Referendum to Remove Albanian Mayors in Northern Kosovo Fails Amid Serb Boycott

Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo fail to remove ethnic Albanian mayors in referendum, highlighting ongoing ethnic tensions and political instability, with implications for Kosovo's EU integration.

Waqas Arain
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Referendum to Remove Albanian Mayors in Northern Kosovo Fails Amid Serb Boycott

Referendum to Remove Albanian Mayors in Northern Kosovo Fails Amid Serb Boycott

A referendum in four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo to remove their ethnic Albanian mayors from office has failed due to insufficient voter participation. The vote, which required a turnout of 50% plus one voter, saw only 253 out of 45,000 eligible voters cast ballots, according to Kosovo's Central Election Commission.

The referendum was meant to pave the way for the election of Serb mayors after the appointment of ethnic Albanians to the posts last year sparked violence in the Belgrade-backed region. Ethnic Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted the mayoral elections in 2023, leading to the victory of Albanian candidates.

The failure of the referendum maintains the political tensions in the Serb-majority municipalities. The boycott by the Serbian List party and other Serbian political actors implies a continuation of the status quo, with Serbs in the north remaining an instrument for political bargaining by Belgrade.

Tensions have been simmering for months in Kosovo's troubled north following the April 2023 local elections. Serb protesters clashed with Kosovo police and NATO troops as the Albanian mayors tried to take office in municipal buildings.

The international community, including the EU, U.S., France, and Italy, has expressed regret over the decision by Serb parties not to participate in the referendum. France called for immediate local elections in the four northern municipalities to restore representative democracy. Germany's Ambassador to Kosovo, Jorn Rohde, stated that Kosovo must take "tangible steps" toward forming an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities if it wants to join the Council of Europe (CoE).

Why this matters: The failed referendum highlights the ongoing ethnic divisions and political instability in Kosovo, particularly in the Serb-majority north. The situation has implications for Kosovo's European integration aspirations and its relations with Serbia, which still does not recognize Kosovo's independence.

The EU is discussing the possibility of lifting restrictive measures against Kosovo in light of the referendum, with a majority of member states in favor of lifting the measures. However, some countries advocate for a gradual approach. The EU High Representative has been tasked with preparing a report on Kosovo's progress in implementing EU requirements before a decision is made on the measures.

Key Takeaways

  • Referendum to remove Albanian mayors in Serb-majority Kosovo municipalities failed due to low turnout.
  • Ethnic Serbs boycotted 2023 mayoral elections, leading to Albanian victories and political tensions.
  • International community calls for local elections to restore representative democracy in northern Kosovo.
  • Kosovo's European integration and relations with Serbia affected by ongoing ethnic divisions and instability.
  • EU considering lifting restrictive measures on Kosovo, with some advocating for a gradual approach.