How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 120 / Europe & Central Asia

Kosovo: Landmark Election

On 17 November 2001, people from Kosovo turned a page in their history by voting in multiparty elections for new self-government institutions. The conduct of the election was generally judged to have been a clear improvement on the municipal elections of October 2000.

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Executive Summary

On 17 November 2001, people from Kosovo turned a page in their history by voting in multiparty elections for new self-government institutions. The conduct of the election was generally judged to have been a clear improvement on the municipal elections of October 2000.  Levels of violence were much lower, even though more voters took part.

Like last year, Albanians voted mainly for three parties. Unlike last year, Serbs took part in the election. If they had voted massively, they could have won more than 25 seats in the 120-seat Assembly.  Instead, the confusing messages sent by their leaders – some of them campaigning against participation – depressed the Serb vote. 

The establishment of new self-government institutions in Kosovo following the election for a new Assembly on 17 November 2001 will represent a significant landmark in the post-conflict development of the province. The powers of the new institutions will be limited, and, despite the devolution of responsibility for the day-to-day running of affairs in many areas of government, the ultimate powers of the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) are undiminished. 

Nevertheless, the political significance of an elected Assembly lies in its legitimacy for the majority Albanian population, whatever the formal limitations on its authority.  The establishment of an elected Assembly and a Kosovo government will irrevocably transform the political landscape of the province and the relationship between the UN administration and local political leaders.

Crucially, the SRSG is empowered to strike down any attempt to step outside the institutions' competencies, as laid down in the Constitutional Framework document that defines the powers of the new bodies.  In particular, the institutions have no authority to make any moves towards deciding the issue of Kosovo's final status.  This is in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which established Kosovo's present interim system. 

Thus any attempt by Kosovo Albanian parties to use the Assembly to move towards their goal of independence would appear futile.  Yet, whatever its limitations, the Assembly will provide a new and significant forum from which local leaders, with the legitimacy of a democratic mandate, will be able to challenge UNMIK in ways which are as yet unclear.

In the run-up to the election, a key issue was whether or not Serbs would participate.  The SRSG engaged in a round of frenetic negotiations with Belgrade leaders that eventually bore fruit just a fortnight before the vote.  While an agreement was reached which enabled Belgrade to claim that they had won concessions, but without UNMIK compromising the principles contained in UNSCR 1244 or the Constitutional Framework, Albanian leaders were incensed by the agreement and by the key involvement of Belgrade in the process. 

In the event, Serbs in some parts of Kosovo stayed away in large numbers.  The intimidation of would-be Serb voters that marred the election in the Serb-controlled region north of the Ibar river underlined the need for UNMIK, with the support of KFOR, to deal with the organised thuggery that, supported by Belgrade, keeps the UN administration from extending its writ to that area.

Western officials have urged Kosovo’s political leaders to put aside for now the issue of independence and concentrate on making the new institutions work, and thus prove themselves capable of governing the province.  Indeed, taking on the responsibilities of government will be a challenge for Kosovo leaders whose experience has lain in opposing the established authorities rather than constituting them. 

But it is unrealistic to expect Kosovo Albanian leaders or voters to shelve the one overriding issue that really matters to them.  If the Assembly attempts to expand its role beyond that which is envisaged in the Constitutional Framework, or adopts a confrontational approach, the SRSG can be expected to keep it on a short leash.  In any event, the newly elected officials will be unlikely to accept for long the straightjacket imposed by the unelected international administration. Albanian anger over UNMIK’s agreement with Belgrade to obtain support for Serb participation, added to impatience with the slow progress towards independence, may be a precursor to more strained relations between UNMIK and the Albanian parties after the election.

Pristina/Brussels, 21 November 2001

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

In this conversation, we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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