Kosovo (“the land of blackbirds”) is known for its hawkish mores. As proven by both the bullet and the ballot: the Serbs in North Kosovo are currently having a referendum on the question of "Do you accept the institutions of the so-called Republic of Kosovo?" (that’s about the best worded referendum question since Macedonia’s famous “Would you support independent Macedonia with the right to enter future union of sovereign states of Yugoslavia?” on 8 September 1991). The outcome of the vote is almost as uncertain as that of Russia’s presidential elections scheduled for 4 March. The resounding “no” in the four Serb municipalities north of the river Ibar will be yet another setback along the way to finding a negotiated settlement between Pristina and Belgrade under EU auspices. And the one to bear the brunt will be Serbia’s president Boris Tadic. Having publicly opposed the referendum, he’ll be, no doubt, attacked by the opposition which controls the four municipalities (the Democratic Party of Serbia (DPS) rules Zubin Potok and Zvecan by itself, and is in coalition with the Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) in Kosovska Mitrovica; the fourth one, Leposavic, is a special case. While Tadic’s Democrat Party is in power and fought hard against the referendum it was abandoned by their allies from the local chapter of the Serbian Party of Socialists). Without taking a clear stance of the referendum, the “Progressives” and Kostunica’s DPS in Belgrade have said that they’d accept the will of the people. The message could not be clearer.
The timing of the referendum could not be worse (or better, in case you are an opposition supporter). Serbia is due to hold general elections by 6 May and the Kosovo issue could cost Tadic precious votes. A Kosovo Serb “no” will certainly cause a headache for the EU foreign ministers as they decide whether to grant Serbia candidate status in March. A key benchmark towards achieving the goal is progress in the political dialogue with Pristina, the pride and joy of the European External Action Service.
But it will take a lot of political ingenuity and courage to ward off fragile and tentative rapprochement between Belgrade and Pristina against the mounting trouble. The Kosovo government already accuses Tadic of failing to rein in the Serbs and some even suspect him of directly stirring up trouble. Albanian leaders have their own hawks to care about. The Vetevendosje (Independence) movement is breathing down the neck of the Thaci cabinet. The movement calls for radical action for establishing Pristina’s sovereignty in the North and rejection of the Ahtisaari plan granting Serb municipalities broad autonomy. The standoff between the authorities and the movement culminated on 14 January when police clamped down on demonstrators blocking roads along Kosovo’s eastern border with Serbia. Do expect more from Vetevendosje once the North announces the referendum results!
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