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Stuck in the Middle

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The contrast between Northern Kosovo’s Serb majority and Pristina’s ethnic Albanian-run state apparatus has reached a new low point. The results of a controversial referendum held on 14-15 February showed the entity of the local population’s disaffection from Kosovo’s institutions. The plebiscite is however unlikely to improve the link between Serb Kosovars and Serbia, rather remarking Northern Kosovo’s detachment from the process of normalisation of the relations between Pristina and Belgrade.

Northern Kosovo’s resistance to the consolidation of Pristina’s administration depends on local Serbs’ consideration of the area as their last stand after the loss of the rest of the country to an ethnic Albanian majority. The presence of parallel Serbian and Kosovar institutions in the area leads to a de facto situation of dual sovereignty over the territory. However, Belgrade’s control over local leaders is decreasing.

During 2011, Northern Kosovars' resistance to Pristina’s attempts to secure its border with Serbia already caused the failure of EU-sponsored talks between the countries. The recent referendum, which showed the rejection of Kosovo’s institutions by 99% of the participants, therefore remarked that little progress has been made in addressing the concerns of the local population.

The plebiscite organised unilaterally by local authorities did not achieve the expected results. Belgrade discouraged Kosovar Serbs from holding the referendum, fearing that it would compromise Serbia’s ability to reach EU candidate status by complicating its relations with Pristina. On the other hand, Kosovo’s PM Thaçi contested the legality of the vote, regarding it as a violation of the country’s territorial integrity and considering Belgrade responsible for it.

The referendum therefore did not contribute to a breakthrough in the definition of the status of the disputed territory. The vote instead pointed out the impasse of the local population, and the necessity of an active engagement of its leaders as relevant stakeholders in the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade in the future.

Ettore Marchesoni, GPPAC

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