The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. IFIMES has analyzed the current political situation in Kosovo in the context of the early parliamentary elections, which are to take place on 14 February 2021. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis titled “2021 Early Elections in Kosovo: End of an Era.”
The fifth parliamentary (early) elections in Kosovo, since its declaration of independence on 17 February 2008, will take place on 14 February 2021.
The Kosovo Assembly has 120 representatives, with 20 mandates reserved for members of minority communities. Specifically, the Serb community gets 10 mandates, while the Bosniak community gets three, Turkish two, RAE (Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian) four and Goran community one mandate.
The early elections were announced after the Kosovo Constitutional Court has ruled unconstitutional the vote of representative Etem Arifi from the Ashkali Party, because he had been sentenced to a prison term of 15 months for fraud related to subsidies, but still participated in the election of the government headed by Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti (LDK) on 3 June 2020, which was elected with the support of 61 representative (61/120). On the basis of the decision of the Constitutional Court, the Acting President of Kosovo Vjosa Osmani announced early elections for 14 February 2021.
The same decision of the Constitutional Court stipulates that the persons who had been sentenced in the period of the last three years cannot run at the upcoming elections.
Vjosa Osmani has been the Acting President of Kosovo since 5 November 2020, when Hashim Thaci (PDK) resigned from office, after the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC-SPO - Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor's Office) had confirmed the indictment against him for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Analysts assess that the upcoming parliamentary elections are the last chance for a showdown with crime and corruption, as well as war crimes, without which there can be no economic recovery, visa liberalization and integration of Kosovo into modern international trends. This is a matter of ending an era of war leaders in Kosovo, majority of which had been engaged in war crimes, as well as deeply involved in crimes. The election campaign is taking place at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, when gatherings are limited to a maximum of 4 people, and the major floods in some parts of Kosovo. That is why the media, internet and social networks, dominated by younger population, will play an important role in the election campaign.
Analysts believe that, bearing in mind the recent gatherings of political parties prior to the beginning of the election campaign, the country has become an experimental area in which the fight for power is uncompromising. Many countries that are more stable than Kosovo could not afford to have three governments in a period of one year. The situation in Kosovo is already alarming, because there are only € 34 million in the budget reserves. The political structures ignore the citizens and the business community, while the workers are suffering major damage. This will strongly reflect on the economic and social aspects, primarily psychological, because Kosovo citizens have already lost hope in a better tomorrow. Remittances from the diaspora were two times bigger than the government's recovery package. It is assessed that since 1999 the diaspora has sent to Kosovo more than € 40 billion. In 2020 alone, the remittances from the diaspora amounted to € 800 million (€ 1 billion less because of the Covid-19 pandemic). A point of concern is also the fact that more than 50% of the Kosovo budget is spent on salaries and per diems. In comparison to other countries, Kosovo received the smallest amount of resources from international funds for combating the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic recovery. The most responsible for such a situation are the Kosovo Government and Parliament.
Kosovo is one of the countries in the region that still has a problem with the final electoral register, which is unprocessed and untrustworthy, because it is illogical that there are more voters than citizens in Kosovo.
The early parliamentary elections in Kosovo will be dominated by three main political rivals: the Self-Determination Movement Vetëvendosje (LVV) headed by Albin Kurti, Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) headed by Isa Mustafa, and Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) headed by its Acting President Enver Hoxhaj. In addition to the “great Trio”, Ramush Haradinaj with his Alliance for Future of Kosovo (AAK) also trying to impose himself and his party as the fourth main actor at the elections. A new actor that has emerged on the political scene is the Građanska lista /Citizen List/ headed by Vjosa Osmani, which could win over support of a part of LDK voters. That is why the pre-election and winning alliance between Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani is the strongest political force, because they represent a new quality, which brings together the broadest political spectrum in Kosovo, and majority of citizens will be able to relate with it. It is interesting that the leading parties did not report any pre-election coalitions to the Election Commission, which is also an illustration of their mutual relations.
With the introduction of 100% taxes on the import of goods from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, Haradinaj has grossly violated the international Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and caused irreparable damage to Kosovo in international relations and a damage amounting to € 600 million, while the damage caused to Serbia totals € 400 million. Haradinaj is still under the suspicion that he had committed war crimes and criminal offenses. He is also a symbol of “dark forces from the past” which Kosovo does not need, because such forces cannot provide Kosovo a brighter future- as they have demonstrated over their past 20 years in power. Hashim Thaci exacted for himself the presidential position four years ago, believing that in such a way he could avoid being prosecuted. This was a period of significant regression and deterioration of international image of Kosovo. Haradinaj was also driven by his own selfish and he has nominated himself for the position of President of Kosovo.
