Serbian policy and the Kosovo political crisis: Adding fuel to the fire

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 12, 2017 10:36

Serbian policy and the Kosovo political crisis: Adding fuel to the fire

By Aleksandar Pavlović*

The deepening political crisis in Kosovo exploded on Thursday when Kosovo government fell after MP’s voted overwhelmingly (78 to 34) to overthrow it. Following the vote, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci dissolved the parliament and is to set the date for the new elections, which are to follow within the next 45 days, probably in mid or late June.

This was the result of the crisis that has been affecting the fragile coalition between the two main parties in Kosovo, the (freshly) former Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s conservative LDK (Kosovo Democratic League) and Thaci’s centre-right PDK (Kosovo Democratic Party).

The immediate reason for the collapse of the government seems to be the opposition to the proposed demarcation line with Montenegro, the main condition for obtaining visa-free travel to “Schengen” countries for the Kosovars. The opposition – and even some MP’s from the ruling parties – opposed vigorously this deal for months now, claiming that it would mean seeding the Kosovo land to Montenegro. Another significant factor in the crisis was the standstill in Serbian-Kosovo negotiations and the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo with significant autonomy, a move that Kosovo agreed to in 2013 Brussels agreement but is yet to implement.

So, what does all this have to do with Serbia? To be sure, Serbia – in addition to its role of the usual suspect – hardly had immediate influence on the present Kosovo parliamentary crisis. Truth be told, Belgrade surely influences Serbian representatives from the Kosovo Parliament joined in a “Serbian list” (“Srpska lista”), and its MPs were very vocal these days in describing Kosovo government as the “dying patient” and invoking its collapse. But so did the MP’s of a number of other, Albanian political parties.

Perhaps, somehow, Serbia will profit from the political crisis? Again, it is hard to see how exactly that would play, inasmuch as Serbia demands rights for Kosovo Serbs, Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian Heritage in Kosovo, and putting all this in motion requires a functional and cooperative political institutions in Kosovo.

And, yet, curiously, Serbia manages to influence Kosovo political scene on a more profound level, albeit, unfortunately, in a (self)destructive manner. First, in January 2017, it created a crisis by dispatching the infamous train from Belgrade to Kosovska Mitrovica, painted in the colors of the Serbian flag and armed with an inscription “Kosovo is Serbia”. While the train, predictably, never reached its destination, it enabled Thaci for the first time to send Kosovo special forces to the North of Kosovo, where the Serbs form stable majority of population and where the presence of Kosovo institutions is hardly – if at all – visible. While international community responded coldly to Thaci’s subsequent plans to form the Kosovo army, Serbian move certainly gave him good arguments about the need of such military formation.

As if this had not been enough, Serbia additionally spiced up cold January by issuing an Interpol war crimes warrant against Ramush Haradinaj. the current Kosovo MP’s  and the former high ranked KLA member, for his alleged crimes against the Serbs during the late 1990s conflict in Kosovo. Since Haradinaj has previously been put to trial, and freed under the lack of evidence, by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague, it was highly unlikely that Serbia will manage to present anything strong enough as to persuade French institutions to expedite Haradinaj to Serbia for a new trial. Predictably, after four months of detention, Haradinaj was eventually allowed to return to Prishtina, and just a fortnight ago was greeted as a hero and martyr by the Kosovo crowd in a public celebration of their reunion. At present, he appears to be the most influential politician in Kosovo and the likely candidate for the new Prime Minister.

In short, if current Serbian policy towards Kosovo is to bore any fruits, these would soon prove to be rotten ones. By its stubborn and (self)destructive insistent on Ramush Haradinaj’s detention in France, it additionally fuelled the already charged Kosovo political scene. Rather as a convict, Serbia will see Haradinaj as the Premier. While the chances of him being receptive to Serbian claims and requests were previously already slim, they are not virtually non-existent. In a cognate manner, Serbia’s “train affair” enabled Thaci, another former KLA member, to score patriotic points, and under present circumstances it seems likely that he would outperform the more moderate Mustafa on the elections to come.

Thus, overall speaking, Serbia curiously managed to radicalize the Kosovo scene, but to its disadvantage. While the present political life in Kosovo could be now subsumed to a citizen and nationalistic option, Serbia effectively assisted in empowering the latter and raising its former war enemies into the most popular and influential political figures in Kosovo.

 

*Aleksandar Pavlović is a researcher at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory of the University of Belgrade, and is currently a fellow of the Centre for Albania-Serbia Relations at the Albania Institute for International Studies in Tirana. He holds BA and MA from the University of Belgrade and PhD in Southeast European Studies from the University of Nottingham.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 12, 2017 10:36