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Contested North Mitrovica Mayor Inaugurated Amid Serb Boycott

The newly elected mayor of the Kosovo-Serb majority municipality of North Mitrovica took his oath of office on Friday in a tense atmosphere following extraordinary local elections a month ago that most local Serbs shunned. 

Erden Atic is a member of the ruling Vetvendosje party, which has few members in the town.

Kosovo held extraordinary elections in the four Serb-majority municipalities in the north: North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok, on April 23.

But local Serbs massively boycotted the elections. Atic won with 553 votes out of 826 votes cast in total. According to the Kosovo Central Election Commission, CEC, the turnout was only 3.47 per cent.

After taking the oath on Friday, Atic told the media that, “together with the team, we will work for all the citizens without distinction and discrimination”. 

The new deputy mayor, a Kosovo Serb, Katarina Adjancic, said: “Our citizens deserve to make their lives easier and better,” claiming that she will soon meet representatives of the local Serbs. 

Kosovo’s Minister of Local Government was present during the oath and afterwards told the media that a contested early May decision by the new North Mitrovica municipal assembly to open the Ibar bridge, which divides the city of Mitrovica, “is in the ministry, to check its legitimacy”.

In December 2022, 15 Kosovo Albanians replaced the previous Kosovo Serb members of the municipal assembly in North Mitrovica.

This replacement, as well as the later April 23 local elections, happened after Kosovo Serbs resigned en masse in November 2022 as MPs, mayors, judicial officials and police officers.

Their action was a coordinated protest against alleged breaches of agreements made between Serbia and Kosovo in Brussels.

Kosovo Serb leaders condemned the new mayor’s inauguration.

The deputy leader of the Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista party, Igor Simic, said on Friday, that with the inauguration, “the invasion of the north officially began”.

Simic gave Kosovo PM Albin Kurti until June 1 “to stop the repression, expropriation, arrest, persecution and attacks against Serbs”, claiming that if it does not stop, Serbs “will protect themselves with all means”. 

The US, France, Italy, Germany and Britain in a joint statement on May 18 called “on all actors to urgently work together among all interested parties, including local communities, towards a solution that provides sustainable participatory representative democracy in these municipalities”.

“There should be no actions or initiatives – including by newly elected mayors and municipal assemblies – that do not serve the people, or that could heighten tensions,” the statement read.  

After the April 23 local elections, the EU warned that “these elections do not offer a long-term political solution for these municipalities. This can only happen through permanent return of Kosovo Serbs to the institutions, and for Kosovo to enable this return.”

The EU emphasized that “work on the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities”, which Kosovo has stalled on, “needs to be finalized as soon as possible”.

On May 18, Serbian President Alexandar Vucic told the media that he had asked Kosovo Serbs to maintain the peace, adding that the newly elected mayors in the north had been elected in “fake elections”.

It is not known when the new mayors of the three other Serb-majority municipalities in the north will take the oath.

Source: Balkan Insight