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BELGRADE, November 3 (Itar-Tass) - Elections to local self-government bodies will take place in Kosovo, a Serbian province which unilaterally proclaimed its independence from Serbia in 2008, on Sunday. Ethnic Serbs residing in Kosovo will have an opportunity to vote and be elected to governing posts for the first time since 1999.
Security in Kosovo has been tightened ahead of the elections. At least 5,500 Kosovo policemen as well as representatives of EULEX (the European Union Rule of Law Mission) in Kosovo will guard law and order during the vote. Police presence will be increased in the Serb-controlled northern part of Kosovo on Sunday.
The local elections in Kosovo have been a source of heated debates in the Serb parliament this week. Representatives of various political parties clashed with each other for voters’ brains. The ruling coalition of the Serb Progressive Party (SPP) has called on the Serb compatriots in Kosovo to take an active part in the vote. Alexander Vucic, the SPP leader and Serbia’s first vice-premier, believes that taking part in the vote is the only way to preserve the Serb presence in the province and guarantee the protection of Kosovo Serbs. Representatives of other political movements, including the opposition Democratic Party, have urged the Kosovo Serbs to boycott the elections in order not to legalize the Albanian authorities and not to recognize, at least indirectly, the sovereignty of the Republic of Kosovo. They believe that Serb participation in the elections will be equal to capitulation and will mark the final surrender of the province to the Albanians.
Serbia’s leadership disagrees with this opinion. Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said in parliament that Kosovo Serbs should take an active part in the local elections on November 3 because otherwise the power in some areas might get into the hands of Albanians or collaborationists. “I am calling on the Kosovo Serbs not to listen to the calls of some politicians to boycott the elections. They are just trying to gain additional scores,” the premier emphasized.
“Our compatriots should think about themselves and their future because neither Vojislav Kostunica nor Dacic will be able to come to Kosovo tomorrow to protect them with arms in hands if necessary,” the premier went on to say. According to the Serbian prime minister, under the current circumstances Kosovo could be returned only by force but Serbia is not going to choose the path of war.
Dacic noted that it would be better for the authorities in Pristina if fewer Serbs turned up for the elections. If the Serbs boycott the vote, Albanians or people who prefer to cooperate with Pristina rather than with Belgrade might come to power in northern Kosovo.
“It is within the interests of the government to help our people,” the Serbian prime minister went on to say. He stressed how important it was to form an Association of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo after the elections.
“Will it be better for the Serbs in Kosovo to have their own leadership, legitimate internationally recognized bodies of power and their own representation in Brussels or will it be better to sit and pretend that nothing is happening?” Dacic asked.
With the elections approaching, the relations between Belgrade and Pristina have aggravated. In recent days, they have been accusing each other almost daily of attempts to thwart the elections. Problems started as early as in September when the Kosovo authorities banned Serb officials from coming to Kosovo on visits linked to the preparation for the forthcoming vote. Recently, a Pristina court issued an arrest warrant, which was later recalled, for Alexander Vulin, the Serb minister for the affairs of Kosovo and Metohija who had violated that ban. Besides, the Kosovo Central Electoral Commission has refused to remove the state symbols of the unrecognized republic from the ballot papers. It has also refused to include the names of Serbs who have left Kosovo since 1999 in the lists of voters. Officials in Belgrade are also warning that the Pristina authorities are trying to increase the number of Albanians eligible to vote.
The last day before the vote was marred by an attack on Krstmir Pantic, a Serbian candidate to the mayor of the town of Kosovska Mitrovica. He was attacked by unknown persons and received injuries of medium degree of gravity. Pantic believes it was a murder attempt which he managed to avoid by stroke of luck.
The diametrically opposite stances of Serb politicians are making the choice even more difficult for Kosovo Serbs: should they vote and prove the legitimacy of the Albanian authorities or should they boycott the elections and preserve their face but be deprived of even the slightest opportunity to influence the political situation in the region at least partly. Which of the two options the ethnic Serbs in Kosovo are going to chose will be known on November 3.