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Southern Serbia: In Kosovo’s Shadow

Southern Serbia’s Albanian-majority Presevo Valley is a still incomplete Balkan success story. Since international and Serbian government diplomacy resolved an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001, donors and Belgrade have invested significant resources to undo a legacy of human rights violations and improve the economy.

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I. Overview

Southern Serbia’s Albanian-majority Presevo Valley is a still incomplete Balkan success story. Since international and Serbian government diplomacy resolved an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001, donors and Belgrade have invested significant resources to undo a legacy of human rights violations and improve the economy. Tensions are much decreased, major human rights violations have ended, the army and police are more sensitive to Albanian concerns and there is progress, though hesitant, in other areas, such as a multi-ethnic police force, gradual integration of the judiciary, and Albanian language textbooks. Ethnic Albanians appear increasingly intent on developing their own political identity inside Serbia and finding a way to cohabit with Serbs, something that should be encouraged and supported. Nevertheless, the Kosovo status process threatens to disrupt the Presevo Valley’s calm.

The negotiations in Vienna have prompted ethnic Albanian politicians in the Presevo Valley to call for the same autonomy, decentralisation and minority rights for Albanians in Serbia as Belgrade seeks for Serbs in Kosovo. They complain that at the same time as the Serbian government is demanding more decentralisation inside Kosovo, it is moving toward greater centralisation at home. They are encouraged in this by some Pristina politicians, who seek to build defences against Belgrade’s efforts to partition Kosovo. But such linkage, which the international community and Serbian authorities want to avoid, could open a Pandora’s Box with wider regional consequences.

As ethnic tensions have decreased, both Serbs and Albanians point to the disastrous economy as their primary concern. There is 70 per cent unemployment in the Presevo Valley and no real perspectives for the rapidly growing population. Without new investment and revitalisation of existing enterprises, the region will remain fragile, regardless of Kosovo’s ultimate disposition. Current well-intentioned development policies are insufficient, and EU visa policies block the release of pent-up demographic pressures. In the medium to long term, the economic situation is likely to be resolved only through large-scale out-migration from the three main municipalities in southern Serbia, hopefully in the context of the overall development of Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia, as well as a liberalised travel and work regime with the EU.

For now, however, a number of steps would help to consolidate the recent stabilisation:

  • The international community, and Kosovo politicians should continue to make it clear that Kosovo will not be partitioned, and the Presevo Valley will remain within Serbia, and the Serbian government needs to abandon any thought of partitioning Kosovo.
     
  • The Serbian government institution charged with overseeing southern Serbia, the Coordination Body for Southern Serbia, has ceased to function, leaving no framework for resolving the region’s many pressing problems precisely when tensions can be expected to rise due to the Kosovo status process. It should be revitalised as a priority, with Albanians renewing their participation, Belgrade giving it real authority and resources, and the international community pro-actively assisting.
     
  • The balance of policing responsibilities should be shifted to the multi-ethnic force from the paramilitary, nationalist Gendarmerie, which is still in charge of much local security and continues to engage in ethnic provocations.

 

Belgrade/Pristina/Brussels, 27 June 2006

Serbia's Changing Political Landscape

On 11 July 2004, Boris Tadic was inaugurated as Serbia's first president since December 2002. Voters chose Tadic in the second round of the election, on 27 June, by a vote of 53 per cent over the ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Tadic's victory suggests that a slim majority of the electorate wants to see Serbia on a pro-European reform course.

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I. Overview

On 11 July 2004, Boris Tadic was inaugurated as Serbia's first president since December 2002. Voters chose Tadic in the second round of the election, on 27 June, by a vote of 53 per cent over the ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS).[fn]In the first round, 47.7 per cent of the electorate voted and 48.7 per cent in the second round. Three previous elections (29 September and 13 October 2002, 8 December 2002, and 16 November 2003) were annulled due to insufficient voter turnout. Subsequent changes in the election law removed the requirement for a 50 per cent voter turnout and made it possible for this election to succeed.Hide Footnote  Tadic's victory suggests that a slim majority of the electorate wants to see Serbia on a pro-European reform course. However, the Radicals' strong showing demonstrates that Serbia's electorate is deeply divided, and a pro-reform course should not be taken for granted, particularly if economic difficulties continue. Most importantly, the top three vote-getters in the first round of the presidential election came from parties that were not part of the government and did not support it in parliament.

Since the election, Tadic has indicated that he will support the government of Premier Vojislav Kostunica, thereby reducing the influence of the Socialist Party (SPS). However, the office of president holds little authority over day-to-day policy-making, and Tadic's election may not necessarily translate into real change for Serbian politics. The election leaves Serbia's minority government highly vulnerable to pressure from the nationalist right as well as the pro-European centre. Upcoming country-wide municipal elections and provincial elections in Vojvodina -- both scheduled for September -- will be seen by the government as a crucial test for possible early parliamentary elections.

Despite Tadic's election, the Serbian government appears reluctant to restart cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia [ICTY]). Rhetoric and ever-increasing international pressure aside, it is uncertain if anyone sought by the ICTY will be arrested or transferred prior to the September elections. Reform legislation has stalled, and relations with minorities in the ethnically mixed Vojvodina province have worsened noticeably and could be subject to further deterioration.

In this presidential election, Serbia's electorate demonstrated increased sophistication and signalled that it is no longer obsessed with the politics of nationalism. The economy dominated the election debate -- neither Kosovo nor the ICTY played a significant part in the campaign rhetoric. Both the first and second rounds of the election signalled broad disenchantment with the transition process and with politics as usual. But the emergence of a new face from the oligarchy -- one-time Milosevic crony Bogoljub Karic -- as an increasingly powerful political force sends a powerful message to Belgrade's self-absorbed political elites of possible populist trends in the future.

Belgrade/Brussels, 22 July 2004