Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kosovo votes in first election since Independence ( updated with results)

Today Kosovo is holding its first local election since it declared Independence. "Democracy in Action, an association of civic organization monitoring the election, reports the process is going smoothly so far. Gazeta Express is reporting that it has seen a considerable participation from Serbs in the voting station it visited, including the one in Gracanica. If this is true, it will be e severe blow to Serbia who has advised and threaten Kosovo Serbs not to participate in these elections. Kosovo Serbs have boycotted all previous election in Kosovo, but this time they are very divided with a significant number of their leaders encouraging participation.

Another thing I am looking to see is how these election in Kosovo compare, in terms of organization, to the ones held in Albania earlier in the year. Election in Albanian were deemed to be free and fair by the monitoring organizations, but there significant delays and problems in counting the votes.

11am update:

Various parties are reporting that 30% of the electorate has voted by 2pm local time. Central Election Commission says 15 % by 11:30 am.

Serb majority municipalities until 11:30 am: Klotok 6.1%, Ranilug 3%, Gracanica 8.5%, Sterpce 10.5%. Albanian areas average 16%.

Serbs in the North of Kosovo, 35% of overall Serb population in Kosovo, appear to have boycotted the election. Less than 3% by 11:30am.

 11:30am update:

CEC reports the results up to 15:30: says 33% have voted so far.Serb majority areas: Klotok 14%,Ranilug 9.2%, Gracanica 14.3%,Sterpce 23.5%. Serbs municipalities in the north voted less than 3%.  This is a major split between the minority of Serbs who live in the north of  Kosovo and the rest of them who are scattered throughout the country.

Kosovo Serbs voting -sample of comments in Serbian

3pm update:
 Central Election Commission held another  conference saying the voting process has ended without any significant incidents.  It reports the total number of votes at  709,632  or 45% of eligible electorate.. this is bit more than it was expected and several % higher than in previous election.

Turnout in municipalities with majority Serb population: Klotok 25.5%,Ranilug 14%, Gracanica 24%,Sterpce 31%, Novoberd 26% and Zubin Potok 7% . This is way more than in the previous election when only 3% of Serbs voted.

Final Update:11/19: Election Results per Election Commission ( taken from front page of daily Gazeta Express)

Biggest surprise was the almost 100% increase of votes for AAK, the party of former KLA commander Ramush Haradinaj.  This is the only opposition part that has been acting like the proper opposition by criticizing the government. The other opposition parties, AKR and LDD, lost a large chunk of votes especially LDD ( a splinter group from LKD) which lost almost half of it's electorate. Looks like all the losses from AKR and LDD went to AAK. Perhaps voters wanted to vote for an opposition party that stood up to the government.

Break down my municipality:

Results from the Second Round of Mayoral Election  (12-13-09- Fina Update):

Gjilan - PDK 51.4%, LDK 48.6%

Dragash – PDK 53.3%, LDK 46.7%

Istog – LDK 70.8%, AAK 29.2%

Kaçanik – PDK 57.9%, AAK 42.1%

Klinë – PDK 56.3%, AAK 43.7%

Kamenicë – PDK 45.9%, LDK 54.1%

Mitrovicë – PDK 53.0%, AKR 47%

Lipjan – PDK 50.5%, LDK 49.5%

Obiliq – PDK 48.1%, LDK 51.9%

Rahovec – PDK 50.8%, LDK 49.2%

PejëAAK 76.7%, LDD 23.3%

Prizren – PDK 50.00% or 24,982 votes, LDK 50% or 24,940. ( difference of 42 votes, winner undetermined)

Viti – LDD 44.8%, PDK 55.2%

Suharekë – PDK 47.6%, AAK 52.4%

Vushtrri – AAK 36.5%, PDK 63.5%

Malishevë PDK 61.8%, LDK 38.2%

Junik AAK 56.7%, LDK 43.3%

Hani i Elezit Independent Candidate Refki Suma 53.3%, PDK 46.7%

Shtërpcë – SLS ( Serb) 65% ( , 35%

Podujevë – LDK 66.5%, PDK 33.5%

Novobërdë – LDK 80.9%, SNSD 18.1% 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kosovo election divides Serbs

By Mark Lowen
BBC News, Kosovo

View of Strpce
A spirit of co-operation is taking hold in Strpce

Deep in the south of Kosovo, near the Macedonian border, the town of Strpce is an isolated little place.

Surrounded by the snowy peaks of Kosovo's neglected ski resort, communication here is poor. The town's one factory stands empty.

Serbs make up 70% of Strpce's population. And, like most of the 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo, they have largely boycotted all previous elections that were not organised by Belgrade. In their eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia last year was illegal, favoured only by the territory's Albanian majority.

