DOBROTINA, Kosovo -- When Kosovo broke away from Serbian rule, Sladana Vukadinovic decided to remain in the newly independent country despite her apprehensions.
Like other ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo, Vukadinovic, a primary-school teacher with two small children, has been heeding Belgrade's call to boycott elections, part of an effort to discredit the authorities in Pristina.
But while Vukadinovic was content to stay home when Kosovo residents went to the polls in the 2007 and 2009 local elections, this year she plans to vote in general elections scheduled for December 12.
While in past elections, turnout among ethnic Serbs was around 2 percent, this time observers are expecting more to cast ballots.
Vukadinovic says she hopes that by participating in the political process she can improve her family's lot.
"If we don't fight for ourselves, who will? They [Serbian officials] have been doing that for five years [calling on Serbs to boycott the elections]. I was expecting these recommendations and I didn’t vote [in the past]. But I don't get anything from Serbia," Vukadinovic says.
"I feel betrayed. My salary has been reduced. Many benefits I had are cancelled. I don’t have any privileges as a single mother. I'm alone with two kids in Kosovo. I don't have anything in Serbia, I don't have anything here. I only have a house that I started building after the war, and that's all."
In Kosovo's first general elections since it formally declared independence in February 2008, some 1.6 million voters are eligible to choose from 1,265 candidates from 29 parties, who are vying for 120 seats in the country's parliament.
Twenty seats have been reserved for ethnic minorities, including 10 that have been guaranteed to Serbian candidates. The international community will be watching the vote and its aftermath closely to see whether Kosovar authorities can integrate the Serbian minority, mostly concentrated in northern Kosovo, into political life.
Among those Serbs considering going to the polls is Biljana Rusimovic, also a schoolteacher in Dobrotina.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008
"It is nice that our people are fighting for us, Serbs living in Kosovo. Well...to be honest...maybe I will vote. I probably will, but I'm still thinking about it," Rusimovic says.
Despite the expected uptick in Serbian participation, many nevertheless remain adamant in their determination not to vote, and skeptical that Kosovar political institutions can do anything to improve their lives.
Snezana Borzanovic, a pensioner living in the capital, Pristina, asks "Why, why should I vote? Explain that to me."
"Unfortunately, the future of Serbs depends on The Hague, the EU, and the U.S. and I'm the only one that has no right to choose anything," Borzanovic says.
Observers say it has been difficult for many Serbs to come to terms with the fact that they are now an ethnic minority after living most of their lives as a privileged majority.
Azem Vlasi, an ethnic-Albanian lawyer from Pristina, says, however, that he expects Serbs to turn out in larger numbers this time as their desire to improve their lives and have a say in the political process outweighs their ethnic anxieties.
"It is a political and psychological problem for Serbs to actually realize that they are living in a state called Kosovo and not Serbia," Vlasi says.Bread And Butter
Advocates of greater Serbian participation point to the experience of Slobodan Petrovic, leader of the Independent Liberal Party, who joined the outgoing government of Prime Minister Hasim Taci over strenuous objections by Belgrade.
Petrovic says his presence in the government has enabled him to improve the lives of Kosovar Serbs with the kind of bread-and-butter issues that people notice in their everyday lives.
The best example of this, Petrovic says, is a freshly paved road between Gracanica and the village of Laplje, which had previously been in notoriously bad repair. Funds for the road, which came from Belgrade, had been poorly appropriated and the construction continuously stalled. But when he joined the government and got the Kosovar authorities involved, Petrovic was able to see to it that the road was completed.
"The end of the road was finished with our assistance and that is something everyone can see with their own eyes. This is the best example how Serbia was financing something that wasn't ever implemented," Petrovic says.
He adds that results like this are motivating Serbs to come out and vote. Serbians are no longer indecisive because government results are motivating them to vote.
According to Anamari Repic, an ethnic-Serbian journalist, results like this that could drive more Serbs to the polls.
"Serbs in Kosovar government and in the assembly made an impression on the Serbian community in Kosovo. They managed to change something, a few houses and buildings are renewed, people are employed, etc," Repic says.