Protests continue to mar Dec. 17 Serbian elections; Serbs allow Kosovo license plates

The Serbian election row continued over the Dec. 23-24 weekend and through non-Orthodox Christmas with protestors arrested and also concurrent dissent among Kosovo Serbs—some of whom were angered and others relieved by a Serbia announcement that vehicles with Kosovo license plates would not be barred from crossing into Serbia.

With regard to the former, a victory by Serbia’s long dominant SNS party continues to be marred by mass protests over perceived elections irregularities during the Dec. 17 elections in Belgrade resulted in scores of arrests—and allegation and acrimony from both the West and the East.

Comments from election observers, including those from the OSCE and the Serbian CRTA claimed that irregularities in votes took place in Belgrade and that the election was tainted by overt government influence in the media. The US has since repeated the mantra that all Serbian voters should be heard while EU representatives were sharper in their comments.

On Dec. 19, as cited by Radio Free Europe/RFE/RL, Viola von Cramon, an official European Parliament observer, claimed that “higher democratic standards from an EU candidate country, which negotiates EU membership” were expected while calling for n “international oversight and full investigation.”

Likewise—and also cited by RFE—both EU commissioners Josep Borrell and Oliver said the Serbian “electoral process” needs “tangible improvement.”

On Dec. 20, the Serbian government announced that elections would be rerun the elections in 30 polling stations on Dec. 30, which was viewed as at most a symbolic gesture by the West. Meanwhile, opposition protesters turned out in the thousands (or less, according to state media), and in some cases fought with police.

Meanwhile, Russian representatives claimed that the West was behind riots in Serbia in an attempt to undermine the government/SNS and longtime SNS strongman and president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic.

Concurrently, discontent in Kosovo was or was not placated by a move to recognize Kosovo license plates and allow freedom of movement across the border. The license-plate issue was a first focal point of discontent, which prompted endless headbutting to the point of troop mobilizations by Serbs over the past 12 months—as well as EU and US mediation and efforts to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

Serbia had long resisted moves by Kosovo to force ethnic Serbs in Kosovo to replace Serbian license plates with Kosovo plates, as this was seen as a move to force Serbia to de facto recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Kosovo backed down from its first demand only to “seize the moment” of the night of Dec. 16 to enforce the license plate rule in what was seen by some as a further attempt to hinder ethnic Serb voting in the Serbian parliamentary elections.

Now Serbia has decided to allow ethnic Serbs with Kosovo plates to move back across the border, although official statements have emphasized that this in no fashion can be seen a recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. At the same time, an open secret has been that many ethic Serbs had already replaced license plates simply as a pragmatic move to keep on keeping on—or in other words a necessary reality of life, considering that the ethnic Serb enclaves of North Kosovo are both governed and policed by ethnic Albanians.

Photo of protesters outside the City Assembly of Belgrade by СРБИН.инфо, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

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