Managed Democracy in Mitrovica: A Final Comment on the Kosovo Elections

With each successive round, Kosovo’s elections seemed to produce a more peaceful and democratic result, albeit one achieved through enhanced security and external management.

The first round, which was held on November 3, was “marred” not only by episodic violence in the Serb-majority north, but also by a sustained campaign of voter intimidation by far-right groups, all under the watchful eye of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE): Video cameras were left outside polling stations to capture images of Serbs who participated; voters were shouted at and threatened by groups of extremists who were permitted to congregate outside the entrance to polling stations; and when violence did erupt at around 5 pm, the OSCE simply left ballots and lists of voters behind — well aware of the security threat posed to local Serb voters whose identities may have been revealed to hooligan groups still roaming the streets.

News of OSCE’s abandonment of private voter information was immediately leaked to the press and the public, contributing to an atmosphere of generalized fear and intimidation in the north that would last for the duration of the elections.

The low-level violence perpetrated by far-right Serb groups received plenty of attention in the international media, allowing the election results elsewhere in Kosovo to escape scrutiny. Data available on Kosovo’s own electoral commission’s website contained so many irregularities it was impossible to comprehend. We published a brief introduction to some of the more obvious irregularities, which OSCE officials and other foreign observers dismissed as website “glitches”. If this is in fact the case, it would go a long way towards instilling more confidence in the vote if someone with an elementary knowledge of basic math were employed as the CEC’s website editor.

However, if the widespread irregularities published on the CEC’s own website were not mere “glitches”, but actually reflected election fraud in the first round, then it seems the screws may have been tightened (along with security) in the runoffs.

The second attempt saw an enhanced security presence in Serb-majority areas, and went smoothly. This wasn’t without its price: Workers were directed by their employers where and when they should bring their families to vote. So-called “Family Voting” has been identified as an impediment to electoral freedom in Southeastern Europe by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Council of Europe, and UN Women, but was permitted by the EU in this election, ostensibly as a means of achieving the greater good of “normalization”. (A word on terminology: It’s too bad no one in Brussels bothered to review the historical usage of the word “normalization” in Eastern Europe. Normalizace was the name of the policy Brezhnev imposed on Czechoslovakia following the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. Couldn’t someone have found a word to describe whatever they’re facilitating between Belgrade and Prishtina that wasn’t so bureaucratic and soul-crushingly dull that Brezhnev thought of it first?)

The third and final round of voting finished on Sunday. From all appearances, it seems to have been the freest and fairest yet: No violence, and several major upsets in which the incumbents were unseated by the opposition. Elections observers tweeted numerous photographs of ballot boxes to ensure everyone that they were watching their contents carefully. Instead of immediately declaring victory, the parties in power were quick to concede defeat where it was warranted. With enhanced security and “supervision”, the December round of elections looked very different from the first. Of course, those in the north who say they were forced to vote under threat of losing their jobs may have felt differently about the entire electoral process. But sometimes a little democracy must be destroyed in order to save it.


Photo credit: Pascal Heyman via Twitter.

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