But this time a handful of posters line the centre of town, advertising candidates for Sunday's local election.

It is the first poll in Kosovo since independence and the authorities are hoping for a moderate Serb turnout. Many in Strpce feel cut off from Belgrade. So Serbs here are increasingly working with local institutions, obliged to stomach reality.

Serbs moving on

Armed with a pile of fliers, Serb mayoral hopeful Bratislav Nikolic works his way down the main street. Ten years after Kosovo's brutal war between Serbs and Albanians, he tells me it is time to move on.

Serb mayoral candidate Bratislav Nikolic
Anti-independence feelings do not stop Mr Nikolic running for office

"We have to live and work together. We have to play soccer together," he says. "We can't escape co-operating with Albanians."

He denies that running in the election means he is accepting Kosovo's independence.

"On a local level, we can't recognise a country," he says. "We're fighting for our lives here."

There is little expectation that Serbs will openly recognise Kosovo anytime soon. But if they are beginning to engage with Kosovan government structures on the ground, that is still a significant change.

Among Strpce's Serb population, opinions are divided over whether to take part in the poll.

"I don't want to give legitimacy to what the Albanian government is doing around here", says Ivan. "That's why I'm not going to vote in unfair elections."

Kosovo map

But Dmitry, a local translator, tells me he supports the elections. "They have to be held. We are the minority in Kosovo, but we can take responsibility for what happens in this municipality if we go out and vote."

In the centre of town, Albanian construction workers are re-roofing a Serb-owned house - the two communities slowly building a new future. Surrounded by his tools, Afrim says life here is returning to normal. "I hope the Serbs do vote," he says, "so we can live together like we used to".

Flashpoint town

But about 100km (60 miles) north, it is a very different story. The town of Mitrovica, near the Serbian border, has frequently been the flashpoint for clashes between Serbs and Albanians in the past. It remains cut in two by the Ibar river.

Serb graffiti in northern Mitrovica
In Mitrovica Serbs have scrawled reminders of their loyalty to Belgrade

In the Albanian-dominated south, election posters hang from the lampposts. But cross the bridge to the Serb north, and they are replaced by Serbian flags. No election is being held here - almost two years after Kosovan independence, Pristina still wields no authority.

Mitrovica's concrete walls are plastered with slogans like "EU go home", "Welcome Russian army". And the Serb national sign - a cross adorned with the Cyrillic letter "S" - is scrawled in graffiti on street corners. It stands for "Samo sloga Srbina spasava": "Only unity saves the Serbs".

Partitioning Kosovo along the Ibar river dividing line has long been discussed. But were it to be implemented, it could destabilise the wider region if other ethnically-split areas demanded the same.

In reality, though, de facto partition already exists and as Serbs elsewhere show signs of co-operating with local institutions, the division between north and south is growing ever wider.

"These are illegitimate elections organised by a quasi-state," says Milan Ivanovic, President of the Serbian National Council for Northern Kosovo. "Some of the Serbs running for office have a criminal past. And those who are going to vote are betraying our national interest."

I put it to him that it is simple for him to maintain that stance: close to the Serbian border, the north has always received the bulk of attention - and money - from Belgrade. But down in enclaves like Strpce, Serbs resent the approach of the hardline north - they do not have the luxury of resisting Kosovan independence so easily.

Mr Ivanovic disagrees. "We have to support our own institutions. Anyway, the Serbs calling for people to take part in the election have very little support."

Afrim, an ethnic Albanian builder in Strpce
Afrim, an ethnic Albanian, wants Serbs to help build a new Kosovo

Test of statehood

It is still unclear just how many Serbs will go out to vote - many feel pressurised by Belgrade to boycott the poll and fear for their government-sponsored jobs if they choose to take part.

The Serbian government maintains the line that conditions are not right for Kosovan Serbs to participate.

The first election entirely organised by the Kosovan government is a big test for Pristina, keen to show it can run a free and fair vote.

If Kosovo is to grow into an all-inclusive nation, a lot rests on whether the Serbs will take part. They hold the key to Kosovo reaching its goal of becoming a truly multi-ethnic democracy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Demography in the Balkans:A birth dearth

As usual, a very good article from The Economist. Slavic population in Serbia and Macedonia declining at an Alarming rate, but I was also very shocked by dramatic drop of birthrate in Kosovo from 3.6 in 1990 to 2.2 now. Albania will grow by a mere 100K in 2050 and Serbia will shrink by 1.2mil to 6mil. They didn't dare publish any prediction for Albs and Slavs in Macedonia...........

From The Economist

The tricky politics of population in the former Yugoslavia

OUTSIDE a hospital in Belgrade, two parking spots are reserved for parents with babies. A placard shows a stork delivering a baby that is then driven off in a car. What is telling is that there are only two spaces. Serbia’s population is shrinking.