Analysts believe that the new convocation of the Kosovo Parliament could adopt modification of the provision of the Constitution regulating that the Kosovo President is elected in the Kosovo Parliament, so that in the future the president is elected directly at presidential elections. In such a way the president of Kosovo would have a bigger legitimacy – as in such a way, trade among the parties, which is very often at a level of a criminal offense, would be eliminated. Namely, an interparty agreement on who will be the next president of Kosovo were made several months or even years in advance. Such practice includes elements of a criminal offense and has nothing in common with democracy and the democratic election process.
After the indictments against the four leaders of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (OVK/UCK), Hashim Thaci, Kadri Veseli, Jakup Krasniqi and Rexhep Selimi, for a number crimes against humanity and war crimes, including assassination, forced disappearance of persons, persecution and torture had been confirmed (KSC-SPO), they were transferred to The Hague. Although some experts had expected that mass demonstrations would be organized before their departure to The Hague, nothing of the kind happened. Hashim Thaçi (PDK), Kadri Veseli (PDK) and other indictees listed bear criminal responsibility for almost 100 assassinations. The victims of the crimes listed in the indictment include hundreds of persons whose identity is known and who include Kosovo Albanians, Serbs, Roma and persons of other ethnicities, as well as political opponents.
Analysts believe that the departure of the four OVK/UCK leaders remind of the departure of the so-called “Croatian six” (Jadranko Prlić, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petković, Valentin Ćorić, Berislav Pušić and Bruno Stojić) to The Hague in 2004. They were first indicted and later sentenced for the war crimes they had committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Except for the brief “mourning period” and “expression of bereavement”, accompanied with an emphasis on the stance that they are “the heroes”- nothing spectacular happened. The situation was similar with the so-called “Kosovo Four”- which was not only accused of war crimes, but majority of them were also involved in and/or connected with crimes in peacetime. If they were not to be tried for war crimes, they would be tried for the crimes they had committed in peacetime. The situation is the same with the so called “Croatian Six”. They are proven criminals and their prosecution brought a relief to their countrymen and other citizens from the area.
The so-called “Kosovo Four” will be very quickly forgotten and their influence will gradually waken, because Kosovo needs to be developed as a modern society based on the rule of law and respect of true European values. The priority is the visa liberalization, which is now getting a chance to be implemented, while the so-called “Kosovo Four” will very quickly be forgotten, just like Croatian one was.
Analysts warn of the threat of assassination of the protected witnesses and the danger of release of the so-called “Kosovo Four”, because Thaçi and Veseli have already been accused by the Kosovo Specialist Chamber for obstruction of the work of the court, which they later manipulated through the Association of OVK/UCK Veterans and its engagement in the criminal offences against the judiciary, obstruction of officials in the exercise of their official duty, intimidation of witnesses, retaliation and breach of the secrecy of the proceedings before the KSC-SPO. It is necessary to conduct an investigation into how and why have 13 protected witnesses been killed so far, and to sanction both the order-givers and the perpetrators.
Enver Hoxhaj (PDK) stated in late December 2020 in Tirana: “We will also have concrete proposals on integration of economies of Kosovo and Albania.” Hoxhaj evidently does not understand economy and obvious lacks vision, because Kosovo needs to be integrated into the modern European and global economic trends, not Albanian trends.
Kosovo has not seized the favorable moment for its recognition. Serbia got actively engaged on stopping new international recognitions of Kosovo and having some existing recognitions withdrawn. In fact, it was partly successful in that respect. The then coalition partners, Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) headed by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) headed by Kadri Veseli brought Kosovo into a difficult situation- in all the segments and particularly with respect to international recognitions. Their mutual rivalries went so far that the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kosovo Enver Hoxhaj (PDK) blocked the activities on further international recognition of Kosovo, so that any possible success could not be attributed to the then Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and the LDK.
With the rhetoric about annexation of Kosovo to Albania, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (PS) discouraged the states that had intended to recognize Kosovo - and they eventually gave up on their intentions to recognize Kosovo. This created irreparable damage to Kosovo.
Analysts believe that the upcoming early parliamentary elections in Kosovo will be marked by a new showdown between a part of the Serb opposition and the Albanian political parties, including the Serb List (SL - Srpska lista), which is supported by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS). In fact, through the Serb List (SL), which is the favorite of the Kosovo Serb community in the elections, they will try to “settle the accounts” with the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. As a result, in Kosovo, in the final phase of the election campaign the tensions against the Serb List will significantly increase- not excluding the possibility of use of violence. It is of exceptional importance to finalize the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Priština with the signing of a legally binding agreement, to “abolish” borders in the region and remove the barriers, and in such a way commence intensive mutual cooperation, which would constitute true European behavior. In fact, the “Mini Schengen” regional initiative is aimed at fulfillment of such goals. This is confirmed also by the fact that in the past year Serbia attracted 60% of all direct foreign investments in the region, while the percentage of such investments in Kosovo is negligible.
