AIM: start

SAT, 06 OCT 2001 23:54:06 GMT

Registration of Voters

Mitrovica, September 26, 2001

Registration of civilian population and voters in Kosovo for the pending election, scheduled for September 17, was concluded on September 22. However, the number of minority group members - Serbian, Turkish, Bosniac - that responded to the registration has not yet been specified. Officials of the Civilian Mission in Kosovo are still using general figures, which because of the imprecision of the presented data provoked the protests of the representatives of Albanian majority population, who at first thought that over 170 thousand Kosovo Serbs have been registered, because no one explained that this figure did not only include Serbian population, but also the Bosniacs, Romas, Ashkalis and other ethnic groups. Figures presented by Daan Everts, Head of OSCE Mission in Kosovo, and Deputy Republican Commissioner for Refugees, Dragisa Dabetic, are very similar.

Namely, Dabetic stated that the total number of registered persons that remained in Kosovo was over 170 thousand, out of which 69 thousand were non-Albanians with a voting right who would be able to vote at the coming November elections in Kosovo. Mr. Cook, a spokesman for the UNMIK in Mitrovica said that 92,300 people had been registered in Kosovo, out of which 31,811 persons in the region of Mitrovica. According to representatives of both international and Serbian authorities, the registration process was a success - both on the territory of Kosovo, as well as in Serbia and Montenegro. Nevertheless, it seems that members of the Serbian community are no less confused than they were during registration.

On July 30, i.e. eight weeks ago, which was the official date for the start of registration, the Kosovo Serbs had a very clear stand: "No registration". Months before that their political leaders had been saying that the Serbs had to boycott the registration so as to deny "the establishment of the Albanian state in Kosovo" legitimacy. At that time the official Belgrade remained silent. The appeals of the international community to the population to participate in the registration process and explanation that it did not mean the participation in the elections, met with a wall of silence. However, it seems that this could be explained. Intentionally or not, no one explained the citizens that there were two registrations: the civilian one and the one for potential voters for the coming elections. On the other hand, the OSCE, which was in charge of both censuses, started its campaign by opening registration centres. But, it seems that an omission was made here too. Civilian registration was not separated from voter registration. Their slogan, which was meant to encourage Serbian people to register, read: "If you do not register this summer, you will have no right to participate in this year's Kosovo elections".

This slogan was just a confirmation for the people who had already heard that the international community would force them to take part in the elections. Serious problem arose in northern Mitrovica with premises for registration centres. Local people did not want to give their premises for that purpose. Consequently, the registration process did not start on time, but an alternative was found. A so-called container was put up near UNMIK Police Station. Precisely because of the mentioned facts, the response of Serbs was minimal at the beginning. Those who wanted to register did not dare because, as they said, they received threats. Representatives of the international community did not stand idle either. By persistent explanations that Kosovo would lose much if minority communities failed to register, they exerted great pressure on Belgrade. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic experienced this personally during his last week's visit to Security Council in New York together with Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup.

Namely, it could be said that members of the Security Council demanded of Covic to ask the official Belgrade to invest its authority and encourage Serbian population in Kosovo to respond to registration in the greatest possible numbers. The sudden reversal in stands of Serbian politicians regarding registration in Kosovo produced effects. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica addressed the nation, Patriarch Pavle also registered in Kosovo where he had served for years, etc. Only the response in Mitrovica was still low because local politicians could not and still do not agree whether people should register or not. And while Mitrovica denizens were in two minds regarding registration (which was also the consequence of the lack of information and confidence of Serbs in the international community, i.e. fear that the number of registered Serbs might be manipulated with), President of the Commune of Leposavici, Nenad Radosavljevic did not mind registering publicly, in front of the press, so as to encourage people to take part in the registration.

On the other hand, there are some international representatives who could not understand why children below 16 years of age, also citizens of Kosovo, were not entered in the civilian register. However, there is not right answer just as nothing can be changed. The UN decided that only persons over 16 could be registered as civilians and that persons of age, i.e. those over 18 could vote. The busiest person with registration process, organised and implemented by OSCE, was Dobrosav Radovic, Member of the Secretariat of the SPS Main Board and this Party's President for Kosovo. He said that Serbs in Kosovo had been put under "unprecedented" pressure to come to the polls on November 17 so that the voter registration turned into "a veritable farce, whereas pressures, deceptions and blackmail have reached culmination".

According to him, UNMIK and KFOR denied assistance and escort to convoys and security to those who did not respond to registration, while on the other side Kostunica, Djindjic, Covic, Momcilo Trajkovic and others kept calling people to register falsely claiming that it would only show the number of Serbs and what they owned there. Radovic said that registration could not determine "the number of Serbs and what is Serbian, because household members are not registered". However, Dobrosav Radovic was not the only one who claimed that UNMIK and KFOR were "blackmailing" the Serbs into registering by denying them security.

Nevertheless, people started appearing at registration points. Local radio stations dedicated more time to this issue, leaflets and bulletins were distributed around so that finally even in Mitrovica the number of registered persons started to grow.

Registration period was extended for another 14 days by a decision of the Head of the OSCE Mission. The greatest number of people from the northern part of Mitrovica registered precisely during that time. But, this was not all. General elections in Kosovo are ahead. The "Coalition Return", consisting of three political parties and a civil initiative (Christian Democratic Party with its representative Rada Trajkovic, New Democracy with Nenad Radosavljevic, while the Serbian Renewal Movement will be led by Randjel Nojkic) will also be running in the elections. The civil initiative is composed of the denizens of Pec currently living in this town.

The "New Serbia" (Nova Srbija) was also in, but its President Velja Ilic withdrew with the explanation that either all parties would participate in the elections or none. Recently, Rada Trajkovic pointed out that DOS was supporting the "Coalition Return" (Koalicija Povratak), but no one has yet confirmed or refuted this claim. For the time being there are only speculations that some 15 political parties, non-governmental organisations and civil initiatives might join this coalition in the last minute. Citizens are once again confused and many of them still think that they should not participate in the vote. There are also those who do not know "what to think and how to behave". They are still waiting for the stand of the official Belgrade, which since the conclusion of the registration has not yet made its stand known - to vote or not, with the exception of occasional statements of Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in which he claimed that conditions for the participation of the Serbian population in the elections have not been created. Already on October 3, when the election campaign starts, it will become clear whether these were only political calculations or not.

AIM Mitrovica

Valentina CUKIC