METOVNICA, Serbia — The well in the retired couple’s yard, their only source of clean water, began to dry up two years ago. Last year, dead fish started washing up on the banks of the river that runs by their home in a bucolic village in southeastern Serbia.
But most disturbing of all for Verica Zivkovic and her husband, Miroslav, are the ever-widening cracks in the walls of the house they built after moving to the countryside more than a decade ago to raise goats.
“We came here for the peace and quiet,” said Ms. Zivkovic, 62, but that all changed when a Chinese company arrived.
In 2018, the company, the Zijin Mining Group, took control of a money-losing copper smelter in the nearby city of Bor and began blasting away in the nearby hills in search of copper and gold.
pro-democracy group Freedom House downgraded Serbia in 2019 from “free” to “partly free,” citing a tightening grip on politics, civil liberties and the media.
In January, 26 members of the European Parliament demanded a review of the “growing impact of China’s economic footprint in Serbia,” including “reckless projects with potentially devastating multiple impacts on the wider environment as well as surrounding population.”
The roots of Serbia’s tilt toward China date to 1999, during the Kosovo war, when U.S. warplanes mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. On that site now stands a huge Chinese cultural center. A marble memorial stone outside bears inscriptions in Serbian and Chinese hail China’s “martyrs.”
But memories of shared suffering at American hands have faded in places like Bor, site of the Chinese-owned smelter.
Pollution from the Bor plant skyrocketed to many times the legally permitted level in 2019 and 2020, setting off a series of street protests and prompting Zijin Mining’s general manager in Serbia to tell his managers last October that he was “very dissatisfied” with the “frightening” level of pollution, according to leaked minutes of the meeting.
He blamed the bad publicity, which he said had damaged “the government of the People’s Republic of China,” on “people who are in favor of the West and receive support” who “have stood in opposition to our work.”
Bor’s mayor, Aleksandar Milikic, a Vucic loyalist, initially dismissed the protests as the work of political agitators.
But, apparently worried about losing votes, he announced last year that he would file a court case against Zijin for negligence. It is not clear whether he actually did so. The mayor declined to be interviewed. Zijin Mining did not respond to requests for comment.
Milenko Jovanovic, an air pollution expert, said he was fired in November from Serbia’s Environmental Protection Agency after raising concerns about dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide and arsenic in the air around Bor.
The government, he said, rejected anything that might upset China and its investors. “It lets them do whatever they want to do,” he said.
A court in Belgrade ruled this month that Mr. Jovanovic had been unfairly dismissed and ordered that he be given his job back.
Activists concede that air pollution levels in Bor have fallen since protests, but say that the main danger has now shifted to towns and villages to the south, where hundreds of Chinese workers brought in by Zijin are developing one of the world’s biggest unexploited copper deposits, and digging for gold.
The earth around the new mine trembles from blasting work and the heavy trucks, driven by Chinese workers, that rumble along roads adorned with China’s red national flag. Rivers and streams are discolored by effluent.
The government has added to public anger by issuing expropriation orders so that Zijin can build access roads and expand its mine. Dragan Viacic, a farmer, said he had received a letter from Serbia’s finance ministry informing him that he must sell 13 acres of his land at a fraction of the market price.
“They said this was necessary in the public interest but in reality this is just the interest of the Chinese,” he said.
In Metovnica, a village near the mine, Mr. Zivkovic and his wife used to have 25 goats but, with no clean water on hand after their well dried up, they now keep just one.
“Why don’t we have any water anymore? Why are there no fish in the river?” The answer, he said, is Zijin Mining Group.
Pointing to fissures radiating across the wall of his house that appeared last year after Chinese miners started using explosives, Mr. Zivkovic said: “It was a tiny crack at first but then it spread.”
Confident that it has the support of Mr. Vucic and his officials, the mining company and other Chinese ventures in Serbia have mostly ignored complaints and shrouded their operations in secrecy.
Sasa Stankovic, an environmental activist and elected member of the Bor regional council, said he had tried unsuccessfully to contact Zijin to discuss pollution levels. The copper smelter in Bor, he said, had been hazardous to health for decades, but the dangers jumped sharply after Zijin arrived and ramped up production.
