At an emergency meeting of the Kosovska Mitrovica municipality, counsellors voted with a majority to hold a referendum on February 14 and 15 for Serbian citizens living on the municipal territory including local communities of Ibar, Partizansko Brdo, and Suvi Do. This referendum represents a first-class legal as well as a political problem. In legal terms, it is unlawful because the Constitution of Serbia does not allow local self-governments the right to call referenda on issues relating to the organization of the state, border changes and other high level state issues. At the same time, another illegal decision is being made with regards to the referendum. Krstimir Pantic, the mayor of Kosovska Mitrovica, said the referendum will not be funded through the Republic of Serbia budget, but all costs will be covered through donations from private companies (companies which, over the last decade, won dozens of the Republic of Serbia tenders), that will pay for the voting material and accommodation costs of those observing the referendum. This practically means that he is organizing a private referendum, which is a criminal offence – an abuse of office by the mayor. In normal countries, individuals are sent to jail for breaking the law.

Furthermore, a referendum can not violate the Constitution, generally accepted rules of international law and ratified international treaties, nor can it reduce the level of human and minority rights or undermine the principles of civil democracy and the rule of law. This referendum violates several international agreements and commitments made by Serbia. An example of such is the Kumanovo Agreement from which emerged the UN Resolution 1244. Over the last ten years Serbs from Northern Kosovo have insisted on the implementation of this Resolution, because they see it as a way of maintaining the status quo. Paradoxically, the proposed referendum violates both the Constitution of Serbia (a state which funds the majority of life in the north) and the UN Resolution 1244, on the basis of which Serbs living in Northern Kosovo enjoy their special rights (such as the absence of customs and the police).

Local governments have the right to hold a referendum on issues such as utilities, urban planning and other matters relating to improving the quality of life in the municipality. In Serbia, local governments rarely use this mechanism, because the party-governed state makes those decisions on behalf of the citizens. The voting of Kovacica residents on whether to build a hazardous waste treatment plant is an example of a legal (albeit unsuccessful) referendum. Unlike the citizens of Kovacica, citizens of Northern Kosovo and their deputies would like to vote on an issue for which they are not responsible, that is, over which they have no jurisdiction, and this is where this becomes a political issue. The referendum in Northern Kosovo is planned for February, the month in which the EU will again consider Serbia’s application for EU membership. The referendum is a continuation of detrimental politics to prevent EU accession which began in July 2011 with the setting up of roadblocks in Northern Kosovo. Indeed, in this way Serbs from Kosovo and their political mentors in Belgrade managed to prevent the adoption of a positive EU candidacy decision on December 9.

The referendum represents a continuation of anti-EU politics and has for a  goal to again prevent Serbia from obtaining the EU candidate status in March 2012 – that is, to create new tensions with Kosovo Albanians and the EU.

It turns out that Angela Merkel’s request for the dissolution of parallel institutions in Northern Kosovo was of the most direct interest to Serbia, since Serbia financially supports the municipalities in the North of Kosovo that have declared independence from both Serbia and Kosovo. The referendum that will be held in Northern Kosovo is primarily in the interest of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DPS), Serbian Radical Party (SRP) and the Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) because it supports the notion that there is a permanent incompatibility between Serbia and the EU. SPP will indirectly benefit from this politically, as unrest in Kosovo weakens Boris Tadic and the Democratic Party (DP). In addition, SPP has its own particular interests among Northern Kosovo Serbs, particularly Serbs such as Zvonko Veselinovic, who SPP has repeatedly defended following his arrest. Such a position of the largest opposition party on the subject of Northern Kosovo demonstrates its actual orientation against the EU and for Putin, but because it needs the popular vote (it has correctly judged that the EU integration is a priority for the majority of Serbian citizens) SPP is continuing with the policy of silence on Northern Kosovo, while providing tacit support to individuals such as Veselinovic and the leaders of the Kosovo Serbs.

A decade ago Serbs living in Northern Kosovo have been abducted and later corrupted by local criminals and one political party from Belgrade. This political party has, between 2004 and 2008, appointed mayors, who are now destroying hopes for Serbia’s EU candidacy in March. But not everything is in the hands of Zvonko Veselinovic and Vojislav Kostunica. The executive power is in the hands of Boris Tadic and the Serbian Government. More specifically, the Government can, through an administrative measure, stop the referendum by disbanding the municipal parliaments in Northern Kosovo and introducing provisional measures. And this would not be a precedent.  In June 2010, through an administrative decision, the Serbian government dissolved assemblies of seven Northern Kosovo municipalities not inhabited by Serbs: Podujevo, Djakovica, Suva Reka, Decani, Prizren, Klina and Ferizaj and appointed coordinators instead of mayors and deputy mayors. A similar decision should be made today. If the citizens of Northern Kosovo are allowed a referendum, then it means that they have the support of Belgrade (regardless of the declarative distancing from referendum). Namely, Serbia would ultimately end up financing the illegal referendum from its budget, while at the same time potentially recognizing the potential benefit of such a referendum in future negotiations on the special status of Northern Kosovo.

However, such a calculation would be detrimental to Serbia, because Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium will not assent to this. And in the mean time the candidacy will need to wait, at least until December 2012.

Pešč, 02.01.2012.