Kosovo's election brings a peace settlement no closer
KOSOVO has just held an election, under the watchful eye of its international overlords, and the main winner is the prime minister of Serbia, Vojislav Kostunica. That was one of the oddest features of the ballot held on October 23rd in a province whose political future remains wide open, five years after NATO wrested the place from the Serbs.
One of the few uncertainties about the result of the election was how many of the province's 200,000 Serb voters (of whom only half now live in Kosovo) would heed the advice of Mr Kostunica and boycott the poll. In fact, almost all did. In Belgrade, some young wags summed up Serb feelings by staging a parody of the vote. That was good news for Serb nationalists but it may spell trouble for the province, where tension is rising palpably ahead of the final-status talks which are supposed to be starting next summer.
For now, the place remains in a sort of legal no-man's-land. In diplomatic theory, sovereignty over Kosovo is vested in "Serbia and Montenegro", a union of the only two republics of communist Yugoslavia which are still yoked together. In practice, the province is run by the UN, which has been transferring power to local institutions—in other words, to the territory's ethnic-Albanian majority.
For the Albanians, this month's poll changed little: all ethnic-Albanian parties are solidly in favour of independence, and all those representing Kosovo's minority Serbs are solidly against. In the last provincial legislature, the Kosovo Serbs had 22 out of the 120 seats. Now they will have a maximum of ten seats, a quota to which they are entitled as a minority.
But will they take those seats up? Mr Kostunica feels the Serbs should not lend legitimacy to the province's "multinational" governance, because that was torn to shreds by last March's anti-minority violence which chased 4,000 Serbs and Roma from their homes. To participate in Kosovo's institutions would give undeserved credibility to the local Albanian leadership and their claim to be running a multi-ethnic show; that is the argument which Serb nationalists have used.
Whether they stayed away of their own free will or were intimidated, all but 1% of Kosovo's Serbs also eschewed the ballot. For Mr Kostunica, this result was a nice riposte to his main rival, Boris Tadic, the moderate, pro-western president of Serbia, who had appealed to the Kosovo Serbs to go to the polls.
The prime minister needed some good news. In local elections held on September 19th, Mr Tadic's Democratic Party showed it was making a comeback from the doldrums it hit last year. Mr Kostunica's party suffered a drubbing, while the extreme nationalist Radicals also proved they are a force to reckon with.
Apart from point-scoring, does Mr Kostunica have a strategy? He probably wants to forestall talks on Kosovo's final status, because, despite this electoral fillip, he really has no credible proposal for the political future of the territory. At the moment he is pushing for a plan which foresees autonomy for Serbian areas within Kosovo, which would, for now at least, remain under international tutelage.
But the plan is unworkable. It foresees Serbs displaced from Kosovo being moved to majority ethnic-Albanian areas where they would live in new settlements, and even new towns. Once these areas have been "Serbianised", then boundaries could be redrawn to link them up to other Serbian areas. Albanians reject this, seeing in it a bid to fix Kosovo's demography before splitting the province.
Meanwhile, the Kosovo Serbs have no legitimate representatives to speak on their behalf; their future is more precarious than ever. With no serious Serbian interlocutors ready to engage in talks, some Albanians may say it is time to dig up their guns; and now they may target not only Serbs, but western troops or international bureaucrats.
Will the Serbs break the logjam by accepting that Kosovo is lost? Dobrica Cosic, a respected ex-president of Yugoslavia, wrote recently that the current generation of Serbs should not pay for the loss of Kosovo by previous ones. The influential Belgrade newspaper, Politika, has said something similar. But such voices are marginal; as a result, ordinary Serbs still find that their future is yoked to a place where most have no wish to go.