Pristina, Belgrade agreement could boost vote

16/10/2013

Agreement is expected to help draw more Kosovo Serbs to the polls on November 3rd.

By Linda Karadaku and Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Pristina and Belgrade -- 16/10/13

photo

Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic (left) and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci signed an agreement allowing Serbia officials to campaign on Kosovo territory ahead of the November elections. [AFP]

An EU-mediated agreement allowing Serbia officials to campaign on Kosovo territory will encourage Kosovo Serbs to vote in the November 3rd elections, experts said.

Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said he will visit Kosovo to urge the Serbs to vote. "This helping our people, to have our bodies in Kosovo," Dacic told the Serbian media.

The agreement is a reversal from an earlier stance by Kosovo officials who said they would not allow officials from Serbia to visit and campaign.

Dacic threatened to suspend negotiations with Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in Brussels. He said Belgrade was being asked to support a mass Serb turnout in the Kosovo elections, while Belgrade officials could not enter Kosovo.

"If I, as a signatory of the Brussels agreement, and the government representatives who supported it and worked on its implementation, cannot go to Kosovo and call on the Serbs to vote in the local elections, then the question arises as to the usefulness of my further participation in the dialogue," said Dacic, who was supposed to visit Kosovo on October 4th, but was prevented in doing so by Pristina officials.

The EU intervened and called a new meeting of the two prime ministers, which ended with the October 7th deal. However, in Pristina, authorities said visiting officials from Belgrade would need permission for the visits on a case-by-case evaluation.

"This agreement confirms the mechanism established by the Kosovo government conditioning visits from Serbian officials by obtaining permits from the Kosovo justice minister," Kosovo Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi told SETimes.

"No political party campaigning will be permitted on the territory of Kosovo by any Serbian government official, though we welcome calls for greater participation in the elections," Selimi added.

Analysts and political commentators in Kosovo agreed on the impact of the agreement on the Kosovo Serbs.

"Dacic will use this visit to encourage Serbs to participate in elections, and mostly it will affect his party's voters," Seb Bytyci, executive director of the Balkan Policy Institute in Pristina, told SETimes.

Belul Beqaj, a political commentator and Pristina University professor, said, however, that the agreement was signed with Serbia, not with the Kosovo Serbs.

"Dacic wants to support an electoral list, which means that he has certain aims for the post-election phase. It means that he wants Kosovo Serbs to be instruments of the Serbian state and not to solve their problems," Beqaj told SETimes.

Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences professor Predrag Simic said the latest agreement had yet another aspect -- salvaging the reputation of the EU, which mediates the talks.

"A crisis in holding the elections and implementing the Brussels agreement has been prevented, because that would also jeopardise the European Union," Simic told SETimes.

But not everyone was happy with the agreement.

The Vetevendosje Movement, which stands in opposition to Thaci's government, said that with the agreement, the prime minister had allowed Serbia to participate in the local elections in Kosovo.

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"The political and legal responsibility falls on Hashim Thaci and his government, but also on all those members of the political parties in the assembly which decided to violate any law, documents, including the Constitution of the Republic, in order to open the doors and get Serbia in, making it a stakeholder in Kosovo," Vetevendosje said.

In Belgrade, Slobodan Samardzic, vice president of the Democratic Party of Serbia, which is against Serbs voting in the elections, said that the agreement is "a new manipulation of the public" aimed at increasing the Serb turnout in the Kosovo elections.

"It also affirms the sovereignty of Kosovo, because Belgrade officials need permission from Pristina to enter Kosovo," Samardzic told SETimes.

How will an increase in the number of Kosovo Serbs voting on November 3rd benefit both countries? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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