Kosovo: Štrpce, a Model Serb Enclave?
15 Oct 2009
Local elections on 15 November provide a key opportunity for Kosovo Serbs to choose their own representatives and push forward on decentralisation, if they do not heed Belgrade’s calls to boycott.
Kosovo: Štrpce, a Model Serb Enclave? ,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, focuses on the Štrpce municipality, one of southern Kosovo’s largest Serb enclaves, to demonstrate how Serb communities can protect their interests within Kosovo’s constitutional order. In Štrpce good interethnic relations have survived the war, and the Brezovica ski resort and vacation areas offer real economic potential.
But like elsewhere in the country, local Serbs’ mistrust of the government has grown since Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Belgrade has fuelled the resentment by establishing a parallel municipal regime since May 2008. The Kosovo government on its side has so far refused to grant Štrpce the enhanced municipal competencies envisaged for Serb-majority areas by the Ahtissari plan. Štrpce now risks falling victim to the status dispute between Belgrade and Pristina, if local elections on 15 November do not give it a legitimate government.
“Štrpce offers Kosovo’s best hope of establishing a prosperous Serb-majority municipality”, says Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Balkans Project Director. “Belgrade, Pristina and the international community should encourage voting and thereafter equip the municipal government with the expanded powers and resources it needs.”
Štrpce’s economic prospects and good Serb-Albanian relations are endangered by the situation prevailing since 2008. The municipality has been governed by two competing Serb-led authorities: an official government appointed in the face of local opposition and a parallel regime elected in defiance of Kosovo law and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. Even though local Serbs are instructed by Belgrade to cooperate with the parallel municipal government, it provides few benefits and is increasingly irrelevant to their daily lives. Serbia lacks the ability to provide meaningful government services in southern enclaves such as Štrpce.
Serbia’s government should stop supporting the parallel institutions, and encourage local Serbs to vote on 15 November. International actors and Pristina should explain the concrete advantages of voting, reassuring Serbs that their ties to Belgrade will not be imperilled. However, if Serbs boycott the vote, after consultation with Serb community leaders, executive appointments will be needed to establish a credible Serb-led government. The new municipal government will face important challenges such as privatising the lucrative Brezovica ski resort, the cornerstone for regional economic development, and regulating extensive illegal construction on prime national park land. It will be able to make the parallel government irrelevant only if it is able to solve these problems.
“Overcoming Serb distrust can only be done on the basis of tangible benefits in everyday life: responsible locally-led government, municipal services and economic growth”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “It is hard to see how Serb integration can work anywhere, if it cannot work there.”