On February 14th 2021 elections were held in Kosovo for the renewal of the 120 deputies of the only legislative chamber. The results confirmed the victory of the left party Vetevendosje, led by Albin Kurti, which (for the records) had already won the October 2019 elections, and was appointed Prime Minister on February 3rd 2020, following a governmental agreement with the centre-right party LDK (Democratic League of Kosovo). Kurti is quite popular among the young population and a passionate supporter and promoter of women’s participation in political and institutional life, as witnessed by the many female ministers in his government. His success is attributed partly to his charisma, to the lack of consensus of his former leader and to the weakening of the opposition parties, orphans of many representatives who were accused of committing war crimes against both Serbians and Albanians. Kurti is also an incredible nationalist and pacifist, protagonist of a kind of nationalism that is complicated to label according to Western standards. He has built his nationalism based on the concept of tolerance: “Kosovo did not experience a conflict between two ethnic groups, it was not a tribal conflict between Serbians and Albanians, but the fight of a part of the population (Albanians) against the totalitarian regime (Serbian)”, he argues. In the light this, it is unsurprising that he is more open to peace with Belgrade than some of his predecessors.
His victory represents a (posthumous) defeat fro the Trump Administration on the thorny issue of Serbia-Kosovo relations. The Prime Minister accused the White House representative for the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, Granell, of being directly responsible for the vote that led to the dissolution of his executive in 2020 and for having interfered in the internal affairs of the country. Historically, however, the relationships between Washington and Pristina have been excellent. The tensions with Serbia, which continues to consider Kosovo its own land, cooled only recently, thanks to the US’ mediation, and an economic agreement was signed between the parties.
The EU even “tried” to impose on Belgrade a normalisation of its relationship with Pristina as a precondition for its entrance into the Union, but the bilateral talks produced few concrete results. What is certain is that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina could have significant effects not just for Serbia and Kosovo, but for the entire Balkan region.
What is being fought for
During the times of the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo had wide political and administrative autonomy due to its ethnic composition and its significant Albanian majority. This changed when, in March 1989, the then-Serbian President, Slobodan Milošević revoked a large part of the territorial autonomy, removed Albanian as the second official language along with Serb-Croatian and closed all the Albanian language schools. The province suffered a “serbification” of the ruling class, replacing the dignitaries, teachers and local administrators either with Serbs or with people aligned with Belgrade. The Albanian population and its leaders, first and foremost Ibrahim Rugova (leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK), opted for a pacific opposition, unilaterally declaring independence in 1990.
It was the end of the Bosnia Herzegovina war, but to provoke an escalation, Serbia began its ethnic cleansing. This triggered armed resistance. Leading the fight was the Kosovo Liberation Army, UÇK. NATO intervention put an end to the war. The independence declaration signed on February 17th 2008, however, did not quell the “Kosovar issue”. In the preamble of the 2006 Serbian Constitution Kosovo was declared as still part of its territory and recognising it as an autonomous province. Maintaining national independence is therefore still a very pressing issue in Pristina.
Kosovo is a parliamentary unicameral republic. The state organs are regulated by the Constitution, which meets the 2013 Brussels agreements on the normalisation of the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo. The representation of the ethnic-linguistic minorities is guaranteed by a constitutional law, which reserves a part of the seats to the representatives of the Serbian community, plus ten extra for the remaining minorities. An additional safeguard is ensured by the multiparty electoral system.
The public administration and the build-up of the legislative apparatus are still under the responsibility of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) mission, along with the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) mission created in 1999 as per the UN Security Council resolution 1244. Actually, from the 2008 independence, UNMIK’s tasks should have been transferred to EULEX, but the transition turned out to be more complicated than expected and is still underway. The EULEX mission, which was initially planned to last for a limited period of time, continues to operate in multiple areas.
During the years, EULEX has been a target of criticism due to its lack of effectiveness, especially from the judicial perspective, and due to corruption accusations. In 2009, a violent protest led by a group of Kosovar citizens caused the burning of several cars and the arrest of 21 people. In 2014, the accusations of corruption reached the highest levels, causing the intervention by the EU, which established a committee of inquiry. By 2015, the committee had not detected any responsibility by the mission, stating however that corruption is a current problem in Kosovo. In 2017, a new scandal involved the Head Judge of the mission, the British citizen Malcolm Simmons, who resigned.
