Kosovo is holding its first election since its self-declaration of independence from Serbia.
Authorities hope free and fair local ballots will persuade more countries to recognise Kosovo as its own sovereign state. There are doubts over whether ethnic Serbs, many of whom still see Kosovo as a part of Serbia, will vote. But the Kosovar prime minister remains optimistic. Hashim Thaci said after casting his ballot: “I’m sure we will have success and we appreciate very much the participation of all citizens, in particular the Serbs of Kosovo. Now we’re building a country of democratic standards and a multi-ethnic society with a clear vision of EU integration.” Serbs make up less than six percent of Kosovo’s population but are concentrated in communities in towns like Mitrovica and Gracanica. The dilemma for many Serbs is that if they don’t cast their ballots in these local elections, they risk losing their say over health and education in these districts to the ethnic Albanian majority. Momcilo Trajkovic is a Serb leader and candidate for the mayor of Caglavica. He believes Serbs will make the most of their democratic rights: “This vote shows that people are encouraged and that the grip of fear imposed by some groups is loosening. Serbia is sending the message that no-one will be punished and that everyone can express his own political will,” he said. Nonetheless, with authorities keen for the day to run smoothly, security has been stepped up in Serb areas, where some fear reprisals if they go to cast their ballots.