who come from Serb parties –Leposavić i Zvečan.
In Leposavić, Aleksandar Jablanović, President of Partija kosovskih Srba (PKS) /Party of Kosovo Serbs/, which is a minor political party, is one of the candidates for the position of the mayor. He claims that he “offers changes in line with the trends of the 21st century.”
In Zvečan, Slađana Pantović, an opposition politician who had participated in previous election cycles without achieving any significant results, runs for the position of the mayor as an independent candidate. Both candidates from the Serb community belong to the Pristina-based pro-government block.
Candidates for Severna Mitrovica and Zubin Potok municipalities come exclusively from Albanian political parties. The Lëvizja Vetëvendosje (LVV) /Self-Determination Movement/headed by Albin Kurti and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) headed by Memli Krasniqi have their candidates for mayors in all four municipalities with predominantly Serb population.
Out of 11 candidates from four political entities, only two are from the Serb community. This will lead to a situation that the municipalities in which Serbs comprise more than 96% of the local population will be headed by ethnic Albanians- with negligible turnout at elections, which will be in the area of statistical error. Severna Mitrovica is the informal center of political clustering of Serbs in Kosovo and after the extraordinary local elections it could have an Albanian as its mayor.
The European Union expressed its regrets that the Srpska lista will not participate at the elections, which are “the cornerstone of democracy”. “The EU regrets that the Srpska lista has not exercised its democratic right to participate at the upcoming elections,” EU Spokesperson Peter Stano said and added that it was important security conditions are created so that the day of elections passes without disruptions. It is questionable whether security conditions are in place to hold the elections or will the elections be held with highs security risks.
Unlike in the situation from December last year, this time the international community supports the organization of elections in the north of Kosovo. The Quint countries (US, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy) stated that they “regret” the Srpska lista will not participate in the elections. They called on both sides to restrain and avoid violence which might disrupt the election process and expect that the relevant authorities will “act with professionalism.”
The key question is what will happen after the local elections, because whoever gets elected will not have the true power- as they essentially will not have the legitimacy. Therefore, the election process will not have much sense and will not resolve the substantial problems, such as the return of Serbs to Kosovo institutions. By approving the organization of extraordinary elections in the municipalities with predominantly Serb population the international community deepens the existing crisis and the Serb community could permanently cut the ties with the authorities in Pristina?
The international community has brought itself into a rather “unpleasant situation” because it did not want to request again from the Kosovo authorities to postpone the elections after the Kosovo authorities have already done that in December 2022, expecting that the Srpska lista would now participate in the elections on the basis of the agreement brokered in Ohrid. The international community has evidently chosen to repeat the mistakes from the past and deepen the crisis.
It is evident that what has been agreed in Ohrid was not sufficient for the Srpska lista to justify its participation in the elections. Namely, after the meeting Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti (LVV) did not make an appearance and say “we will establish the ZSO /Community of Serb Municipalities/”. On the contrary, he repeated that “self-governance cannot be [equal to] ZSO.” Furthermore, there was also no progress made with respect to withdrawal of Kosovo special police force from the North, which instill “unrests and fear” among the local Serb population.
KFOR stated that the Kosovo police will be responsible for security during the elections in four municipalities in the north of Kosovo, while the KFOR mission will monitor the situation. “KFOR continues to monitor the situation and maintain a high level of readiness of all its units to address any possible scenario, while expecting that institutions in Kosovo will be effectively resolve the situation.”
Currently, there are no conditions in place for the holding of local elections under normal circumstances- without increased tensions and with participation of majority of Serb population. However, even if the elections take place the question to be asked is what will happen after 23 April 2023?
Analysts believe that there are no normal conditions in place for organization of elections, that it is possible to expect tensions similar to those form last year and that the situation after the local elections could become further complicated and contribute to permanent cutting of ties between the Serb community and Kosovo authorities. As a result they believe that it is necessary to introduce a moratorium on the presence on special police force in the north of Kosovo or, as a compromise solution, ensure a 24-hour joint presence of members of EULEX and Kosovo Special Police Force at the established checkpoint after the Jarinje crossing and at the checkpoint near the Bistrički bridge on the Mitrovica–Leposavić main road. Furthermore, introduce a moratorium on unilateral moves and actions and postpone the extraordinary elections all until conditions are created for their organization, specifically until a political agreement is reached within the framework of the Franco-German plan and the EU-mediated dialogue between the official Belgrade and Pristina. The Kosovo society must be persistent in the pursuit of a much-needed social consensus and compromise.
Have the Kosovo leaders learned a lesson from the recent visit of Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazović to Kosovo? Namely, Abazović is an ethnic Albanian, member of a minority, who has demonstrated on the example of Montenegro how a social consensus and compromises can be reached, how to create an inclusive society and how to recognize and cultivate its diversities. During his visit to Kosovo he met with all key political stakeholders and representatives of all religious and minority communities.
Prime Minister Abazović stated that the agreement Montenegro had signed with the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) could be a model that Kosovo could implement without problems. He said that it does not need to be done in the same way and that Kosovo could take the agreement with the Orthodox Church as a model. Abazović also noted that “relaxation of the people can only be beneficial.”
In the heads of politicians there are barriers which need to be further destroyed. For twenty years already we have been talking about the same things. I believe that the guarantees have to come from the international factor and be signed. Abazović also noted that, if the issue is not resolved during Aleksandar Vučić’s time, it will remain unresolved for a long period of time. Independent of what I think, Vučić has major political stability in Serbia and it will be very difficult for his successor to address some historical issues in the political sense- regardless of who the successor will be, said Abazović and added that the wait does not suit any of the sides. Abazović emphasized that Montenegro is very interested in “an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, as it would be of assistance to the region as well.” He reiterated that Montenegro was ready to serve as the “logistical location” for a meeting such as the one that had been organized in Ohrid.
“The Brussels agreement is a good basis for the future,” said Abazović and added that if Montenegro can be a part of the guarantees for overcoming the problem, than it can be done.
It seems justified to raise the question when will the Kosovo leaders embrace such a future-oriented political discourse, when will the prime minister or president of Kosovo be a member of a minority? Is the Kosovo leadership ready for such a historic step forward?
Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels/Pristina, 20 April 2023
 IFIMES – The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018. and it’s publisher of the international scientific journal “European Perspectives”.