Relations between Kosovo and Serbia under the Kurti’s government
26 mars 2020 /
This article is a contribution from our partner EU-Logos.
This article firstly will talk about the new government in Kosovo and its composition; secondly, it will explain what happened with Serbia in terms of negotiations in the past years and in conclusion, it will be shown a short interview with the Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti and what he said about the new forms of dialogue that he wants to realize with Serbia under a new left-wing perspective.
After four months of troubled gestations, Kosovo has a new government, different from all the previous ones. The two parties that in the October elections had obtained the majority of votes – Vetëvendosje! (VV, “self-determination”) and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) – reached an agreement on Sunday, February 2nd, approved the next day by the majority of the assembly’s votes (66 out of 120). The new Prime Minister is Albin Kurti, leader of Vetëvendosje, a left-wing nationalist party that had never ruled in the previous seven executives in Pristina. The votes of minority representatives were fundamental to the support of the alliance with Center-right LDK party.
The new executive has a number of innovations and is taking place at a particularly delicate time, especially with regard to relations with Serbia, with which Kurti promised to relaunch the dialogue, giving hope for a new way both for Kosovo and the other countries of the region.
What news do we have?
Kurti’s executive will be the first one led by a left-wing premier. In his inaugural speech, Kurti reiterated his battle-horses: combating corruption, waste of public spending and efforts to improve health and education systems. The new government presents as many as 5 women out of 15 ministries, drastically breaking the enormous gender imbalance of the previous Haradinaj government (only one woman in 21 ministries).
Albin Kurti will also be the first Prime Minister, like Isa Mustafa, who did not serve in the ranks of the UCK, the Army of Liberation of Kosovo, which in 1998-99 fought for independence from Belgrade. This is a break from the previous government too, considering that the alliance supporting Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj was immediately baptized the « war coalition » as all the leaders of the participating parties played an important role in the KLA.
Consequences for Serbs from Kosovo
One of the most delicate elements of these four months of consultations was the relationship with the Serbs in Kosovo. In the October elections the Serbian List (SL), the main party of the Serbian minority in the country, had obtained over 95% of the preferences in the municipalities where the Serbs are the majority, including the four municipalities in the north. However, Kurti immediately indicated that he would not include the SL in the new executive, which is considered an extension of the Serbian State in Kosovo. A more than legitimate consideration because of the strong support that SL from Belgrade and President Alexander Vucic, who together with his government has always called for this party to vote, presenting it as the only one capable of representing and protecting the interests of the Serbs in the region.
However, with the result of the elections and the ten elected members, the Serbian List could not be excluded from the formation of government, for which the constitution requires certain departments to be reserved for minorities. The Serbian List, which also participated in the previous executive, has never supported Kurti, who is considered a radical nationalist, since he has never concealed the ambition of greater political and economic integration with Albania, and even unification between the two states, which seems unrealistic. The situation has become almost Kafkaesque since the SL did not express position and abstained itself from voting in the formation of government in which Kurti assigned them two ministries.
In hisa inugural speech in Serbian and Turkish, as well as Albanian, Kurti announced that he would resume the process of normalization of relations with Serbia, after the stalemate begun by the government of Haradinaj in November 2018. The key word, also repeated in interviews with some Belgrade broadcasters in the weeks following the elections, is reciprocity: a principle which the neo-PM wishes to apply at the political level in the negotiation process mediated by the EU. Since the stalemate of the dialogue lies in the application of 100% duties in Pristina on goods from Serbia, implicitly asking that Belgrade also recognizes the Kosovar import goods. In addition, it has announced the formation of negotiations, suggesting that this responsibility is not the exclusive prerogative of the President of Kosovo Hashim. According to Radio Free Europe revelations, the dialogue between the two sides of the dialogue included issues of people affected by the 1998 conflict, as well as a resolution to submit a resolution to the future of Serbia.
For the time being, the dialogue was conducted exclusively by the two presidents of the republics, Hashim Thaçi and Aleksandar Vucic, without any involvement of the respective parliaments and with marginal roles of the executives in Pristina and Belgrade. That of Kurti seems, therefore, a reversal of course that leads to a greater inclusion of local representatives, emphasizing moreover its intolerance only towards the interference of Belgrade in the Kosovar policy and not towards the Kosovar Serbs, which it aims to represent.
A representation that the Serbs living at the north of the River Ibar might not accept, rather calling for the implementation of the 2013 Brussels Accords, which provides for the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities, a self-governing body that has so far remained a dead letter, Vetëvendosje himself expressed his intransigence in the parliamentary debates.
Is the international diplomacy competition back?
Consultations for the new government seemed to be blocked by several « games of the chair ». However, if it was right for Vetëvendosje to hand over the chair of Speaker of Parliament to Vjosa Osmani of the LDK, the role of the international community was also important. Only four days before the birth of the government, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union, Joseph Borrell, visited Pristina, where he met President Thaçi. Federica Mogherini’s successor then pressed for the formation of a new government in Pristina to allow the resumption of dialogue with Belgrade, the primary mission of the High Representative, which pushes Serbia and Kosovo « to an agreed resolution, which can only be found by the two of them«.
Borrell’s visit reactivates a geopolitical competition in which the USA returned as protagonists after having supported Pristina in 1999s war and in the recognition process after 2008, when it unilaterally declared its independence. A few days earlier, in fact, Richard Grenell, US Special Envoy for the Serbia-Kosovo Dialogue- a post created just a few months ago by the White House–, visited Pristina, highlighting the US commitment in the region against an inconclusive EU. The visit took place a few days after an exchange of letters through which Belgrade and Pristina undertook to restore the line of air connection between the two capitals, followed by that for the railway section. More symbolic agreements, which will be linked to the removal of duties, but which serve to relaunch US leadership in the region. An element of international diplomacy which the Kurti government cannot ignore.
Pristina wants to ask Belgrade to assume responsibility for the war crimes committed in 1999 with relative compensation. Albin Kurti certainly did not create the conditions for dialogue, on the contrary. Presenting in Parliament the programme and composition of his new government–, on 3rd February last year, he clearly stated that he would ask Serbia to take responsibility for the war crimes committed in 1999, with the related damages.
Belgrade and Pristina remain far away. Kosovo is seeking its independence from Serbia, after proclaiming it in 2008. Many countries, however, including China, Russia and five EU countries, such as Spain, do not want to recognize it. The talks with Belgrade have gone on and on. Kurti’s choices, now, will certainly not help the diplomacy called around the table.
Parliament gave him confidence by 66 out of 120 votes in favour. Oppositions left the Chamber at the time of the vote in protest. Kurti– former student rebel, called the « Che Guevara of Kosovo » – leads a party of the nationalist left– self-determination– which won the elections on October 6, 2019.
He had always been hard on Serbia. In the election campaign he said he wanted to dialogue with Belgrade, to find a solution to the conflict and to give solid legs to independence. During the settlement speech, however, the fourth Kosovar premier announced that he would seek compensation for war damages. Criminal charges will be filed for genocide; it has exacerbated the problem and a special institute will be set up to deal with it. He reiterated his readiness to negotiate with Belgrade, but only if there is broad political consensus.
Belgrade did not like and did not digest the announcement of a law that will make military service compulsory for three months. Serbia had interrupted talks with the government of Kosovo in November 2018, both because of the decision of Pristina to apply 100% duties on the import of Serbian goods, and for the approval of a law establishing an army in the small Balkan country. For Belgrade this is an unacceptable affirmation of sovereignty and, above all, the agreement signed at the end of the war to stop the fighting did not foresee the birth of an army of Kosovo.
Two slaps, therefore, those that the new premier, Kurti, gave to Serbia, which will certainly react by continuing the policy of obstruction to the entry of Kosovo into international organizations. Kurti says that relations between the two countries must be based on the principle of reciprocity: with this difficult climate one can hardly imagine it happening in the coming months.
