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American and Western European diplomats recently expressed their disappointment at Kosovo’s decision to disallow people to vote in neighboring Serbia’s elections on April 3. “Such an attitude of the Kosovo government is not in line with our values and principles and will undermine its European aspirations,” the officials said, according to Reuters.
Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence, which officially occurred in 2008 but, as the BBC explained, dates back to the NATO attacks on the Balkan country in the late 1990s during the collapse and fragmentation of Yugoslavia. Today, some citizens of Kosovo are ethnic Serbs who don’t recognize the government that rules the territory they live in. Many presumably would have happily cast votes for the Serbian president, parliament and municipal leaders.
Montenegro, another now-independent former Yugoslav republic that was once part of Serbia, rejected requests to open extra polling stations for Serbian voters, too, incidentally.
These events resonate, of course, with themes that have come up in discussions around the world about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — sovereignty, democracy, ethnicity and land.
It’s no wonder that observers are watching the election closely. Serbia under President Aleksandar Vucic’s Progressive Party has been a Russian ally for years. The country has not joined the US, Britain or European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia, for example. Vucic has also been criticized for muzzling independent media, centralizing political control with rules favoring the Progressives, ignoring environmental protections and pandering to nationalists who lionize Serbian fighters from the 1990s but overlook their war crimes, wrote Foreign Policy magazine.
Serbian authorities, for example, have allowed ultranationalist politician Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party to run for a seat in parliament on April 3 even though the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in The Hague convicted him of war crimes and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Under Serbian law, reported BalkanInsight, he should be barred from office. Seselj ethnically cleansed Croats from the village of Hrtkovci in 1992, as the Chicago Tribune wrote at the time.
Meanwhile, Euractiv reported how the government is quietly removing ethnic Albanians in Serbia from its voting lists.
Overall, Vucic’s stance has undercut the country’s application to join the EU, aspirations many Serbians want, even as thousands of pro-Russia protesters marched in Belgrade chanting “brothers forever” in support of the war, France 24 reported. Serbia has “every right to follow the model of Russian President Vladimir Putin if it wants to but it must be clear in its intentions and stop pretending to have serious aspirations for EU membership,” wrote a group of European Parliament lawmakers recently to EU leaders in Brussels.
The force animating Russian President Vladimir Putin is not confined solely to Russia. And if polls are correct, noted the New Statesman, those forces embodied in Vucic will be around for a while.