Kosovo Government Falls in No-Confidence Vote

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s cabinet fell through a no-confidence vote in parliament late on Wednesday (25.03).

The MPs passed a no-confidence vote by 82 to 32 votes and 1 abstention.

The vote was initiated by Isa Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), after the prime minister fired Internal Affairs Minister Agim Veliu without consulting LDK leader which he was obliged to do under the coalition agreement between“Self-determination” of Kurti and LDK.

Mustafa’s party also opposed to Kurti’s intention of gradually revoking the 100 percent tariffs on imports from Serbia, claiming that the decision harms the relations of Kosovo with the USA. 

For its part, Serb List said it was voting against the government because it failed to meet the interests of the Serbian community and did not abolish the tariffs.

The political confrontation began a week earlier when Prime Minister Kurti opposed President Hashim Thaci’s intention to declare a state of emergency.

The real reason for Kurti’s fall from power was neither in the dismissal of Interior Minister Veliu nor the partial lifting of tariffs, as Kurti promised to abolish the 100% tax on Serbian goods as of 1 April, i.e. a week had not been provided for the decision to enter in force, which the government had already taken on 21.03. The Kurti government was not given a chance to spend even 100 days, which is a common and normal practice in parliamentary democracy.

The successful no-confidence motion against Kurti is due to the current state of affairs in Kosovo’s political scene “everyone against Kurti”, which was a result of his political immaturity, which led to his rapid confrontation not only with the president but also with the coalition partners.

Despite the Kosovo society’s desire for political change that brought the “Self-determination” party to power in the last parliamentary elections, with the current vote, it has emerged that Kosovo’s political elite, made up mainly of former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders, is not ready for reforms.

The insisting of Brussels and Washington to Kurti for the immediate and unconditional lifting of customs barriers to Serbia and the demonstration of some isolation toward him by the United States, with the invitation of the two presidents Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic in Washington, played the role of a trigger for the subsequent events, which have had greater consequences than the West intended.

Of the remaining scenarios for the development of the political situation in Kosovo, a less likely one is to go to new parliamentary elections before the other options are exhausted. It is more likely to create something like a crisis government during the coronavirus epidemic, and at present, it would be most logical to be headed by former Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, who has extensive political experience as a balancer in the Kosovo political scene.

The attempts to break through the traditional nationalist forces established in the Serbia-Kosovo-Bosnia and Herzegovina triangle over the past 30 years have failed and they will continue to dominate the political environment in the Western Balkans, which can be characterized as “mutually-fueled nationalism”.

In the face of other pressing priorities, such as the current coronavirus epidemic, the looming new economic crisis, Brexit, the US-EU trade and economic confrontation, leading to disagreements in NATO, fueled by Turkey’s disloyal behavior to allies and attempts to extract the strategic benefits of the war in Syria and the threats of president Erdogan with migrant waves to Europe, relations between Serbia and Pristina seem to remain in the background.

In an emerging environment, the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is highly likely to return to the old line of delay and nothing to negotiate. A sign in this regard was given by the current EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, with his refusal to be directly involved in the dialogue on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, with the role that his predecessor Federica Mogherini had taken, but to appoint his own special representative (so far, former senior diplomat of Slovakia Miroslav Lajcak) to mediate on behalf of the EU between the two countries. It remains to be seen whether and how much the new reduced-mediation model will prove successful.

The Kosovo Government Has Accepted a Partial Waiver of 100% Tax on Serbian Goods

The Government of Kosovo decided late on Friday night (20.03) to waiver a part of the 100% import duties on raw materials and goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with both Serb ministers abstaining in disagreement.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti signed a document on March 20 for a partial waiver of import duties on Serbian goods. Against the backdrop of threats coming from his main coalition party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) of Isa Mustafa that it may withdraw its support, late last night the government decided to remove 100% tax imposed by the Haradinaj government on raw materials and goods coming from Serbia and BiH, with the decision due to take effect from 1 April. Despite Kurti’s insistence, the document does not mention the previous condition for reciprocity of Belgrade’s measures which met opposition from Brussels and Washington.

After the cabinet meeting, Kurti said that “of tonight six border crossings with Serbia will open for import of raw materials and goods”.