The Kosovo authorities have not adequately responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. Kosovo citizens are distraught, as they constantly hear that the vaccines have still not been procured for Kosovo, nor have they been ordered, as well as that it is in spring 2021 that they can expect arrival of a small quantity of vaccines, which will be provided as a part of international assistance.
It was announced that the vaccination of a larger part of population will take place next autumn or in 2022. Both Kosovo and international media report on the dramatic situation in the Kosovo healthcare system.
Serbia was the first country in the region and the second in Europe to procure a contingent of vaccines from the US Pfizer company. In Serbia the vaccination of population begun on 24 December 2020. Serbian healthcare institutions expect arrival of significant quantities of vaccines of other manufacturers, including the Russian and Chinese ones, in January 2021. Serbian Minister of Health Zlatibor Lončar stated that he had been instructed by Serbian President Vučića that there must not be any segregation of people on ethnic, religious or any other basis, because vaccines delivered to Kosovo were intended for all those who need them. After the vaccines, which were dubbed “Vučić's” vaccines, were delivered, Kosovo authorities protested. This generated disappointment among Kosovo citizens, because they badly need the vaccines. The vaccines sent from Serbia are intended for Kosovo citizens independent of their ethnic affiliations, which is why the citizens do not understand who is against “Vučić's” vaccines? In the current difficult situation in the healthcare sector any humaneness and humanity is priceless. There is a reasonable possibility that the negligence of the Kosovo Government and its failure to undertake appropriate measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the delayed procurement of vaccines, could result in additional 5,000 victims.
The decision of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo ruling the Kosovo Government headed by Avdullah Hoti unconstitutional also stipulates that persons who in the past three years had received a final sentence cannot run at elections. Such a decision is primarily related to Albin Kurti and his LVV.
The criminal offense for which Kurti was issued a suspended sentence had been committed in 2015, when Criminal Code no. 04/L-082 was in force. Namely, Article 100/2 of the Law regulated that legal consequences of the punishment cannot be created where a fine, suspended sentence or judicial admonition is imposed on the perpetrator.
Article 3 of the Code envisages that the law in effect at the time a criminal offense was committed shall be applied to the perpetrator.
The situation would be completely different had the offense been committed after 2019, that is after the new Code no. 06/L-074 had entered into force. Pursuant to Article 93/2, of the aforementioned Code, legal consequences of the punishment cannot be created where a fine or judicial admonition is imposed on the perpetrator.
Analysts believe that it is a paradox that those who had voted in favor of the illegal Government of Kosovo, as was confirmed by the relevant ruling of the Constitutional Court, are now trying to dispute Kurti's democratic right to be a candidate for the Kosovo Parliament and the position of the Kosovo Prime Minister, despite the fact that there are no legal obstacles for him to run at the elections. In fact, the ones who had appointed an illegal government and who have no credibility, nowadays argue that Kurti cannot run at the elections because a suspended sentence- which has already expired- had been issued against him. The Kosovo Election Commission is still under the influence of Hashim Thaci and the PDK, and, therefore, special attention should be paid to it.
The new Kosovo Government will have to respect the undertaken international obligations and the signed agreements such as the Brussels Agreement, which also includes the obligation to establish the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO), the CEFTA Agreement, the Washington Agreement, etc. A positive example can be found in the the Government of Montenegro, which after the fall of the autocratic Milo Đukanović's (DPS) regime, has taken over all the international obligations and the agreements signed.
The undertaken obligations cannot be avoided but are to be fully, not selectively, implemented. The achieved agreements can be reconsidered, but in no way negated.
The dialogue will not be simple at all, because once again the focus will be put on the painful issue of missing persons, as well as the non-fulfillment of what has been agreed and signed in Brussels in April 2013 - the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO).
A testimony that the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Priština cannot be observed through the “black-and-white” prism are the words of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS), who had stated on several occasions: “We can talk about everything only in the context of a compromise. You will never get my signature for an option in which the Albanians get everything, while Serbia gets nothing. You will also not have my support for something of the kind. Currently, I am the President of Serbia. Maybe you will find someone else who will be willing to accept something of the kind -without achieving a compromise, but just by following ultimatums.“
Analysts believe that key importance should be attached to finalization of the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Priština under EU mediation and the full implementation of the agreed – particularly bearing in mind that the implementation of the Brussels Agreement was proven faulty.
Ljubljana/Washington/Priština, 18 January 2021