”We’ve never felt free of Serbia”

by Cristian Florescu

In light of recent violence in northern Kosovo, it has been suggested by one of the mayors whose election caused concern among Serbians that criminal groups may be responsible for the current upheaval.

In a small whitewashed room in northern Kosovo, village mayor Izmir Zeqiri sits behind a bare black desk. He expresses his surprise at the attention he has been receiving, stating that he did not intend to become a celebrity. His mobile phone rings repeatedly, and he explains that he had not anticipated winning the election as they had expected more people to run.

I would like to clarify that my statement is not intended to be falsely modest. It is important to note that Mr Zeqiri is one of only a few hundred ethnic Albanians residing in the predominantly Serb municipality of Zubin Potok. His decision to run for office in the recent elections was primarily a symbolic gesture. However, due to the boycott by the Belgrade-backed party Serb List, which has significant control over public life in the northern Serb-majority municipalities, Mr Zeqiri unexpectedly found himself at the centre of controversy.

With a turnout of only 6%, he managed to win 197 votes, which was 17 more than his sole opponent. As a result, he was sworn into office last week. It is worth noting that even lower turnouts were observed in the three other northern municipalities where Albanian mayors also took the oath.

The Serbs who were boycotting appeared to be upset about the possibility of being governed by ethnic Albanians. They protested on the streets when prime minister Albin Kurti instructed the new mayors to assume their roles. The situation was tense, and officials had to be accompanied by police special units to their offices.

On Monday, Nato peacekeepers sent troops to the town halls due to concerns that clashes could escalate. However, they were met by demonstrators, some of whom were masked and armed with guns and explosives. Additionally, vehicles were marked with the Z symbol that has become associated with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately, as a result of the confrontation, thirty Nato troops sustained injuries.

The US was deeply concerned about the violence in Kosovo, which is an important international ally. In a diplomatic manner, Washington expressed its disapproval of Kurti’s decision to order mayors into their offices and urged for a reduction in tensions. To reinforce this message, US Ambassador Jeff Hovenier stated that Kosovo would not be participating in a planned joint military training exercise and that there had been some negative impact on bilateral relations.

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