In the meantime, LDK has tabled a no-confidence motion vote to Kosovo’s Parliament after gathering more than 40 MPs signatures supporting this move initiated by Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo. The success of a no-confidence motion will require at least 61 votes out of a total of 120 parliamentary members. The eventual overthrow of the government will depend on how Hashim Thaci’s 24 Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) deputies will vote in the plenary.

Koha Ditore sources suggest that LDK leader Isa Mustafa who threatened to file a motion for a no-confidence vote into Kurti’s cabinet will “give him another chance” especially after Friday night’s government decision.

US and EU insist on complete abolition of the 100% tax on Serbian goods and did not support Kurti’s idea for a partial lifting of customs barriers and demand for reciprocal measures from Belgrade as suspension of its policy for increasing the number of countries that do not recognize Kosovo, as well as allowing Kosovo’s membership in international organizations such as Interpol, UNESCO and others, on the road to full mutual recognition between Serbia and Kosovo.

In order not to fall into domestic and international isolation, Prime Minister Albin Kurti made the only sensible decision to eliminate 100% tax on Serbian goods, thus fulfilling the insistence of Washington and Brussels. The decision to immediately implement a partial waiver of the ban and its full abolition since April 1 is aimed at partially “rescuing” Kurti’s image as Prime Minister, so as not to show that he has bent under domestic pressure, including from his coalition partners, and the international one in the face of Brussels and Washington, which would be interpreted again in Belgrade as a victory over Pristina.

In all likelihood, the rest of the political forces will agree on that the vote of no-confidence to remain few votes short on passing as to give a clear signal to Kurti that he does not have a margin for maneuver in the event of any future conflicts between the coalition partners.

It can be expected that Kurti will be forced to make further concessions to his coalition partners on their aspirations to expand their participation in the executive branch.

It remains to be seen whether and to what extent the current Kosovo political elite will allow Kurti to carry out the reforms announced in his election program, especially in the part on combating corruption and enforcing the rule of law.

Kosovo’s Government Will Face a Vote Of No-Confidence, Said Opposition Leader

Ramush Haradinaj, the former Kosovo Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (ABK) said (19.03) that his party would support a no-confidence vote against Albin Kurti’s Government.

“I spoke with former Prime Minister and President of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa about the no-confidence motion against Kurti’s government. I told Mustafa that the ABK would vote for the proposal because Kurti’s government would not only be short-lived, but also the most damaging government for Kosovo. ABK supports a swift decision after the government collapses”, Haradinaj said after a meeting at the LDK headquarters.

After that, Isa Mustafa also spoke with Fatmir Limaj, leader of the Social-Democratic Initiative of Kosovo who as Haradinaj, is a former military commander in the KLA from the 1998-99 conflict.

LDK Secretary Arban Abrashi said later on that his party would inform the US it would leave the “anti-American government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti as soon as possible”.

In the meantime, Haradinaj MPs were collecting signatures for the no-confidence motion. They need 40 signatures in order for the proposal to be tabled at a session of the 120-member Kosovo Parliament and the support of 61 MPs for the no-confidence vote to succeed.

Following the definite loss of parliamentary elections by the current opposition, the present actions to overthrow the newly elected government are logically consistent.

Haradinaj’s statement that “ABK supports a swift decision after government collapses” can only mean one thing, that using the corona virus situation, they have negotiated a crisis government with the chairman of the LDK, which would be led by Mustafa and backed by ABK and SDI.

However, this desire to quickly discredit Albin Kurti, as an immature politician and incompetent Prime Minister, is confronted with opposing trends and processes which run concurrently in Kosovo society and the international community.

First, Kosovo Albanians have made it clear in the recent elections that they want a change and do not see in the face of the current political elite, coming mostly from former KLA commanders, the capabilities of making Kosovo a normal and recognized by the world country.

Although the LDK is a coalition partner of “Self-determination” in the government, it is not even given the usual 100 days to enter the office and stabilize the government. In doing so, the LDK defines itself as part of the country’s unchanging political elite, while Kurti won the election precisely by his desire to replace the political elite, stating strongly “stop the corruption and crime, rule of law”, which the Kosovo voters liked.

Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj is still in the process of investigation of his activities during the 1998-1999 conflict by The Hague tribunal and the charges against him are still pending. Similar cases are pending against other former KLA commanders.

The 100% tax on goods from Serbia and BiH (Republika Srpska), which was criticized by Brussels and Washington, was introduced precisely by the Haradinaj government, and so far ABK’s representatives have opposed any intention of canceling it, qualifying it as treason.

Last but not least, the LDK’s allegations that the Kurti government is “anti-American” are far too exaggerated. No influential international factor has so far removed his trust from Kurti and his government. Not being invited to Washington is a warning as to what direction his government should take in order to normalize Belgrade-Pristina relations.

In order to survive on the political scene, Kurti should take urgent action both domestically and internationally: to make every effort to deal with the coronavirus epidemic and mobilize Kosovo society in that regard, and to show a clear desire to normalize relations with Belgrade, as a first step of good will could be the abolition of 100% tax on Serbian goods.

Otherwise, Kosovo will enter another government crisis and a new spiral of political instability with the prospect of postponing a lasting solution to Kosovo internationally with all the resulting from this risks for the Western Balkans region.

Merkel and Vucic Advocate for Quick Resumption of Talks Between Belgrade and Pristina

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed (18.03) in a video conversation that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina should resume as soon as possible with the goal to reach a comprehensive agreement on the normalization of relations.

The two were scheduled to meet in Berlin, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, they agreed to use modern technology for the conversation.

A joint statement said Merkel welcomed Vucic’s willingness to resume the dialogue on trade and non-customs barriers between Kosovo and Serbia under the auspices of the European Union.

According to the statement, the German Chancellor also welcomed Serbia’s readiness to implement the Brussels Agreement about integrated managing of the administrative line, and Vucic insisted on the full implementation of the agreement, which is not being pursued since November 2018.

He added that he would take all the necessary steps to successfully resume the dialogue and avoid moves that could reduce relations so as to create a constructive and open atmosphere for negotiations.

Vucic thanked Merkel for her attention and care for Serbia and the Western Balkans.

In addition to the dialogue and the issue of Pristina’s 100 percent taxes on goods from Serbia and Bosnia, the two discussed bilateral relations, economic ties, Serbia’s EU accession process, reforms on that road and the situation in the region.

The joined statement also said that Merkel and Vucic discussed the challenges of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Madrid Ratified NATO Membership Protocol of the Republic of North Macedonia

Spain was the last to ratify the Protocol of the Republic of North Macedonia for NATO membership, practically ensuring that all Alliance members are giving green light for the accession of the Republic of North Macedonia to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The news was reported at a press conference in Skopje by North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, who was accompanied by Spanish ambassador to Skopje Emilio Lorenzo Serra.

Dimitrov said the Spanish Senate had unanimously ratified the protocol unanimously over the weekend and thanked Madrid for putting it on the agenda during “such difficult time for the world, Europe and Spain”.

“Spain was the 29th, the last NATO member state to ratify the accession protocol, thus ending this process”, Dimitrov said.

The next steps involve Spain’s ratification to be sent to State Department, then Washington will forward it to NATO in Brussels, after which the Alliance will formally invite Skopje to deposit its instrument – the Ratification Act of the North Atlantic Agreement.

“This is bringing an end to our thirty year process of efforts and desire to become part of the North Atlantic family”, Nikola Dimitrov added.

The Party of Democratic Action Accused Russia of Interfering with BiH’s Internal Affairs

In a statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry issued on 04.03.2020, is outlined that the people of Bosnia must solve their problems on their own without any foreign interference. The proposed changes to the Constitutional Court are “fully in line with the Dayton Agreement”, the ministry spokesman said. “We rely on all leading political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina to contribute to this legislative initiative which seeks to strengthen the integrity and democratic potential of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, the statement said.

According to Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the adoption of a law to remove foreign judges from the Constitutional Court is a condition for ending the latest political crisis that has arisen in Bosnia.

Last month, the parliament of Republika Srpska (RS), instructed RS representatives in state institutions of BiH to stop participating in any decision-making processes until the aforementioned law is adopted which led to the state institutions being effectively blocked.

