Gogic: If the mayors in the north remain in power, they will continue to act against the interests of the local population

Beograd_231213_Ognjen Gogić 03
Source: Kosovo Online

Political scientist Ognjen Gogic says that if Serbian parties in northern Kosovo continue to insist on boycotting the referendum to replace Albanian mayors in four municipalities, the international community will not be particularly motivated to seek a new possibility for their removal because they are dissatisfied with the decision to boycott, and he notes that, in that case, the current mayors will remain in power until October 2025, when regular local elections are held.

Gogic reminds that Albanian mayors have repeatedly stated that they did not intend to leave their positions, and in his estimation, they will continue to behave as they have so far during their mandate, making decisions directly against the interests of the local population.

"The population in the four northern municipalities, especially in North Mitrovica, where the most controversial decisions have been made, clearly expresses its stance and opposition to these decisions, and it seems that these government representatives do not take notice of that. If they are not removed, it will embolden them, they will think they have won in this situation," Gogic says for Kosovo Online.

At the same time, he points out that since last autumn, there has been talk that it would be enough for Serbs to initiate the procedure to replace the four mayors according to the Administrative Instruction and to collect signatures through a petition, and then the international community would pressure the Kosovo side to speed up the procedure by having the mayors resign voluntarily.

"International representatives, both from diplomatic missions and international organizations, have come to northern Kosovo and assured representatives of the Serbian community of this, claiming that Kosovo itself does not need a referendum because it can be challenged in court and it is a huge cost for the Kosovo budget. People were indeed convinced that signatures within petitions would be sufficient, and that's one of the reasons people agreed to sign petitions, thinking that this process would end that way," Gogic says.

Since the ban on the dinar followed, further undermining the trust of Serbs in the institutions of Pristina, our interlocutor says that citizens now believe that even if they remove mayors through referendums, it will not remain a final decision but that a way will be found to "circumvent" it.

"As a result, it's harder to motivate people to sign something again, this time in inaccessible places, under cameras, when they think it won't serve any purpose and that those authorities in the municipalities will still remain in power until the end of the mandate. This is another broken promise consciously made by the international community and which everyone is now distancing themselves from," Gogic notes.

He adds that this has once again shown that the international community is ready to pressure Kurti only to a certain extent.

"I assume they did ask Pristina to expedite and ease the procedure and skip the referendum and resignations, but they probably faced refusal from the Kosovo authorities again, and then they stopped. This pressure they exert clearly has a limited scope," Gogic says.

Nevertheless, he believes that until April 21, when the referendum is scheduled, there is room for discussing the technical obstacles that prevent citizens from exercising their voting rights and that the possibility of finding a compromise by postponing the referendum should not be ruled out.

He adds that Kosovo is in the process of approaching the Council of Europe, where it might be possible to raise the question of whether citizens in northern Kosovo are allowed to exercise their right to vote and local self-government, so that organization could set a condition for Kosovo regarding this issue.

Gogic also assesses that Serbian parties could set conditions for participating in the referendum, such as a revision of the electoral roll, because, he says, it is strange that suddenly the number of voters is increasing.

"Efforts should be made to explain why it is not possible to ensure sufficient citizen participation. According to the Serb List, there is distrust in the international community since they left the institutions and called for a boycott, and someone might now assume that if mayors were removed and new elections were called, there would be a boycott of those elections. It's often mentioned that the threshold for the removal of mayors is high at 50%, but the votes needed to remove mayors are smaller than the votes SL candidates won in 2021 when they were elected as mayors. Some people have indeed left northern Kosovo in recent years, but even that is not unsolvable, as their voting from central Serbia can be organized. The stance the international community will ultimately take depends on how convincing the reasons offered are that the problems are insurmountable," Gogic believes.

He also points out that Kosovo is heading for parliamentary elections, no later than winter 2025, but most likely earlier, maybe in the autumn of this year, because Albin Kurti does not want to wait for White House elections, he wants to secure his new mandate before any potential change in the White House. If the government changes at the central level, he says, that could be a factor that would influence finding political will to expedite the process of removing mayors in the north.