Bor now accounts for a stunning 80 percent of Serbian exports to China, repeating a pattern widely seen in Africa of Chinese firms extracting natural resources for shipment back to China.
At Slatina, a village down the road, Miodrag Zivkovic, a local farmer stood on a rickety bridge over the Bor River, its waters thick with sludge and garbage, and said: “We didn’t go to the Chinese mine but the mine came to us.”
All the same, he said, given the few jobs available in the region, his son would still like to get work at the smelter, which pays relatively well. “Everyone here needs a salary and is ready to risk everything,” he lamented.
Cao Li contributed reporting from Hong Kong and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.
BELGRADE — Shortly after arresting a man suspected of leading a criminal gang last month in connection with a series of killings involving beheadings and torture, Serbian police officers raided what they believe was the band’s secret lair: a bunkerlike room in the bowels of a stadium used by Partizan Belgrade, a storied soccer team in the Serbian capital.
The room, located in a defunct restaurant under the stands, has been sealed off as a crime scene after investigators hunting for evidence of ties between soccer hooligans and organized crime found weapons there.
The wall outside is daubed in white and black paint with the name that the Partizan fans use for themselves: “the Gravediggers.”
The name is well deserved. Serbian soccer fans, at least those who in prepandemic days used to cram into the rowdy south stands of Partizan’s stadium and the equally anarchic north side of the arena used by its Belgrade archrivals, Red Star, have long had a reputation for extraordinary violence.
Partizan vice president who went public with accusations of government collusion with the arrested gang leader, has been savaged daily in tabloid newspapers supporting Mr. Vucic.
Ms. Brnabic denied the campaign was orchestrated by the government.
Also smeared by the tabloids has been Krik, a highly respected group of investigative journalists that has reported for years on links between government officials and Mr. Belivuk’s gang.
Stevan Dojcinovic, Krik’s editor in chief, said that organized crime in Serbia — and government officials — had long been tied to the “brutal force of nature” provided by soccer hooligans.
“Politicians have always been afraid of our hooligans. No matter who is in power they always form a partnership with them,” he said.
The difficulties of partnering with the hooligans, however, was made evident by the demise of Serbia’s former president, Slobodan Milosevic. Under his rule in the 1990s, hooligans flooded into the ranks of state-sponsored paramilitary groups that spread mayhem in Bosnia and Kosovo after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
That Mr. Milosevic, for whom Mr. Vucic served as information minister and whose security services worked closely with hooligans and criminals, was in serious trouble became clear when Red Star’s ultras started chanting “Slobodan Kill Yourself!” at games. (His parents had both died in suicides.)
Mr. Milosevic lost power in 2000 after the ultras led students and other protesters in storming the Parliament building in Belgrade.
When Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was then a part, began to unravel in the late 1980s, an early sign of impending war came in May 1990 when Red Star traveled for a game in Zagreb, the capital of the neighboring Yugoslav republic of Croatia. The game was suspended after rival fans staged a violent melee and set fire to the stadium.
Among the Red Star supporters who had traveled to Zagreb for the match was Mr. Vucic, who later boasted that he “often fought” at games.
Mr. Poledica, the chief of the soccer players’ association, said: “Our politicians always fear the stadium and its terrible power. They know that any dissatisfaction in the stadium can quickly spread to the street. They want to control it.”
He added that he did not know why the authorities had turned against Mr. Belivuk but speculated that Mr. Belivuk and his followers had gone too far. “Everyone knew they were violent, that they beat people and made threats. But cutting off heads?”
Mr. Belivuk’s lawyer, Dejan Lazarevic, said that his client had not yet been formally charged and that there was no evidence to support the accusations of murder, kidnapping and other serious crimes made against him by officials.
Mr. Vuletic, the professor, said that Mr. Belivuk and a hoodlum known as “Sale the Mute,” who has since been killed, first took control of the south part of Partizan’s stadium soon after Mr. Vucic became prime minister in 2014, and began beating up anyone chanting insults against him.
Suspicions that Mr. Belivuk had powerful friends in the government, or at least law-enforcement, have been growing since 2016, when he was arrested on murder charges but then released after DNA and other evidence against him either disappeared or had to be discarded because of tampering.
