The joint candidacy of the Vetëvendosje (‘Self-Determination Movement’) of Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani, the incumbent president who now hopes to fully assume office, has come to power in early elections in Kosovo.
They promised to tackle a “huge wall of corruption” that has hampered progress for the past two decades. It marks a fundamental departure from the two parties that have dominated postwar politics in Kosovo, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), and the latest chapter in the fascinating history of this social movement. turned into a political force.
It is Vetëvendosje’s second electoral victory in less than eighteen months. His first term in office came to a premature end after the demise of his ruling coalition with the LDK, sparked by the United States, last March, just as the first wave of COVID-19 hit.
The subsequent Trump-sponsored Washington agreement involving Serbia and Kosovo may have secured Israeli recognition of the latter’s independence (in exchange for its embassy being located in Jerusalem against the wishes of the EU), but very little. plus. The subsequent mismanagement of the pandemic has only generated more discontent among an increasingly impatient electorate.
The extent of his victory discards the idea that his success stems solely from the young population of Kosovo. His anti-corruption and social justice message has had a much wider resonance; rooted as it has long been in nationalist demands (including occasional calls for unification with neighboring Albania) and opposition to the international community (including the very Ahtisaari plan on which Kosovo’s declaration of independence was based).
Nationalism, however, has taken a back seat this time; Except for another former prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj (who has his eyes on the presidency), who also expressed the prospect of unification with Albania.
The indictment of Hashim Thaçi, Kadri Veseli and others, now awaiting trial on war crimes charges in the Kosovo Chambers of Specialists in The Hague, did not spark a surge of support for the PDK as they might well have hoped. Thaçi, it must be remembered, resigned as president to face the charges.
Despite the surge in support for a Kurti-led administration, the challenges of governing remain steep. One of the first will be to remove the elements of the old regime embedded in Kosovo’s institutions. The directors of certain public institutions and companies will be easier to change, with meritocratic appointments that will drive better governance and deprive former holders of public resources that they have long exploited of public resources.
However, Kosovo’s rule of law institutions and intelligence structures pose a very real and fundamental challenge for an administration committed to eliminating corruption. Attempts to prosecute former office abuses and worse are likely to be buried in the tall grass. Should they go to court, delaying tactics, defense appeals and subsequent new trials will further frustrate the process. It will be necessary to manage expectations about what can be achieved in the short term.
Such reform processes themselves will be fraught with difficulties. Background checks on judges and prosecutors in Albania, which included asset justifications and background checks, resulted in a series of dismissals and resignations.
The process has been time consuming and involved outside oversight, something Kurti may not be willing to contemplate. Accusations of political interference in the appointment of new judges and concerns about their subsequent independence have raised new concerns. It is a process that cannot be undertaken lightly, especially when there is a risk of paralyzing the system completely.
Then there is the question of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Kurti has spoken regularly not only about his unwillingness to consider the prospect of further engagement with Belgrade, but to review the agreements reached and implemented to date. The latter would constitute a major setback for the incipient standardization process; one that has seen Kosovo Serb judges and prosecutors integrated into the Kosovo system and dissolved the Civil Protection Corps.
This will create new dilemmas for the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, Miroslav Lajčák. Failing to fulfill its promise of visa liberalization for Kosovo following the fulfillment of a number of conditions, including the demarcation of its border with Montenegro, which led several politicians from Vetëvendosje to tear gas at the Kosovo parliament, the EU influence to force Pristina into new talks is greatly diminished.
With Kurti seemingly able to rule without the support of Srpska Lista (who again held the ten seats reserved for Kosovo’s Serb minority), there will be considerable deliberation on the appointment of guaranteed ministerial and deputy ministerial positions for the Kosovo Serb community.
Even if Kurti looks beyond the Srpska List for Serbian representatives, the constitutional provisions require those candidates to be endorsed by deputies representing the Kosovo Serb community. It is a riddle that cannot be easily solved.
Given that vaccine pressures are a potential source of tension in Kosovo itself (a Serb-run health center in Štrpce, southern Kosovo, has already been raided by police for vaccines), Kurti would do well to maintain a constructive dialogue on the matter with Belgrade, which implies mediation by the EU if necessary. A successful vaccination deployment has the potential to build bridges between Belgrade and Pristina.
While it would be too dramatic to describe Kurti and Vetëvendosje as Kosovo’s last hope, their return to power has created great and understandable expectations. The pursuit of its anti-corruption campaign will put the new administration on a collision course with entrenched elements of the old regime; a regime that has dominated Kosovo politics for some two decades.
Kurti also cannot ignore the reality of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, and the need to commit to a process that leads to a comprehensive normalization of relations. In the midst of a deep socio-economic crisis, Kurti will quickly realize that his victory on Valentine’s Day has no honeymoon.
Ian Bancroft is a writer and diplomat. He is the author of ‘Dragon’s Teeth: Tales from North Kosovo’.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism