Brussels Sparks Political Showdown in Kosova by Stephen Schwartz

The Weekly Standard Blog March 7, 2016

Notwithstanding its 80 percent Albanian Muslim population, Kosova has mostly kept infiltration by ISIS or other Islamist radicals at bay. Hashim Thaçi, the former head of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), elected president by the country’s National Assembly on February 26, told the German newspaper Handelsblatt last November, “We have acted against radical elements by arresting almost 100 individuals, including imams who had influence. They are now waiting for the verdict of the court.”

Thaçi represents a coalition between his Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), mainly led by KLA veterans, and the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), which organized for Kosovar rights under Serbia on a nonviolent platform, before the 1999 NATO-led air intervention in the territory. LDK chief Isa Mustafa serves as prime minister, a post in which Thaçi preceded him.

The election of Thaçi, by 71 of 120 parliamentary deputies, was accompanied by street protests against him and violent disorder in the Assembly. Tear gas was lobbed into the chamber, supposedly by an opposition member, Bali Muharremaj from the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK). The latter is a substantial element in an opposition that includes the radical nationalist Self-Determination movement, which is extremely popular with the young, and the Initiative for Kosova (NISMA). All three of these opposition parties, like Thaçi’s own PDK, base their programs on the KLA legacy. After the tear gas was thrown, 11 opposition deputies were suspended temporarily from the Assembly. It was not the first such incident; eggs have also been tossed in the legislative sessions.

Thaçi will not take office until April 7, and in the meantime, the militant opposition has challenged his election on technicalities. Thaçi told the Voice of America he had resigned from his party, the PDK, and would not return to it or continue as a government figure after his presidential tenure, which is limited to two terms of five years each.

Like many splits in Kosovar politics, this most recent one is partly made in Brussels, by EU mismanagement. Kosova has many problems, poverty and isolation from the European mainstream being at the head of the list. The country has been recognized as independent by 111 states since its proclamation of sovereignty in 2008 but has been blocked by Russia and Serbia, supported by the Syria of Bashar al-Assad, from membership in the United Nations. Kosovar Albanians have attempted to travel en masse to Germany, but the Kosova government as well as the administration of Angela Merkel recognizes them as economic migrants, rather than refugees, and encourages their return home.

Domination of Kosova by Brussels, which effectively rules the country under U.N. mandate, worsens grievances. To the east and west of Kosova, Serbia and Montenegro have been promised new advantages by the EU. An agreement signed in Brussels on August 25, 2015 by the Kosova and Serbian authorities, at the undisguised insistence of the EU, provides for an autonomous zone in Northern Kosova, where an “Association of Serbian Communities” would exercise authority. According to Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, the Serbian zone would have its own assembly, president, and flag. Kosova’s political system provides for equal rights for Serbs and other minorities. The many Kosovar Albanian opponents of the agreement, including members of Thaçi’s coalition, believe the result of the recent accord would be a partition similar to that of Bosnia-Hercegovina, where the maintenance of a “Republic of Serbs” since the Dayton Accords in 1995 has crippled the state.

On December 23, the Kosova Constitutional Court approved the agreement on the Association of Serbian Communities, but with the reservation that it is not in compliance with the Kosova Constitution. One issue is simple: A month before, on November 23, the Kosovar correspondent in Brussels Augustin Palokaj wrote in the republic’s journal of record, Koha Ditore (Daily Times), “The European Union . . . had the wrong approach, because they thought that it was possible to continue dialogue pretending to respect both the Constitution of Serbia and the Constitution of Kosova. The Constitution of Serbia notes that Kosova is part of Serbia, whereas the Constitution of Kosova notes that Kosova is a sovereign and independent country. . . . Dialogue in Brussels has not normalized relations with Belgrade and has in the meantime caused internal chaos in Kosova.”

In addition, Serbia maintains “parallel” armed bodies–police and informal militia–in Northern Kosova. On November 27, Kosova chief negotiator Edita Tahiri told the EU, “Serbia must remove Kosova from its constitution and also must remove all parallel structures [from the northern zone], in order to show consistency in its commitment to dialogue in Brussels and to normalize relations with Kosova.”

Serbian activists in Northern Kosova act with considerable impunity. In the same week of November, Serbian human rights advocate Nataša Kandić denounced an intrusion into Kosova by General Ljubiša Diković, an accused Serbian war criminal, with the permission of KFOR, the NATO-run international military force occupying the republic. On March 3, the director of the Serbian government office for Kosova, Marko Ðurić, asserted defiantly that Serbian institutions in Kosova, including those he denied were “parallel structures,” will not be abolished, least of all at the insistence of Edita Tahiri.

Already in October Koha Ditore publisher Flaka Surroi warned that the government had violated democratic norms by its “historic” diplomacy, which would only encourage political violence inside Kosova. As Thaçi assumes the presidency, amid the ongoing political polarization, achieving public peace will be difficult. He has drawn away from enthusiastic endorsement of the agreement with Serbia, emphasizing that it is constitutionally problematic. The restive opposition has been energized by public repudiation of the agreement. Kosova has been spared the ordeal of eastern Mediterranean migration, but remains a victim of Brussels.