Krik, the investigative reporting group, later published photographs showing a member of Serbia’s gendarmerie, a police force, attending soccer games with Mr. Belivuk. At the time, the officer was in a relationship with a senior official responsible for the Interior Ministry.
This partnership with the government, said Mr. Dojcinovic, the Krik editor, broke down last year for unknown reasons, possibly because of an internal rift in Mr. Vucic’s governing Serbian Progressive Party, some of whose members have been caught up in the investigation into Mr. Belivuk.
Among those taken in for questioning by the police in connection with the case is Slavisa Kozeka, the president of the Football Association of Serbia. Mr. Kozeka, a senior official in the governing party, was earlier an activist in a far-right nationalist outfit that was led for years by a convicted war criminal.
All the bad publicity has infuriated peaceable Partizan fans like Vladimir Trikic. Walking around the central Belgrade district of Dorcol, he showed off murals of artists, theater directors and poets who have cheered on the club. Partizan, though closely tied to the former Yugoslav Army, he said, has “always been a team for intellectuals.”
For ordinary Partizan fans, Mr. Belivuk was never really a supporter but an impostor sent by Mr. Vucic to control and discredit his own team’s bitter rivals.
At a Partizan game in Belgrade last week, held before mostly empty stands because of the pandemic, Zoran Krivokapic was one of a handful of fans who managed to get into the stadium. He said that he had attended every home game for 47 years and blamed the rise and fall of Mr. Belivuk on what he said was a personal vendetta against Partizan by Mr. Vucic, the president.
“He wants to destroy Partizan and let Red Star rise,” he said.
BELGRADE — Stained for years by its brutal role in the horrific Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, Serbia is now basking in the glow of success in a good war: the battle to get its people vaccinated.
Serbia has raced ahead of the far richer and usually better-organized countries in Europe to offer all adult citizens not only free inoculations but a smorgasbord of five different vaccines to choose from.
By contrast, the European Union has stumbled badly in providing shots, with a disjointed procurement and distribution strategy that bet big on the AstraZeneca vaccine. That strategy hit a roadblock this week after key members of the bloc, including Germany and France, suspended inoculations with the vaccine over concerns it might increase the risk of blood clots, compounding delivery problems that stemmed from a production shortfall the company announced in January.
Serbia’s unusual surfeit of vaccines has been a public relations triumph for the increasingly authoritarian government of President Aleksandar Vucic. It has burnished his own as well as his country’s image, weakened his already beleaguered opponents and added a new twist to the complex geopolitics of vaccines.
OurWorldInData shows. It has administered 29.5 doses for every 100 people as of last week compared with just 10.5 in Germany, a country long viewed in this part of the world as a model of efficiency and good governance, and 10.7 in France.
Serbia’s prime minister, Ana Brnabic, attributed her country’s success to its decision to “treat this as a health issue, not a political issue. We negotiated with all, regardless of whether East or West.”
applied to join the European Union more than a decade ago, still wants to join the bloc but added that “regulations in the E.U. are very strict. In pandemic times we need to be more flexible.”
The European Medicines Agency, which regulates what vaccines can be used in the bloc, started reviewing the Sputnik vaccine for use less than two weeks ago — more than three months after Serbia placed an initial order with Moscow for a million doses, and two months after rolling them out for general use. The agency has not yet even started reviewing Chinese vaccines.
Mr. Vucic announced last week that Serbia would become the first European country to start producing China’s Sinopharm vaccine. A new vaccine factory, financed by China and the United Arab Emirates, will start production in the fall, he said.
Serbia’s readiness to embrace non-Western vaccines so far shunned by the European Union could backfire if they turn out to be duds. Sinopharm, unlike Western vaccine makers, has not published detailed data from Phase 3 trials. Data it has released suggest its product is less effective than Western vaccines.
fill out a form online and select whether they don’t care what brand they get or if they prefer either Pfizer-BioNTech, Sputnik V, Sinopharm, AstraZeneca or Moderna.
