Kosovo’s opposition leader and election winner Albin Kurti says that if a referendum were held for his country to join Albania, he would vote in favor.
His comments came in an interview with Euronews just days after his Vetëvendosje party won the majority of votes in Kosovo so far, paving the way for Kurti to form a government.
More than 90% of Kosovo’s 1.8 million people are ethnic Albanians, and the prospect of a union between the two nations is popular in both Kosovo and Albania.
Vetëvendosje, which stands for Self-Determination, appears to have doubled its result from last year, with more than 50% of Kosovar voters choosing the party despite the country’s Constitutional Court banning Kurti from participating in the elections.
The February 14 elections punished the two parties that have dominated Kosovo since the end of the war against Serbian forces in 1999, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which only won the 13% and 17%. of the vote.
The result has convinced Kurti that despite the events of the past year, Vetëvendosje can weather the political storms of the next week and deliver on his promise to combat rampant corruption in the country, restore the economy and stand up to the old guard of Kosovar politics.
Kurti, a student activist who was jailed during the 1990s for his work with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), made international news in 2015 when he fired tear gas at the Kosovar parliament in protest against a border demarcation agreement with the neighboring Kosovo. Montenegro.
In the years since then, Vetëvendosje has grown from a grassroots social movement to a political force in Kosovo, drawing votes from young Kosovars as well as the vast Kosovar diaspora.
But despite his political capital at home, Kurti returns to power at a difficult time for the young nation, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 in a move not yet accepted by Belgrade. Talks about joining the EU, which Kosovo is seeking, have been conditioned on the resolution of its dispute with Serbia, with which it fought a bloody two-year conflict between 1998 and 1999.
That has been made more difficult with the rise of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, whose base on the nationalist right wants to see swaths of Kosovo territory handed over to Serbia, or even a reconquest of the entire territory, which was part of Serbia for the most of the last century.
Kurti’s own opinion on the dialogue with Belgrade, much harsher than his predecessors in Pristina, is unlikely to make things any easier. But Kurti, unsurprisingly, doesn’t apologize for that.
He spoke with Euronews about the prospect of restarting the dialogue with Serbia, a federation with Albania, his political trajectory and Kosovo’s path towards accession to the European Union.
Responses have been edited to be longer and clearer.
His election victory on Sunday was even bigger than expected. Now you need to secure 61 votes in parliament to govern, how do you plan to do it?
We created a pre-election coalition between the Vetëvendosje movement and the list of President Vjosa Osmani. The votes are still being counted, but I think we have passed half the votes. This does not automatically translate the 61 MEPs that are needed for a majority, so we will need a couple of MEPs from the non-Serb minority. I think this is very doable.
Even if it is not, it has ruled out a coalition with the PDK and the LDK.
PDK and LDK are two factions of the Old Regime and the overwhelming electoral victory that we have had tells us that we should go ahead with some of the deputies from the minority communities and that these two big and old partisans. Well, great until yesterday, sure old man, they should reform.
We have built the third wave of enthusiasm in the recent history of our country. The first was liberation in 1999. The second was independence in 2008. Now we want to get jobs and justice, which means we want to replace youth migration with jobs and we want to fight corruption and end the elements of the capture of the State, which were largely carried out by these parties that lost Sunday’s elections.
Even if it reaches 61 MPs, I understand that you still need the president to be elected. If not, the government falls and new elections are called. How will you deal with this?
We plan to elect the speaker of parliament, a new government and a new president. We need two thirds of the deputies to keep the vote. I believe that after this overwhelming victory it is feasible to have them in the room because they know the will of the people. If they had imagined boycotting before, I am sure they would have thought better of it because they would lose even more support among the people. They cannot afford to go to early elections. If that happens, which I don’t think will happen, then in the next round of elections I think they will disappear completely.
His last term as prime minister ended during the COVID-19 pandemic. What is the first thing you are going to do as prime minister to tackle the pandemic in Kosovo?