In 2016, Hashim Thaçi, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, became President of Kosovo. He was listed by the German Secret Service as being the head of an arms, drugs and organs trafficking network and in 2021 was tried in The Hague Court. His case was similar to that involving the former head of government Ramush Haradinaj, tried in The Hague for murder and finally acquitted. The scandals did not spare the former President of the Parliament Kadri Veseli, former Secret Service Chief, either, considered extremely close to the former two since the times of the UÇK. Since 2021 the new President is a woman: Vjosa Osmani.
The parliament is made up of 120 deputies. Of these, 100 seats are allocated by direct proportional vote, with at least 10 seats reserved for the Serbian community and 10 to be distributed among the other minorities in the territory (Roma, Bosnians, Turks, etc.). Each term lasts four years.
The land is divided into 7 administrative districts. The municipalities are 48. This administrative subdivision, carried out by the UNMIK in 2000 to carefully respect the population’s ethnic distribution, was (unsuccessfully) contested by Serbia.
Kosovo has only one university, split in two different units: one with Albanian as the working language, based in Pristina and with 17 schools, and another with Serbian as the working language, based in Kosovska Mitrovica, with 10 schools, which is part of the Serbian university union.
The highest judicial authority is the Supreme Court. The independence of the judiciary, as established by the Constitution, is granted by the Judiciary Council of Kosovo, which submits to the President the appointment of the prosecutors and has the role of judiciary disciplinary organism. At least 15% of the members of the Supreme Court and of the District Courts must belong to ethnic minorities. The EULEX mission is also in charge of all matters concerning the implementation of the judicial system.
Although Kosovo’s economy is one of the least developed in Europe, some hints of recovery were being registered (before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped everything again). The population was rising again. From the perspective of starting new businesses, according to the Doing Business World Bank ranking, Kosovo made a leap forward, also thanks to the simplification of the tax system and access to credit, ranking 44 out of 190 countries in 2018, despite dropping four points compared to the year before. However, rampant criminality, corruption and a youth unemployment rate of 50% are still extremely serious issues and the pandemic brought down the country once again.
Key figure or organization Vjosa Osmani (Mitrovica, May 17 1982)
She received her Law degree at the University of Pristina and a PhD from Pittsburgh University, and is university professor of International law in Kosovo. During the 2019 elections, she ran for Prime Minister for the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). In 2021 she founded her political party, Guxo, aligning with Kurti’s Vetëvendosje party, running on an anti-corruption platform and obtaining seven seats. From 5 November, 2020, to 22 March, 2021, she was President ad interim of Kosovo, following the resignation of Hashim Thaçi, who had to face trial for war crimes at the Special Court for Kosovo in The Hague. On April 4 2021, the Assembly elected her President of the country, despite the boycotting of two opposition parties and a party representing the Serbian ethnic minority in Kosovo.
Focus 1 – Covid19: help from the EU
In 2021, the EU helped Norway send more than 180,000 anti-COVID-19 vaccine doses to Kosovo at the request of Pristina authorities through the European mechanism of civil protection.
The European Commission coordinated and financed up to the 75% of the costs for transportation and assistance.
“The COVID-19 pandemic hit all of us. The EU is committed to sharing vaccines all over the world: we can defeat this pandemic only by acting together”, said Janez Lenarčič, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, on this occasion. “Our coordination centre for emergency management is ready to facilitate further sharing of the vaccines”, he continued.
From the beginning of the pandemic, from February 2020 to May 2021, the EU mechanism of civil protection coordinated and co-financed the supply of 140,000 masks and other individual protection materials for Kosovo, as well as disinfectants, oxygen generators and antigenic tests coming from Slovenia, the Czech Republic and France.
Focus 2 – Decani Street is approved
Thanks to mediation by the Italian Embassy and with the backing of Kfor, in November 2020 an agreement was reached on the construction of a street in the immediate surroundings of the Visoki Decani Serb-orthodox monastery that will lead to the bordering Montenegro. In Pristina, the Implementation and Monitoring Council (IMC) approved the agreement, which aims at improving the relationship between local communities.The agreement includes the simultaneous construction of a beltway around the special protected area of the monastery, a large road destined especially for international traffic of heavy vehicles. However, the decisio was met with objections by Serbs.