Not all these vaccines, however, are equally available and appointments for a shot depend on the chosen option. Those wanting Moderna’s vaccine will be waiting a long time: it has not yet arrived in Serbia. The health ministry in Serbia had no immediate comment Tuesday on whether it would follow Germany and others and pause inoculations with AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
On a recent day at the country’s biggest vaccination center, at the Belgrade Fair, a sprawling exhibition complex in the Serbian capital, more than 7,000 people turned up for appointments.
Nearly all received China’s Sinopharm vaccine, which, according to clinical trials, has an efficacy rate of 79 percent, lower than that of Western and Russian vaccines.
50+ or 55+
60+ or 65+
Eligible only in some counties
Eligible only in some counties
Over a certain age
Eligible only in some counties
There were also a few booths offering the Pfizer vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik V but supplies of the Chinese offering were clearly far more plentiful.
What is available on any given day, said Dragana Milosevic, a doctor supervising the injections, varies depending on deliveries from a central government-run stockpile.
“I never expected it to be so easy,” said Biljana Stankovic, a 37-year-old molecular biologist, who, waiting to be called into a vaccination booth, said she did not care what she was given. She added that she did not share Mr. Vucic’s political views but “I’m glad and surprised that everything is so well organized.”
With the exception of Hungary, the only other European nation to embrace Sputnik V, European countries have tied themselves in knots over whether to use non-Western vaccines.
In Slovakia, the health minister was forced to resign last week over his decision to place an order for Sputnik V, which some fellow ministers denounced as a “tool of hybrid war.” Hungary has been widely accused of breaking European Union ranks and cozying up to Moscow by using Sputnik.
Serbia has taken delight in showing up the European Union not only at home but in the other states created by the collapse of Yugoslavia. Kosovo, which put its vaccine hopes in help from the European bloc, has so far received no vaccines, other than those provided by Serbia, which started a vaccination program in ethnic Serb enclaves but was ordered to stop by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian government.
Bosnia has also received small deliveries of vaccines from Serbia, as has North Macedonia (formerly Macedonia), another troubled new state created after Yugoslavia fell apart.
The European Union vaccines travails have exasperated Serbians who believe their future lies with Europe, not Russia or China. “It failed at the most critical time,” said Zoran Radovanovic, a retired professor of epidemiology.
He said he loathed the direction Mr. Vucic has taken the country by limiting media freedom and harassing critics. But, Mr. Radovanovic added: “Unlike so many other promises and false statements by Vucic, this is not just propaganda. Vaccines are something real. We have them.”
The local mayor, Bashkim Ramosaj, an ally of Mr. Haradinaj, has resisted giving the monastery back any land, defying a 2016 ruling by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court that the territory claimed by Father Sava must be returned. The mayor, who declined to be interviewed, told local media outlets that he would rather go to jail than obey the ruling and surrender territory.
The land, 60 acres of farmland and forest outside the monastery walls, belonged to the church until 1946, when it was seized by Yugoslavia’s socialist government.
In the 1990s, the remnants of a crumbling Yugoslav state returned the land following the rise to power of Slobodan Milosevic, an atheist communist functionary who had metamorphosed into a champion of Serbian nationalism and the Serb Orthodox Church.
While the ethnic Albanians who took shelter in the monastery during the war quietly support the monks, the abbot said, their political leaders often view the land dispute “as a continuation of their war against Serbia, as if we are Milosevic proxies, which we are not.”
The court ruling that confirmed the monastery’s land claim, he added, “was not a Milosevic decision but a decision by the highest court of Kosovo.”
The foot-dragging on implementing the court’s ruling has increasingly exasperated the United States, which sent warplanes to attack Mr. Milosevic’s troops in Kosovo in 1999 and broke his grip on the territory.
The monastery’s case over its land, Philip S. Kosnett, the American ambassador, warned in a recent statement, “is not about ethnicity, politics, or religion; it is about property rights and respect for the law.”
After briefly waiting in line, William Schaffner and his father joined six million people in greater New York who were vaccinated in just over three weeks, a logistical feat made possible by seamless cooperation between local and federal authorities.
This was in 1947.
Dr. Schaffner, now professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University, says the high-speed vaccination campaign that ended an outbreak of smallpox was in many ways more successful than this year’s delay-ridden immunization campaign against Covid-19.
It wasn’t a one-off either. In 1954, Dr. Schaffner became one of the so-called Polio Pioneers who volunteered for the trial of a new vaccine that was then swiftly rolled out across the U.S., reaching tens of millions of people with the help of influencers such as Elvis Presley and without many of the challenges facing today’s campaign.
Today, New York City authorities have administered just over two million doses of Covid-19 vaccines since the start of the rollout in December, a third of what their predecessors managed in less than a month back in 1947.
So what is different now and what is there to learn from these previous campaigns that, in retrospect, appear to have marked the peak of vaccination prowess in Western nations?
While scarcity of the brand new vaccines is perhaps the greatest bottleneck today, other factors have helped to slow down the rollout. Among them: fading trust in public institutions and science, an underfunded healthcare infrastructure, a less capable government, the rise of vaccine skepticism and even political polarization.
In the past, politicians and public health officials worked across federal and local government to get shots into arms, Dr. Schaffner said, while today’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has suffered from polarization and incoherent messaging, as exemplified in the U.S. by the contradictory statements by President Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci, the White House medical adviser, last year.
In 1947, President Harry Truman came to New York to take the shot and help the campaign, and New York Mayor William O’Dwyer took the shot in public.
“I think the credibility of governments and the population’s trust in them has gone significantly down…and as a consequence the population doesn’t just line up and agree to be vaccinated,” said Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientist behind Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government-run project to develop vaccines.
Vaccine reluctance has spread even among healthcare professionals. In France, around half of health workers in French care homes refuse to take a Covid-19 vaccine, while in Germany, the BeneVit care home operator found that only 30% of staff wished to be vaccinated.
Instead of speeding up vaccination, contemporary technologies such as digital data processing have sometimes turned into a bottleneck.
In Germany, privacy concerns prevent authorities from easily reaching out to some citizens. In some German states, no one can get a vaccination appointment until they have received the letter inviting them to do so. In states that have online registration, the process includes a two-step authentication that health experts said was challenging even for young applicants.
Dosing regimens, rigidly based on vaccine trials, and prioritization schedules have added complexity to the rollouts.
Past vaccination efforts were generally open to all, and governments drafted pragmatic vaccination policies guided by science. Today’s strict adherence to trial protocols, such as giving the second dose of Pfizer Inc. vaccine three weeks after the first, while prudent, comes at the expense of efficiency.
“Second doses were often delayed in the past,” said Stanley Plotkin, a scientist who developed a number of vaccines, including the shot against rubella, one of the most successful in history. In some instances, such unplanned delays actually boosted recipients’ immune responses.
Most governments are following the recommendations made by regulators to use a two-dose regimen. Similarly, most follow a strict system of prioritizing risk groups today such as the elderly, residents of care homes and frontline medical workers. These are needed because there is a vaccine shortfall and they also reflect the lopsided risks posed by Covid-19, which is much riskier for certain groups than for others.
Rollouts have been particularly slow in the European Union. Despite a shortage of vaccines, millions of doses are languishing in storage there due to logistical bottlenecks and a reluctance by eligible recipients to take a shot that has occasionally caused strong reactions. In Germany, 2.4 million doses were lying in storage in the first week of March, while in France over 1.2 million doses made by AstraZeneca PLC were waiting to be used.
As recently as 2009, the Netherlands garnered praise from the World Health Organization for its rapid campaign of vaccination against swine flu. Back then, the government marshalled the army to distribute the vaccine, said Angela Hume, a retired colonel and medical doctor who was in charge of the effort at the time.
“In six days, we delivered six million vaccines to over 5,000 general practitioners and 1,000 medical institutions,” Dr. Hume said. Army personnel were trained to transport frozen blood in hot climate battlefields such as Afghanistan.
Today, the Dutch vaccination effort is among the slowest in Europe: By March 2, the Netherlands had administered 5.9 doses per 100 people, compared to more than 8 in Romania and 22 in Serbia, two nations with a much lower gross domestic product per capita.
Past vaccination campaigns often relied on the military for support. During Europe’s last major smallpox outbreak in the former Yugoslavia in 1972, authorities managed to vaccinate 18 million of the country’s 20 million inhabitants within three weeks.
The effort stopped the outbreak within days by unleashing the full capacity of the state, including the army, the police and medical charities, according to Zoran Radovanovic, a senior epidemiologist who helped coordinate the effort.
People formed orderly queues across the nation to receive the shot as vaccinators worked three shifts, while mobile teams stopped cars on the road to vaccinate travelers and ventured into the most remote rural areas.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
What’s the status of the vaccine rollout in your community? Share your stories with us.
Only one infected person left the country undetected on a flight to Hannover, Germany, where authorities then swiftly vaccinated 70,000 people within days—more than they managed in weeks across the country during the start of the Covid-19 vaccination this year.
“Back then, we didn’t have people questioning advice from medical doctors, but now we have this postmodern belief that medical authority needs to be questioned, that one needs to seek information on the internet instead of lining up to take the vaccine,” Dr. Radovanovic said.
Most countries have opted not to deploy the military in this pandemic. Dr. Radovanovic said this could be because Covid-19 has been less dangerous for children, and its overall lethality is lower than that of smallpox, which kills three out of 10 confirmed cases.
Another factor that helped vaccination efforts in the past was cooperation between geopolitical rivals. The U.S., Europe, the former Soviet Union and China routinely worked hand-in-hand to combat diseases—a feature lacking in today’s pandemic that has exposed deep rivalries between blocs and even between friendly nations, according René F. Najera, an epidemiologist and editor of the History of Vaccines website.
One of the most successful vaccines in history, the oral polio vaccine, underwent trials by U.S. scientist Albert Sabin in the Soviet Union. After Moscow vaccinated 77 million people within months in 1960, the U.S. promptly approved the shot—without any qualms about using a Soviet-developed product.
Today, Western governments and some of the scientific establishment have expressed skepticism about the Russian and the Chinese Covid-19 shots, Mr. Najera said. Likewise, Russian and Chinese authorities have been slow in releasing data surrounding their vaccines, adding to the skepticism.
“It’s just silly to marry political ideology with public health interventions: Had that happened in the 1960s, the U.S. would have lost the oral polio vaccine,” Mr. Najera said.
Write to Bojan Pancevski at email@example.com
PODUJEVA, Kosovo — Saranda Bogujevci gazed without flinching at a cluster of bullet holes left in the garden wall by a massacre two decades ago that wiped out most of her family and put 16 rounds into her own body.
She said her mind had erased visual memories of the slaughter by the Scorpions, a Serb paramilitary unit. But, she said, “I can still smell the earth mixed with the smell of blood.”
Ms. Bogujevci’s against-the-odds survival — she was left for dead in a heap of bodies in her neighbor’s garden — and her subsequent determination to testify against the men who murdered her mother, grandmother, two brothers and four other relatives have made her a symbol of uncommon fortitude in Kosovo, a land still scarred by the traumas of war in the 1990s.
But Ms. Bogujevci, 35, is far more than a symbol. She is part of an unlikely wave of women being elected to Parliament in Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, but remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. When final results of a Feb. 14 election were finally announced on Thursday in Pristina, the capital, they showed that women had won more seats in Parliament than ever before — nearly 40 percent of the total.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
These elected women have convinced voters that they can stand up to Serbia, which has refused to recognize Kosovo as an independent state, and also confront the corruption, criminality and poor governance that dashed the high hopes that attended the end of Serbian rule.
arrested on war crimes charges — is expected to be selected outright in coming days. Ms. Osmani, who ran for election on the same ticket as Ms. Bogujevci, won more votes than any other candidate — and also more votes than anyone else since Kosovo started holding elections two decades ago.
Her appeal is particularly strong among young people and women, more than 60 percent of whom, according to exit polls, voted for a slate of candidates that she led along with Albin Kurti, a longtime champion of progressive causes.
circulated online,convincing even skeptics that Ms. Osmani, an expert in international law and former professor at the University of Pittsburgh, could hold her own and bring real change.
