Belgrade and Pristina need to work together
Radio Free Europe tells me the Kosovo municipal election went badly today in the north: voting materials were destroyed at three polling stations, turnout was low and intimidation was high, with one Serb candidate attacked yesterday. The observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) withdrew and polls closed early.
This is too bad, even if unsurprising. Assignment of responsibility for what went wrong will have to await investigations of what happened, but it is clear enough that both Belgrade and Pristina have a problem. The organized criminal groups in northern Kosovo, supported by nationalist hardliners and elements in the Serbian security services, are able to defy both Belgrade’s desire to see smooth implementation of the EU-brokered April agreement as well as Pristina’s desire to see its institutions recognized as the only legitimate ones in the northern part of the country.
Pristina and Belgrade will find the European Union displeased with what happened. Belgrade wants to open its accession negotiations next year. It needs the money that comes with that. Even if the EU concurs, Brussels’ first demand will be for Serbia to plug the rule of law gap so apparent in northern Kosovo. Pristina wants a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, as well as participation in the Schengen visa waiver program. It can’t expect either one unless it has full control of its borders, which appears to have been wanting in the north.
That said, we shouldn’t exaggerate the significance of a bad election day. Many in the Balkans think that if they don’t vote the election is invalid. But that is not how it works. In democracies if you don’t vote, you are not represented. Some are worried that low Serb turnout in the north may presage the election of Albanian mayors. They should have worried about that before election day.
It may still be possible to allow the destroyed polling stations to reopen to permit voting, if not today then tomorrow or the next day. Of course intimidation will continue. Law and order cannot be established overnight. But it has to be established if Serbia and Kosovo are to continue on the European path that their citizens want to follow. Pristina and Belgrade need to stop blaming each other and work together to defeat an organized, criminal and well-connected group of extremists.
*The statement made by the head of the OSCE observer mission, which I had not seen when I wrote the post above, suggests that the election was proceeding reasonably well when the organized attacks on the polling stations in north Mitrovica occurred.