Daniel Korski

Kosovo held elections, the region held its breath

Kosovo held elections, the region held its breath
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The people of Kosovo voted yesterday in the first local elections since the Albanian-majority region won independence from Serbia last year. More than 1.5 million people were eligible to cast their ballot and some 74 political parties, coalitions and independent candidates stood.

The elections are a test of Kosovo's readiness to organize democratic elections on its own and to be taken seriously as an independent state. So far, 63 countries have recognized Kosovo, including the US and most countries in the EU. But Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo, and the influential Serbian Orthodox Church urged the 120,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo to boycott the polls. They have been encouraged by a number EU governments including Spain, which will hold the EU’s Presidency from January, who have not yet recognised Kosovo.

Voting passed off calmly. Local Serb politicians called on people to ignore Belgrade’s demand – and many seem to have done so, with turnout among the 80,000 Serbs living in enclaves in central Kosovo thought to be higher than expected. Election authorities put the overall turnout at about 45%. And unlike in neighboring Albania, no major instances of unrest or fraud allegations were reported.

Whatever Serbia says, this vote is another step towards entrenching Kosovo’s statehood. Deep down, most Serbs – including senior government ministers -- know this. But they are, in the words of one official, “still digesting” the fact of Kosovo’s independence.

A lot will depend on Serbia’s links with the EU. If Serbia moves closer to the EU, she might be more relaxed about Kosovo. So far, though, Serbia’s efforts to draw closer to the EU have been delayed by the Netherlands, which insist that Serge Brammertz, the chief United Nations war crimes prosecutor, must first declare the Belgreade government is doing what it can to capture war crimes suspects. But signs are that Brammertz will report positively to the UN Security Council in early December, and that the Dutch will remove their veto and allow Serbia to make a formal application for EU membership.

There are plenty of problems in the Balkans, but this weekend’s peaceful vote in Kosovo, next week’s likely decision by EU governments to forward Albania’s membership application to the European Commission for an opinion and next month’s expected decision on Serbia all bode well.