“This made me realize that we had a chance, that she is not just bargaining for power and will stand up for herself and all of us,” said Elife Krasniqi, a Kosovar anthropologist who researches Balkan women’s movements at the University of Graz in Austria.
A rival would-be president, Ramush Haradinaj, a wartime K.L.A. commander and former nightclub bouncer, said during the campaign that Serbia would cheer if Ms. Osmani were selected because it feared a strong male leader like himself, preferring a “weak woman.”
An ally of Mr. Haradinaj’s derided Ms. Osmani as a “fat woman.” After a public uproar, he said that he had been misunderstood and that he had meant she was “fat in the brain.”
Such appeals to macho sentiments did not help in the election: Mr. Haradinaj’s party won only 7 percent of the vote.
The challenges facing the new female lawmakers are immense. Corruption is rampant, inequality huge and development scarce. Nearly a third of the population is unemployed, with a jobless rate at over 50 percent for young people and 80 percent for women, by some counts. Ms. Bala, the activist, said that while 60 percent of university graduates each year are women, 70 percent of job offers go to men.
Many of the female candidates explicitly targeted those issues in their campaigning.
Doarsa Kica, a 30-year-old lawyer, gave up her job to run on an anticorruption platform, citing encounters in court with corrupt judges and anger at politicians “who live in million-dollar houses when they only have a $1,000 monthly salary.” Ms. Kica joined the ticket of Ms. Osmani, her former professor at Pristina University, and won a seat.
The emergence of women in Kosovo politics has been a long, painful process.
Kosovo has had one female president, but that was the result of a back-room deal engineered by the United States, which led a NATO bombing campaign that broke Serbia’s grip on the territory in 1999 and has since played a major role in its affairs.
The United Nations, which administered Kosovo for nearly a decade after the war, also imposed a quota system in 2000 that guaranteed women 30 percent of the seats in Parliament.
But with voters now accustomed to women in Parliament and disenchanted with many male politicians, female candidates are winning representation outright. Ms. Bogujevci, for instance, first entered Parliament in 2017 under the quota system but, after doubling her vote count on Feb. 14, won on her own.
Igballe Rogova, a women’s rights activist, said voters were now looking at female candidates “not as quota women, but as politicians who make promises and keep them and deserve votes.”
Mr. Kurti, who leads a center-left party that joined forces with Ms. Osmani, has a strong record of promoting women. Briefly prime minister last year, he put women in charge of a third of Kosovo’s ministries. Previous governments appointed just one or none.
The joint election ticket he headed with Ms. Osmani pledged that all state agencies and enterprises would be ordered to enforce hiring equality. Governments dominated by former K.L.A. commanders had for years resisted giving women who had fought in the war the status and pensions accorded to male fighters.
Ms. Bala, the activist, who carried a gun in the war, said that many women had taken part in the armed struggle against Serbian forces but were later written out of the script. “A myth was created that only men are strong and can fight,” she said.
Another fraught issue has been whether rape survivors, of which there were thousands during the war, should be recognized as war victims entitled to a monthly government stipend.
Legislation allowing rape survivors to apply for compensation was passed in 2014 after intense lobbying by Ms. Osmani. That was despite demands from some male legislators that women who had been raped in the 1990s get a medical certificate from a doctor — more than 20 years later — to prove that they were not lying.
Such demands, Ms. Osmani said, were “ridiculous and very insulting toward women.”
Ms. Bogujevci’s road to Parliament was also a long one. “I always said I would never enter politics,” she said in an interview in her family’s hometown, Podujeva.
She was flown to Britain for medical treatment soon after the fighting ended, and spent nearly 15 years building a new life in Manchester in the north of England, but started making increasingly frequent trips back to her home region.
She testified against her family’s killers before a court in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, and exhibited an art display she had created chronicling her family’s story. She has now moved back to Kosovo, where strangers stop her on the street to voice admiration and support.
Like most Kosovo towns, Podujeva has a hulking war monument in its center featuring statues of burly men with guns. When Ms. Bogujevci visited before the election, however, she immediately became the center of attention, thronged by well-wishers.
Bokim Gashe, standing in the snow outside his wife’s tailoring business, said he would “of course” vote for her.
“She is stronger than all the men around here,” he said.