Election day proved to be an eventful Sunday, full of cloudy gloom and anticipation. For most of the day, I could not tell one difference from any other Sunday. The streets were quiet. Pedestrians went about their errands with the produce vendors and shopkeepers. Old men in black berets sat on the benches in front of the mosque talking for hours. Taxis lurked up and around the traffic circle. Leaves swept down the street.
I kept scanning the center of town waiting to see some evidence of voting or political arguments, last minute campaign pranks, but all remained quiet. At least, until 5pm. At 5, that quiet was shattered by the blades of a helicopter circling overhead. In many cities in the world, airplane and helicopters buzz around so frequently that most residents don’t hear them. Not in Mitrovica. There are no airplanes, no newscopters, no lifeline helicopters rushing to the hospital. If something is flying over, it’s someone from the alphabet soup of military and security forces (NATO, EULEX, KFOR, OSCE, you get the idea).
I have only encountered 3 or 4 helicopters in my two months in Mitrovica and none of them have ever circled. With my face fogging up the window, I watched it repeatedly pass over my apartment and reappear on the eastern side of the city. Round and round, it’s deafening roar thrashing to my ears even as it traveled out of sight.
Within fifteen minutes, it fled towards Pristina and the hushed small town sounds were restored. Scouring all media available, I could find no answer to the puzzling mystery of the helicopter. What had happened in the elections? No emergency vehicles, no police, no change in the streetscape.
A short twenty minutes in my media search, and the incessant thumping returned. The sky had since faded a dim black and the helicopter was hidden from sight. T blaring thwack of its blades only gave me a hint at its location. With no lights is slid through the city’s skies joined by others.
The covertness alarmed me. Why so stealthy? What had happened? Flipping through Albanian, English, and Serbian news channels finally yielded some answers. BBC unexpectedly reported not only on the fact that Kosovo was having elections, but also on a violent incident just a mile from me. It’s really incredible when you stop and think just how we get our news.
At around 5pm, a group of thirty or so masked people entered a primary school in northern Mitrovica, which was serving as a polling station. They caused a scene, broke windows, scared the shit out of voters and OSCE monitors alike, and further drove home their point with some tear gas. The rest of the polling places in north Mitrovica were then closed, nearly two full hours ahead of time.
Enter helicopters, international forces.
Despite this incident and a few other scenes of violence in the north, all ruling politicians in Kosovo and most other important internationals are calling the elections a great success. Voter turn out was up to around 50% at the national level and more importantly, minority areas in the south of the country came out to vote in numbers comparable to their Albanian counterparts.
But can we really call it a success?
For now, nothing is finished. Without 50% of the vote, candidates have to go through a secondary run-off election. Mitrovica and most other municipalities will have more elections in the coming weeks.