In Kosovo, Serbs vote in pivotal presidential election
The breakaway province is expected to declare independence from Serbia imminently.
Mitrovica, Kosovo — Kosovo's Serbs turned out to vote in Sunday's crucial presidential election in the shadow of a widely expected declaration of independence from the Albanian leaders of the breakaway province.
At polling station No. 5, in the isolated village of Brestovik, in western Kosovo, there were no political posters or activists canvassing last-minute support. The villagers cast their ballots in a neighbor's house in the knowledge that they could be living in an independent Kosovo within days.
They shared jokes and refreshments in a dusty farmyard, entering the simple red brick building one by one to fill out their ballot papers. Regardless of when Kosovo's independence comes, it won't be the last time the 114 registered voters in Brestovik are able to take part in Serbian elections. Belgrade says it has no plans to relax its ties with Serbs living in an independent Kosovo – they are an integral part of its claim to the province. Serbs regard Kosovo as the historical and cultural birthplace of their nation and are implacably opposed to Pristina's bid for independence.
In a cafe in the Serbian area of the divided town of Mitrovica, Ljubisa Petrovic was clear about which way his vote was going. "[Tomislav] Nikolic is the best choice for us. He has national pride," he says. "Serbs need change. Kosovo is the heart and soul of our state. I'm so angry with the EU. They asked us to build a democracy – now everything in Serbia is democratic. And what is the result? Instead of supporting us, they are taking Serbia's soul."
Integration between the Serbian and Albanian communities is widely perceived to be the UN mission's biggest failure in Kosovo. Serbs use different currency, different telephone networks, and speak a different language from their Albanian neighbors.
In the first round of the election, more than 60 percent of Kosovo's 100,000 Serbs voted for hard-line nationalist candidate Mr. Nikolic, a former ally of the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Analysts are predicting his proportion of the vote will be even higher this time around.
"Nikolic has politics that could save Kosovo and keep it within Serbian borders," says Marko Jaksic, a Serbian community leader in Mitrovica.
The reality is that neither candidate can do much to prevent the forthcoming declaration of independence. But Nikolic's nationalist take on Serbia's difficult past has struck a chord with the province's Serbian community as they face an uncertain future.