The new Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti seized power at the beginning of February and his task is now to lead the negotiations to try to push Serbia to recognise Kosovo as an independent state.
In The Global conversation, Kurti talks to us about Kosovar ambition to join the EU, about relations with Serbia, and he attacks the Hague Tribunal for the war crimes allegedly committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army: « It is a non-transparent institution », he says. Member of the nationalist party ‘self-determination!’, Kurti is not willing to hand over parts of Kosovo to Serbia in order to reach an agreement with the historic enemy.
Interview with Kosovo’s Prime Minister Kurti
Prime Minister, what is your plan for negotiations with Serbia?
« We want to have a proper dialogue that is well prepared and with good principles in place. We are, of course, asking for recognition of our Republic. I think that Serbia must face up to its past, all the bad deeds and crimes during the war; once the past has been worked out, I believe that we can create good conditions for peace and stability in the region. As for Serbia, we want equality. We want reciprocity ».
What could possibly be different from previous governments?
« I am a person who has been in opposition for more than two decades. I know Serbia very well. They know me very well too. I have been in their prisons for two years and seven months during the period of Slobodan Milošević, but also later. The time is ripe for both sides to enter into a new dialogue, based on values that are good for building the future and without forgetting the past ».
What do you think of the plans to share the land of Kosovo with Serbia? Is this a possible solution for you?
« Kosovo cannot engage in any kind of land exchange or territorial exchange project. All these ideas have failed in the past and will fail in the future, especially now that we are in power. If someone proposes them again, know that territorial solutions are the way to new conflicts, not for the peace we need ».
You are ready to end 100% duty on Serbian goods, and that is what the United States wants. But they want it without any other conditions. Is that even possible?
« There is a huge variety of non-tariff barriers that Serbia is imposing on exports from Kosovo. We do not want reciprocity as a retaliatory measure, but we want reciprocity as a principle of constructive and healthy bilateral relations. People voted for this and we cannot simply abolish duties »
So, moving forward, your aspiration is that Kosovo will one day become an EU Member State. But it has seen its closest neighbours, Northern Macedonia and Albania, stalling. Has this changed the way in which Kosovo stands with regard to the process of accession to the European Union?
« Obviously, we come after Albania and Northern Macedonia and the decision not to open negotiations with these two countries was disappointing for us. But I think the EU should be defended. The EU should be enlarged with the Western Balkans and we are not close to the EU, we are surrounded by the EU ».
You met with Joseph Borrell, the head of EU foreign policy. You met with the US Special Envoy, Richard Grenell. Do you think they are on the same lines when it comes to relations between Kosovo and Serbia?
« Grenell insisted on an agreement at the end of this spring. Sure, that would be great. But we should not endanger other relationships and dialogue with agreements made too quickly to be acceptable ».
« We cannot decide who is in office in Brussels and for what function. Of course, it raises some scepticism among the people of Kosovo and in the new government that there are two very high officials from two states that do not recognise us. I hope they will not represent their countries but the European Union ».
Is it realistic? Joseph Borrell was quite clear in the past.
« Well, perhaps you should rethink the whole problem of the Western Balkans in favour of a European solution. And Kosovo’s independence is a reality. I think that anyone who denies it or tries to propose solutions without accepting this state of fact and the will of the people does more harm to himself or himself ».
Your party voted against the establishment of the special tribunal in The Hague for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Are you willing to cooperate?
« I cannot do much. Considering that special rooms have become an international obligation. But there was a vote in parliament almost five years ago with a two-thirds majority. It is a truly unique type of court, which in my opinion lacks transparency ».
So, would you like this court to be based entirely in Pristina?
« I want to strengthen the local courts. Ordinary ones. I think that justice should be cultivated in one’s own home ».
So, you will cooperate fully with the special rooms in The Hague?
« Well, our Ministry of Justice has collaborated, but the special chambers are operating through its potential more than concretely, as if the goal were to punish the commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, transformed into powerful politicians, instead of offering justice, especially to the victims ».
But will the police cooperate with the court? Will they give him information?
« For us it is an international obligation ».