Constitutional crisis proves just how far Kosovo has to go

The West took a big gamble in pushing for an independent Kosovo. Building a stable democracy is proving far harder than many had hoped, and the country’s political scene is looking increasingly squalid

Decision time over Kosovo?
Daniel Hamilton
On 12 April 2011 10:39

Last Friday morning, the Assembly of Kosovo elected Atifete Jahjaga as the country’s third president since September. The election of Jahjaga to the largely ceremonial presidency follows two weeks of intensive political manoeuvring after a Constitutional Court ruling invalidating on procedural grounds the election of the previous president, Behgjet Pacolli: The Assembly had not been quorate when it elected Pacolli in February.

For her part, Jahjaga, a woman police commander with practically no political experience, received the support of 80 of the 120 deputies – the two thirds majority required in order for her nomination to be valid. 

Kosovo has been praised for bringing this impasse to a (reasonably) speedy resolution, but the process which resulted in Jahjaga’s election is in reality yet another indication of the continuing inability of Kosovo to run anything even remotely resembling a stable, sovereign democracy.

Indeed, the only real winners from this week’s events are likely to be the ultra-nationalist Vetevendosje – or ‘Self Determination’ – movement led by former political prisoner Albin KurtiVetevendosje, which secured 13 percent of the vote and 14 seats in the National Assembly at the December election. Kurti staunchly opposes any form of negotiations with Serbia and wants an end to the continued presence of international institutions in Kosovo. 

He has also long advocated a union between Kosovo and Albania, an act which was explicitly forbidden in the writing of the country’s constitution in order to protect the rights of minority Serb, Turkish, Roma and Gorani communities.

While mainstream politicians have sought to pigeonhole Kurti as a dangerous radical – which is precisely what he is – the process surrounding Jahjaga’s election only lends credence to his argument that the country is nothing more than a puppet of the British and American governments. 

In the days following his removal from office, Pacolli, a Swiss-based billionaire who is widely reviled in Kosovo for his business links to pro-Serb Russia, had indicated strongly that he wished to see his name submitted to the National Assembly again for a renewed presiential bid.

In “changing his mind”, he was refreshingly honest in explaining his reasons for not going through with it - US Ambassador Christopher Dell told him to accept Jahjaga’s nomination or risk Kosovo “losing American support”. 

While few outside his inner circle will shed any tears over his removal from office, his honesty is a painful reminder of Kosovo’s absolute dependence on NATO for its survival, a point that the nationalists have seized upon. 

Only four days after her election, the National Assembly speaker Jakup Krasniqi who has himself enjoyed two brief spells as interim President, has already emerged as Jahjaga’s most vocal opponent. 

Speaking on Kosovan television shortly after Jahjaga’s nomination was approved in the Assembly, he accused Prime Minister Thaci of having breached both the constitution of his  party by failing to hold consultations on the matter and the country’s own laws which clearly state that in the event of a president failing to complete his or her five year term the speaker of parliament – in this case Krasniqi himself --- should accede to the presidency.

If this all looks like a mess, that’s because it is a mess and the worry is that the ultra-nationalists may step in and pick up the pieces.

In one sense, the public frustration that the nationalists draw on is understandable. Kosovans are right to be concerned at the ineffective and sclerotic nature of the European Union’s Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) – a body whose tentacles reach into every area of public life in the province. 

Not only has it failed to give a proper hearing to the deeply worrying allegations endorsed in a Council of Europe report in January regarding Prime Minister Thaci’s involvement in international organ trafficking, it has also neglected to tackle the institutionalised corruption which exists at all levels of government. 

While the province is indeed no longer controlled by Serbia, many Kosovan Albanians privately opine that rule from Belgrade was preferable to rule by the mafia.

Kosovo is one of the youngest countries in the world; not only in terms of how long it has existed as a (quasi) independent state, but also in respect of the age of its population – more than half of which is under 18. 

Almost thirteen years have passed since the NATO intervention into Kosovo, meaning that many young people have no memory of the situation in the province prior to independence from Belgrade.  If polls are to be believed, the majority of Vetevendosje support is drawn from those under the age of 25, frustrated at the country’s lack of progress in tackling crime and economic stagnation since independence.

All in all, the international community now has some difficult decisions to make about Kosovo. 

While a significant reduction in the number of foreign troops and non-governmental operations in the province would likely plunge Kosovo into renewed conflict, the bogus form of ‘supervised democracy’ the country operates at present is simply untenable. Apart from anything else, there is only so long the international community can reasonably be expected to continue propping up Pristina’s government with billions of euros a year.

One running sore which must be addressed by the international community is the future of the majority-Serb areas north of the River Ibar

While the Ahtisaari Peace Plan refuses to countenance any alterations to Kosovo’s borders, the Serbs in these areas must be granted the same right of self-determination as ethnic Albanians south of the river.

Billions of euros have been spent over the last three years in an attempt to persuade Serbs living north of the Ibar to accept rule from Pristina. But throwing money at the problem has been a total failure, with Serbian government ministries continuing to operate in the region and the dinar remaining the area’s sole currency. 

A territorial division, at the Ibar, would end the ludicrous situation in which an international land border is enforced (at tremendous cost) between Serbia and Kosovo Serbs. Such a division would also be beneficial to Albanians, giving them full control over the country, as opposed to seeking to impose their will on a Serb population which has no interest in being part of their newly-independent state.

Regardless of the arguments for and against the independence of Kosovo, the United States and 22 of the 27 European Union member states have opted to recognise Pristina’s sovereignty. 

Everyone has an interest in seeing Kosovo succeed as a stable and lawful state, including neighbouring Serbia which wishes to see an end to organised crime on its borders as well as to unrest in the ethnic Albanian stronghold of the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia.

If Kosovo is to be a truly independent state, its leaders must be allowed to make its own mistakes rather than being micro-managed by external forces. Without Kosovo being given that chance, it is not inconceivable that public opinion in Europe’s youngest country could be transformed from a staunchly pro-Western position to one favouring isolationism and Albanian nationalism. Such a situation would be a disaster for all concerned.

Daniel Hamilton is Director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch and an expert on the Balkans.  He writes in a personal capacity

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