Hard-line Serbs in northern Kosovo intimidated would-be voters and were suspected of attacking a polling station during local elections Sunday. The actions underscored Kosovo’s strained relations with Serbia, even as both states seek closer ties to the European Union. It was the first time voters in all of Kosovo were choosing local councilors and mayors since the country seceded from Serbia in 2008. The participation in the election of minority Serbs in Kosovo was being watched carefully. The integration of Serbs into Kosovar political life is a key element of an EU-brokered deal between Serbia and Kosovo that seeks to settle their disputes and unlock EU funds. The Serb hard-liners’ tactics, however, appeared to suppress voter turnout and raised concerns that Serbia had not fulfilled its pledge to stop fueling defiance among Serbs in Kosovo, especially in the north, where they dominate the population.
Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga warned Serb hard-liners not to undermine the central government in Pristina. “Such acts will be met with swift response of the security mechanisms in an attempt to establish rule of law, a necessity in this part of the country,” Jahjaga said in a statement.
The comments came after a group of some 30 masked men barged into the polling station in the late afternoon, smashing windows and tearing up voting material.
Associated Press footage showed police sealing off the area. It also showed members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which helped organize the vote in the north, leaving the polling station in their vehicles. The station was later closed.