Demography is causing alarm in many Balkan countries. In Bosnia and Kosovo, the issue can be fundamental. In Macedonia, a bid by the government to give financial aid to encourage (low-birth) Macedonians to have more children but to exclude (high-birth) Albanians was struck down by the constitutional court in April.

Goran Penev, a Serbian demographer, says his country has 7.2m people (excluding Kosovo). But Serbia has one of the oldest populations in Europe and a low fertility rate, so the population is shrinking by 30,000 a year. This is not because Serbs are becoming rich and want smaller families. Rather, the war years and ensuing economic hardship have knocked the stuffing out of Slavs across former Yugoslavia, leading to fewer children, lots of emigration and high abortion rates.

Mr Penev fears that, at worst, Serbia’s population could shrink by mid-century to only 6m. The population of Croatia, now 4.4m, is also shrinking, if not so drastically. As in Spain and Italy, the influence of the Catholic church has collapsed. Regions inhabited by Serbs who fled in 1995 remain sparsely populated. Plans to repopulate them with ethnic Croats from other countries have largely failed. Similarly, Serbs who saw demographic salvation in the hundreds of thousands of Serbs flooding in from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo in the 1990s have been disappointed.

In Bosnia, demography is high politics. In the last Yugoslav census in 1991, Bosnia had a population of 4.3m. Now it is estimated at only 3.8m, thanks to emigration and some 100,000 war dead. But nobody really knows, and time is running out to prepare a census in 2011. In October Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats voted down legislation to get ready for the census. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska, the Serb bit of Bosnia, says he will accept a census only if people are asked about their ethnicity. Bosniak leaders fear that Mr Dodik wants to show how few non-Serbs live in Republika Srpska, giving him more reason to ask why a Bosnian state exists.

In Kosovo, as in Bosnia, demography is war by other means. Ethnic Albanians boycotted the 1991 census. A 2006 estimate put the number of people in Kosovo at 2.1m, just over 90% of them Albanian Kosovars. Yet Mimoza Dushi, a demographer, reckons there are now 2.5m people in Kosovo. The implications could be huge. Kosovo gave its minority Serbs big concessions to secure Western recognition, but most Serbs still refuse to participate in its institutions. Oliver Ivanovic, a Serbian government official who deals with Kosovo, believes there are no more than 115,000 Serbs there. Some Kosovars may wonder why so few still merit such special treatment. Mr Ivanovic says Kosovo’s Serbs will not take part in the 2011 census. It would be easy to manipulate, he says, adding that there are actually only 1.7m Albanians in Kosovo.

Kosovar fertility is dropping, too. Ms Dushi believes the rate is 2.2, just above the level needed for a stable population. In 1950, she says, it was 7.8; as late as 1990, it was still 3.6. Even more dramatic is the collapse of fertility in Albania itself, from 2.0 in 2000 to 1.33 in 2007. In 1999 Albania’s population was 3.3m; by 2008 it had fallen to 3.1m (though it will rise by 2050). This is not because Albanians are having fewer children, but because so many women of child-bearing age have emigrated. So much for all those Balkan storks.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Jewish Holocaust survivor returns to Albania to meet the family that saved her life.

The Righteous: A Little-Known Secret was that Albanian Hid Jews from the Nazis; Now a Survivor Reunites With Her Savior. Just an amazing human story.

CBS Sunday Morning

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Kosovo unveils giant statue to Bill Clinton

Former US President Bill Clinton has attended the unveiling of a statue of himself in Kosovo's capital Pristina.

The 3.5m (11 ft) bronze statue was inaugurated at Bill Clinton Boulevard - to loud cheers of thousands of ethnic Albanians.

Many of them regard Mr Clinton as a hero for launching Nato's air bombing campaign to drive Yugoslavia's troops out of the Serbian province in 1999.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Belgrade last year.

The move was supported by the US and many Western powers, but a number of countries - including China and Russia - still regard Kosovo as part of Serbia.

'Big statue'

Mr Clinton waved to the crowds as the red cover was pulled off from the statue on Sunday.

"I never expected that anywhere, someone would make such a big statue of me," Mr Clinton was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

The statue portrays the former president with his left arm raised while holding documents bearing the date when Nato started its air campaign against Yugoslavia - 24 March 1999.

At the time Yugoslav forces of the late President Slobodan Milosevic were attempting to suppress an ethnic Albanian insurgency in Kosovo.

The 78-day bombing forced the Yugoslav army to leave, placing Kosovo under UN administration.

But Mr Clinton's statue is unlikely to be revered by the Serbs who see Washington as the driving force behind a plan to tear away Serbia's cherished southern province, the BBC's Mark Lowen in Belgrade says.