Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo voted Tuesday in a referendum on whether to recognize the government in Pristina, which they have ignored since Serbia’s former province became independent in 2008. Kosovo is 90 percent ethnic Albanian. Serbs dominate in a small swathe of the north bordering Serbia and pledge allegiance to Belgrade. They have so far resisted efforts by the Kosovo government to extend its authority there. The result of the two-day referendum is expected on February 19. The decision will have little practical impact but could further stoke ethnic tensions.
Officials in Belgrade have warned Kosovo Serbs against holding the referendum, saying it would harm talks with Pristina and Serbia’s own bid to join the European Union. “The referendum is meaningless and unconstitutional,” said Borislav Stefanovic, Serbia’s negotiator in talks with Pristina.
Kosovo’s Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi said: “As far as Kosovo and international institutions are concerned, this does not change anything and may only damage Serbia’s hopes for EU candidacy.” Municipal councils from Kosovska Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Zvecan, run by Serb nationalists, called the vote in December, after outbursts of violence earlier in 2011.