12/11/2013 08:25 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:53 GMT

Marred by Violence? Trouble Distorts Poll in Kosovo for the Better

Five thousand police officers lined the streets just days after one candidate was murdered and another was attacked. Polling stations were forced to close and helicopters loomed above streets clogged with armoured vehicles as locals jeered "Go home!". Proceedings were, to say the least, a little abnormal for one of the most important elections that will shape the future of the European Union.

On Sunday, those living in the north of Kosovo took to the polls for the time since 1999 to elect a Mayor who would govern under the jurisdiction of Pristina. The problem was that not many of them went.

Violence marred the election day as masked men attacked a polling station in northern Mitrovica in an attempt to derail the proceedings, forcing some polls to be repeated later this month. However, rather than subverting the situation, the attempts by presumably Serbian forces may have secured an even more stable future for Europe's newest nation-state.

In the predominantly Serbian north, the unfortunate truth is that an Albanian leader would struggle to change the attitudes of a population scarred by Milosevic's dreams of a united Yugoslavia. At the time the polling station was abandoned, an Albanian Mayor was topping the election polls, a result which would ultimately have led to even more unrest in the already turbulent and divided north.


Gračanica: voter turnout was high in this Serb-majority city near the capital Pristina, despite the visible ethnical divide where graffiti-strewn road signs block out Albanian place names. (Photograph: Harriet Line)

Yet, despite the gory headlines, the election has largely been a success. In southern Kosovo, the turnout was high even in Serbian majority areas such as Gračanica. In the north, the violence was not as widespread or bloody as some anticipated, showing hope for an end to parallel systems and unequal access to services such as healthcare. What's more, the backing from Serbia (although purely utilitarian) has given the green light for Belgrade to enter accession talks with the European Union in January; seen as fundamental in producing a fruitful relationship between the two states. Dynamics in the EU are set to change vastly if the former seat of Yugoslavia accedes entry to Fortress Europe, and Sunday's proceedings mark the first step of many that Serbia will take on its way to Brussels.

Not only was this election vital for Serbia's accession, it was also one of the most defining moments in the short history of the Kosovo government.

During an interview in September, the Deputy Director of Kosovo Police in the North commented: "We need to have a legal Mayor of the municipality chosen by the people based on the legal elections authorised by the Kosovo government. This is the first election since 1999 in Kosovo in the north, as during the last 14 years we have only held elections in the south... It's up to the people though, we cannot enforce democracy."

The biggest challenge facing development in Kosovo is undoubtedly its lack of unity. Whilst the violence might well have saved an undesirable election result, it is, as the Deputy Director of Police notes, up to the people to secure a brighter future for their nation. Whether they agree with it or not, Kosovar-Serbs officially live in the nation-state of Kosovo, and the sooner they take control of their own democracy, the sooner their futures will mirror their interests.