We plan to start allocating adequate funding for vaccination and a priority schedule regarding which social groups should be vaccinated first and in what order, and we plan to have 60 percent of the population vaccinated by this year, in cooperation with the EU.
When I left office on June 3 of last year, we only had 30 deaths and the number of people cured was three and a half times greater than the active cases. Since I left office, we have had more than 1,500 deaths.
Have you talked about accepting vaccines from Serbia like North Macedonia has?
We plan to discuss this issue with our partners, with countries that recognized us and in particular with [the] I.
Is that a no to Serbian vaccines?
No, we will not receive vaccines from Serbia, which receives vaccines from Russia and China. Both in terms of values and interests, our orientation has always been towards the West.
It could be seen as a way to build bridges with Belgrade.
We do not want to replace the EU and US with any undemocratic eastern powers because it has been shown that there is no certainty regarding quality, on the one hand, and on the other hand, there are always conditions in the form of geopolitical games.
He has said that his government will apply for candidate status to the European Union, but the EU has repeatedly said that Kosovo’s accession to the EU depends on restarting the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Do you plan to restart it?
Well, I think Serbia should face its own past. They caused four wars in the former Yugoslavia and it seems that there is no repentance, no penance, that’s why within the state about this. It is important to have changes in Serbia regarding how they view Kosovo.
I am ready to enter into a dialogue where people will be the beneficiaries. But I think it is not acceptable for anyone in Kosovo, of course, including me, to enter into a dialogue where we are supposed to compensate the state of Serbia for the loss of this state during the Milosevic era. Serbia committed genocide in Kosovo.
We don’t have to read history books or listen to our grandparents. We experience it. I believe that it is very important to address the delay and denial of justice and that it builds on the past for more peace, security, stability and reconciliation in the long term.
Do you still want a full apology, recognition and reparation from Serbia?
I think it is necessary. What else is Serbia going to do, try to attack us again? I think they should get away from the Russian Federation and China and they should try to do it as quickly as possible. They have to free themselves from Kosovo. We liberate Kosovo from Serbia. I believe that Serbia should free itself from Kosovo.
How is reconciliation between Serbs and Kosovars achieved in Kosovo?
For reconciliation, with the Serbs in Kosovo, it is not necessary because we do not fight with them. We fought against Belgrade, which was against us and committed genocide in the spring of 1999, and for this we need Serbia to face its past, to look in the mirror instead of looking at Kosovo with military binoculars. And recognize our independence and show some regret for the crimes committed by the regime. I think what Serbia needs is a Serbian Charles de Gaulle who says, as Charles de Gaulle said: “France is great without Algeria”, that Serbia is great without Kosovo.
You have been described as a nationalist, albeit a leftist nationalist, how do you feel about that title?
I am a social democrat and if you see some nationalist traits in me, it comes from the history of Kosovo and it is anti-colonial and liberation in nature. To achieve equality between people and nations and not dominate another. We could say that all three were nationalists: Charles de Gaulle, Marine Le Pen and Franz Fanon, but if you put these three in the same basket you could make a big mistake.
You once said you would support a great union with Albania, is that still the case?
We believe in strengthening the state of Kosovo as a sovereign and independent republic and, in our constitution, article 1.1 is in contradiction with article 1.3. Article 1.1 says that Kosovo is a sovereign and independent country and Article 1.3 says that Kosovo cannot join another country. So I think that full independence also implies the independence of independence, so we could join a federation with Albania or an EU federation.
Two referendums in the future could solve this, in Albania and Kosovo, but never in violation of our constitution. The constitution would have to be changed first and only if it can be done peacefully and democratically one day.
How would you vote in that referendum?
Once we would have a strengthening of the state in Kosovo. Once we can do it in a peaceful and democratic way. I think I would vote yes. Yes.
Do you have a message for Europe?
Europe should reform itself and not just its enlargement objective. The six Western Balkans and the EU are very important to each other. And I believe that with the six Western Balkans, the EU will achieve congruence with Europe as a continent and we must never forget this and never let it go.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism