After days of uncertainty, the Srpska Lista has opted at the 11th hour to take part in the election campaign.
The southern half of Mitrovica is full of election billboards promising ‘new turns,’ ‘new directions’ and claiming that the country’s current leaders deserve ‘new missions.’ Campaign leaflets are littered around the streets.
But, across the bridge and past the barricade, in the northern part of town, where mostly Serbs live, the only visible campaign paraphernalia are faded and frayed posters from last November’s local elections – the first local races held in the north of Kosovo under the auspices of the Kosovo government.
Although general elections are only days away in Kosovo, and are being held in the north for the first time, the election is apparent nowhere in the northern part of Mitrovica.
Shortly after the elections were announced last month, Kosovo Serbs leaders in the north – who have never recognized the country’s independence – announced that they would participate for the first time.
They also said Serbs throughout Kosovo would compete in the elections on a single unified Srpska List, joining Serbian politicians from both the north and south of Kosovo.
Unlike the northern Serbs, many of the southern Serbs on the list long ago accepted Kosovo as a state and have taken part in government.
The announced participation of the Serbs started enthusiastically enough, with .
They claimed that together the Serbs could win more than the 10 seats reserved for them in the Kosovo parliament, which would make them a real force in the politics of the country.
Since then, that mood of optimism has faded and the northern Serbs have spent most of the 10-day campaign period prevaricating about participating, refusing to campaign because the Central Elections Commission printed ballots with the seal of Kosovo on them.
Their leaders have shuttled back and forth to Belgrade, awaiting word from Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, whose government has been sending mixed messages about the elections, underscoring the role that Belgrade has obtained in Kosovo’s internal politics.
Vucic, who has been coping with catastrophic floods in Serbia while facing and an , has yet to make a strong statement.
‘We need to behave responsibly and in accordance with state interests, and the Serbian government will make a decision of that kind,’ Vucic said after meeting Kosovo Serb leaders Tuesday.
As both the Serbian government and the Kosovo Serbs wait until the 11th hour to decide what to do, the political wrangling is leaving Kosovo Serb voters in the north cold.
‘People are angry at Belgrade,’ Ivan Antic, who works in the administration of the recently formed municipal assembly of Northern Mitrovica, said.
‘They have to clearly say whether we should participate in the elections or not… they are missing an opportunity to do something for the north of Kosovo,’ he added.
‘Once again, everyone is clear that in the north we are again going to be cheated.’
One politician who has no such doubts about participating is Nenad Rasic, Minister for Labor and Welfare in the Kosovo government.
He and his 23-member list from the Progressive Democratic Party have decided not to participate in the Srpska Lista, and campaign through the elections.
‘It is clear from the events of the last months that Belgrade is trying to distance itself from Kosovo,’ Rasic said.
‘However, Kosovo Serbs have not realized that their path should not be dictated by Belgrade, or by Prishtina, either,’ he added. ‘We need to find our own way.’
Meanwhile, Vladeta Kostic, leader of the Srpska List, Wednesday called on Kosovo Serbs to go out and vote, and hopes that Belgrade will encourage the same with a strong statement.
‘Serbs in Kosovo are familiar with Srpska’s policy and program and we are right now working on the Serbs to motivate them to go out and vote,’ Kostic said.
‘More than half of those on the list are from Northern Mitrovica and we wish to emerge with more votes, because we are stronger,’ he added.
On Wednesday, the Srpska Lista finally announced that it would start activities with only three days to go before the pre-election silence begins on Friday at midnight.
Gracanica mayor Branimir Stojanovic said the choice between the ‘unjust’ decisions of the Central Elections Commission and the damage of a boycott had not been easy to make.
But he concluded that a boycott would only worsen matters, as representatives would then be elected to parliament with as few as 1,000 votes each.
‘We cannot allow those who would vote in favour of forming an armed forces for Kosovo to win instead of us,’ he told Beta news agency after the meeting in Belgrade.
Nebojsa Jovic, who led an organized boycott for the November 3 Kosovo elections, is angry at Belgrade for sending mixed signals.
‘The Serbian parliament has asked the people on its territory to vote in elections for a country they don’t recognize, and say they will never recognize,’ he said.
‘Now it is clear to even the most ordinary man that if they go and vote in these elections, they are voting for an independent Kosovo,’ he added.
Momo Trajkovic, head of a Gracanica-based NGO, the Serbian Resistance Movement, is critical of the way that the Srpska Lista and Belgrade have handled the issue.
‘What the Serbs are now trying to do with the Kosovo parliament is just a simulation of patriotism, which could do much more harm than good,’ he said.
‘There is a lack of an authentic Kosovo Serb policy, which certain political actors who want to continue to manipulate the people feel is unnecessary,’ he added.
In running a non-campaign for seats in the parliament of a country that many of them don’t recognize, candidates from the Srpska List have not told voters how they plan to deliver their constituents a better future, but they want their constituents’ support anyway.
‘As you see, this is a campaign that almost was not conducted,’ said Kosovo’s current deputy Prime Minister, Slobodan Petrovic – the man at the top of the Srpska List. ‘But I expect citizens to show their political maturity and responsibility and get out and vote.’
Trajkovic also expects Serbs to vote on Sunday, but is not optimistic that Srpska Lista can bring about the significant change people need because of the differences between them.
‘The List is simply horns in a bag – a group of people who had earlier accused one another but now need each other,’ he said.
‘Petrovic, who was a ‘Serbian traitor’ and Kostic, a ‘great Serb,’ – as he considers himself – now turn to people and say, ‘Here we now are, together, Petrovic is no longer a traitor but a patriot and we are the United Serbian list,’’ he said. ‘It is sad and funny.’