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Reaction to the Elections in Kosovo
Daunting Challenges Await
World Press Review correspondent
Nov. 29, 2001
first parliament since the end of the war in 1999 will convene
in early December. For the first time in more than a decade,
representatives of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and Serbian
minority will sit together to determine the war-torn province's
fate. Since former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic took
power in late 1980s and revoked Kosovo's autonomy, ethnic Albanians
have boycotted all every parliamentary election organized by
Serbian and Yugoslav authorities.
ethnic Albanian man casts his vote in Kosovo's first election
since the war, Nov. 17, 2001 (Photo: AFP).
But the Nov. 17 general elections in Kosovo neither erased the
old enmities between Serbs and Albanians nor primed either side
for a compromise. Ethnic Albanian leaders seem to be more determined
than ever to declare Kosovo and independent state, while Serbian
representatives still insist that Kosovo must remain within
the borders of Serbia and Yugoslavia. It looks as though it
will be a long time before the United Nations' vision of a multiethnic,
democratic Kosovo is realized.
'It's Worth a Try'
After casting his vote at a polling station in a Belgrade elementary
school, Boro Cukic, an 89 year-old Serbian refugee from Kosovo,
said he had only one wish left: to go back home. That
is why I am here to vote. I was born in Pristina and I left
everything there. Cukic is among estimated 200,000 thousands
of Serbs who have left Kosovo since 1999 out of a fear of reprisals
from the Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
Despite Belgrade's campaign to encourage Kosovo Serbs to vote
in the election in order to keep the province part of Serbia,
only 50 percent of Serbian voters from Kosovo participated in
the Nov. 17 election. Milena Kostic, a 40 year-old refugee,
found the slim turnout at her local polling station surprising.
If this will help, it's worth a try, she said as
she cast her ballot. We just want to go back and have
a safe life. Though most of the refugees refused to talk
to reporters on election day, those who did comment echoed Kostic's
sentiments. Danica, A 62 year-old woman who did not give her
last name, said only, Now let God help us.
The Serbian press was more prolix. Nenad Stefanovic, writing
in the Nov. 22 edition of the influential Belgrade newsmagazine
Vreme, proclaimed that in the election, the Serbs got
a chance to fight for their rights in the future parliament,
showed their intention to live in Kosovo, and helped the government
in Belgrade to acquire some allies. But a Nov. 20 editorial
in the independent Belgrade newspaper Danas read the
election results in less monolithic terms: A slight majority
of Kosovo Serbs have accepted new reality in Kosovo, and want
to fight for their national and civic interests through Kosovo's
institutions, which will no longer be subordinate to Belgrade's.
But [the turnout] also confirmed that another option is still
very strong, particularly in the northern Kosovo, where Serbs
mainly boycotted the elections. These are the Serbs who cannot
come to peace with the end of Serb domination in Kosovo,
The Coalition for Return, the only political group representing
the Serb minority in the election, won 22 seats in 120-seat
strong Kosovo assembly, making it the third-largest single contingent.
But it is unlikely that Ibrahim Rugova, whose Democratic League
of Kosovo won the largest number of seats in the new assembly,
will nominate many Serbs to positions in the future government
Serbian commentators foresaw problems forming a consensus between
the Serbian and Albanian parties in the assembly. Coalition
for Return wants to form a coalition with those who support
the idea of multiethnic Kosovo within Yugoslavia and Serbia.
And there is no such party on the Albanian side, Nenad
Stefanovic concluded in Vreme (Nov. 22). All ethnic Albanian
political leaders in Kosovo share the same goalindependence.
Serbs see Kosovo as the cradle of their national identity and
vehemently oppose any suggestion of making it independent. With
this in mind, Danas's editors continued, It is quite
clear that the Serbian and Albanian sides in the joint Kosovo
parliament will have confrontational attitudes regarding the
political status of Kosovo, which is why Kosovo is governed
by an international protectorate in the first place… Therefore,
the international community should strive to preserve Kosovo's
current temporary status, preventing rash decisions to be made
about the final status of Kosovo.
And indeed the election results reflect Kosovar's reluctance
to take any more rash decisions. Ethnic Albanians rejected the
more strident Albanian parties in favor of Rugova and his moderate
Democratic League of Kosovo. And roughly 50 percent of ethnic
Serbs in Kosovo saw the elections as a positive way for them
to influence the course of Kosovo's future even after its dissociation
The position of the other 50 percent is more troubling. Under
Milosevic's rule, Serbs occupied all the senior positions in
the institutions that governed Kosovo, despite their minority
status in the province. They rewarded Milosevic and his government
with a loyalty more fervent than that seen in the rest of Serbia.
One wonders if the 50 percent of Kosovo Serbs who did not vote
abstained from the election because they have not yet reconciled
themselves to the changed reality in the province, and, indeed,
Clearly, Kosovo has a long way to go before it enjoys the levels
of tolerance and democratic participation necessary for Serbs
and ethnic Albanians to live peacefully together without outside
help. As the election results confirm, ethnic Albanians universally
support the creation of an independent Kosovo. And Serbs in
Kosovo still seem resolute in their determination to keep Kosovo
part of Serbia. Eventually, perhaps, the entire Balkan region
may be integrated into the European Union, rendering these disputes
moot. But such an event, if it ever happens, is certainly not
likely to happen any time soon.
Kosovo's new government and the international organizations
with an interest in keeping the region stable face a daunting
task: to mediate between stubbornly-held and contradictory ambitions
while providing for the development of a province scarred by
war and corruption. Security must be improved. Refugees driven
from Kosovo after the war must be re-integrated into society.
Houses destroyed need to be rebuilt. But the results of the
Nov. 17 elections in Kosovo indicate that there is still hope.
A majority of ethnic Albanians opted for a moderate government.
And at least half of Kosovo Serbs have realized that only fight
for their future in the province by working within the framework
established by the United Nations. Kosovo is not yet out of
the woods. But on Nov. 17, it demonstrated that it is getting