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Serbia and Kosovo's bumpy road to Brussels.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- Last Sunday local elections were held in Kosovo, the majority ethnic Albanian country that declared independence from Serbia in 2008. That would in all likelihood not have raised a lot of attention had it not been for the fact that this was the first time ballot boxes were open all over the country, including the disputed north where Serbs constitute the majority of the population.

That explains why nobody outside the country is really interested in the results of the elections in the cities where Kosovo Albanians have cast their vote. Not even the Kosovo Serbs living in the south of the country created a lot of news because the turnout in these communities was above average and they elected, as expected, ethnic Serb candidates for mayor.

No, all attention was focused on four small towns in the north where around 50,000 Serbs were supposed to elect their local councils and mayors. These Kosovo Serbs have never accepted the authority of the central Kosovar government and, until recently, were supported politically and financially by Serbia proper, where many still find it hard to accept that Kosovo is lost.

Things changed, however, when Serbia applied for EU membership last year, and Brussels made it crystal clear that accession talks would only start after Kosovo and Serbia had found an agreement on their future relations in general and the situation in northern Kosovo in particular. In April the EU brokered a deal between Belgrade and Pristina that, if implemented, would enable Kosovo to start talks with the EU on first steps towards membership and would allow Serbia to open accession talks in December.

A crucial part of that agreement was the municipal elections of last weekend. When and if the elections would prove to be a success, a new sort of autonomy would be put into place. Funding and overall authority would pass to Kosovo's central government, but special branches of the judiciary and police would be created to serve the ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo. The six areas in southern Kosovo where most of Kosovo's ethnic Serbs live and the four towns in the north were also stimulated to establish an Association of Serbian Municipalities that would be able to defend the rights of all Kosovo Serbs with the central authorities in Pristina.

The deal looked great, but it did not work.

The elections in the four northern towns were a failure because hardly any Kosovo Serb went out to vote, and the voting in many polling stations in northern Kosovo had to be interrupted after violence and intimidation by Serbian hard-liners. Their objections were summarized by a student quoted by Reuters who said: "These elections are an act of high treason that will ultimately cut Kosovo off from Serbia and lead to a Serb exodus from Kosovo. Belgrade is betraying Kosovo for the vague prospect of ... so-called European integration."

For several analysts, this outcome did not come as a surprise. A report by the Balkans Policy Research Group, published two weeks ago, already underlined the poor job done by Belgrade of explaining the accords to the Kosovo Serbs who are loyal to the Serbian state and do not support or trust the current government. Despite repeated calls from Serb politicians to participate in the elections, it was obvious that the boycott organized locally was very popular because it played on the fears of many Kosovo Serbs who are afraid that after the implementation of the Brussels agreement, Belgrade will write them off. The report suggests a repeat of the local elections in the north in six to eight months, after having explained properly to the local population what is at stake and having ensured what is needed for genuinely free and fair voting.

Similar calls to annul the voting in the four municipalities and ask the Serb government to step in were done on Monday. It is questionable, however, whether Pristina and Brussels will be very happy with such interference from Belgrade. On the other hand, both have to admit that the Kosovo authorities failed to win the hearts and minds of the Kosovo Serbs. Most probably, the EU will again be called upon to come up with a typical Brussels compromise to save the European future of Kosovo and Serbia.

JOOST LAGENDIJK (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Geographic Code:4EUBL
Date:Nov 6, 2013
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