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Responding to a request from Serbia for a boycott, only around 1 percent of the ethnic Serb voters in the towns of Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Svecan, and North Mitrovica in the tiny Balkan country of Kosovo turned out last week to cast ballots in a referendum to decide whether to remove their ethnic Albanian mayors from office.

The number illustrates how alienated ethnic Serbs – a majority in the four towns – have become in the tiny Balkan country where most citizens are ethnic Albanians. As Euractiv reported, only 3.4 percent of voters in the towns turned out in the four towns to cast ballots at all.

Afterward, the local ethnic Serb residents then held protests to prevent the newly-elected mayors from taking their positions. Violence broke out.

The referendum took place after European Union officials slapped sanctions on the country in 2023 in an effort to compel Kosovo’s leaders to deescalate tensions with the Serb minority. The turnout makes clear that most Serbs don’t want to participate in any Kosovo-run vote.

The tensions trace back to the War of Yugoslav Succession in the 1990s, when the former communist republic crumbled into a collection of new nations. Serbia’s oppression of the majority Albanian community in the Serbian province of Kosovo led to a war that resulted in Kosovo declaring independence in 2008. Since then, officials in the Serbian capital of Belgrade and the small community of Serbs who remain in northern Kosovo have refused to recognize the new country.

Atrocities related to Kosovo’s war for liberation and its aftermath are still being adjudicated today. As Balkan Transitional Justice wrote, a court recently ruled that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the rebel group that fought the Serbian military, did not torture prisoners in northern Kosovo in 1998. Former President Hashim Thaci, another ex-KLA member, is now facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague.

The EU has been trying to reconcile the two sides. In addition to pressuring Kosovo’s leaders to make efforts to win the trust of their Serbian constituents, explained Euronews, EU leaders have also pledged to block Serbia from joining the bloc and gaining access to its funding for infrastructure and cultural and economic development unless they can improve their relations with the breakaway state. Serbia currently does not recognize Kosovo.

At the same time, the EU has also demonstrated how ordinary Kosovars can benefit from the union. Kosovo nationals can now travel throughout Europe’s borderless Schengen for 90 days without a visa, a seemingly tiny shift that is huge for many people who want to study, work or travel in the West, Le Monde reported. Kosovo, incidentally, has experienced a massive brain drain in recent years due to a lack of opportunities at home.

Regardless, since the referendum, Kosovo’s Serbs have called for removing the Albanian mayors and, like the EU and US, want a new vote. Kosovo announced a referendum would be held to decide on holding a new local election.

The Serb population says they will boycott this vote as well.

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