The move came after the Constitutional Court declared that public agricultural property in Republika Srpska should be owned by the state BiH and not by the RS.

According to the Constitution, which is part of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, the Constitutional Court is composed of nine judges – two Bosniaks, two Croats, two Serbs and three foreign judges which are appointed by the President of the European Court of Human Rights.

Dodik has been accusing the foreign judges that they are aligning with the Bosniaks and are working against Republika Srpska and the Serbian people.

According to the new bill submitted to BiH parliament, drafted by the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) and backed by the Bosnian Croat coalition around the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of Dragan Covic, instead of the three foreign judges in the Constitutional Court, the tripartite Presidency must appoint three Bosnian citizens, two from the Federation of BiH and one from the RS to be members of different ethnic groups. The House of Peoples will have to confirm their appointment, with more than half of the MPs in each of the three constituent people’s groups voting in favor.

Following the statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry in support of the proposal to remove foreign judges from the Constitutional Court in Bosnia, the most influential Bosnian Muslim party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said that “although Russia used to support constructive efforts in the Balkans, now it has the goal to destabilize the region and use it strategically as a bargaining chip in international relations”.

SDA criticized Russia for, “on one hand, declaring that they are opposed to foreign interference in Bosnia’s internal issues, while at the same time they took a stance on ongoing issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, continuously supporting the campaign against Dayton Agreement and the ultimatums coming from the RS.”

Such a stance represents an obstacle to finding a compromise in Bosnia as it encourages Milorad Dodik to continue his activities, the party said. “The Russian Federation has for decades constructively contributed through the Security Council and the Peace Implementation Council, supporting the establishment and the work of the Hague tribunal and the use of the Bonn powers, but that policy has obviously changed and now its goal is to destabilize Bosnia and the region in order to make trades in geopolitical relations”, the statement of SDA also said.

“Considering that Russia’s interference is open and direct, this represents a clear message to our partners, most of all to Washington but also to Brussels, that they must not allow Moscow to damage the strategic interests of the region – stability and progress toward NATO and the EU, through local anti-European and anti-NATO political parties”, the Bosnian Muslim Party concluded.

Serbia Ranked as Partly Free

Freedom House’s latest report on political rights and civil liberties “Freedom in the world 2020”, published on March 4, 2020, states that “Democracy is being attacked around the world and the effects are evident not only in authoritarian countries such as China, Russia and Iran, but also in countries with long-standing efforts to uphold fundamental rights and freedoms. Although protest movements in each region illustrate the widespread demand for better governance, they do not yet influence the overall model of diminishing freedom.”

“The two most striking examples are China, where the multi-year campaign of the cultural annihilation regime against the Uighur minority and other predominantly Muslim groups is well documented, as well as India, which saw the largest decline among the 25 most populous democracies in the world. India has long been seen as a potential democratic counterweight to authoritarian China in the Indo-Pacific region, but the alarming deviations of the current Indian government from democratic norms are blurring the axiological distinction between Beijing and New Delhi.

Of the 195 countries evaluated in the report, 83 (43%) were rated free, 63 (32%) were partly free, and 49 (25%) were not free. Freedom in the world is analyzed as based on the electoral process, political pluralism and participation, the functioning of governments, freedom of expression and belief, the rights of association and organization, the rule of law and personal independence and the rights of the individual.

“The report clearly indicates that once again democracy is in decline. Political rights and civil liberties are endangered, both in free societies and in repressive ones. This trend may be reversed, but concerted efforts by governments, pressure from the people and partnership from the business community will be required.”

The report rates Serbia as partly free, ranking it among the countries with the largest 10-year decline in these two categories. “In Montenegro and Serbia, independent journalists, opposition figures and other opponents of the government face constant harassment, intimidation and sometimes violence. Public discontent with the ruling parties has led to major protests in both countries, but they have failed to bring about a significant change”, the report states.

Serbia scored a total of 66 points (out of a possible 100) with 23 points (out of a possible score of 60) awarded for political rights and 43 for civil liberties.

The report also listed Kosovo as partly free with a total score of 56 points (out of a possible 100) – 25 (out of a possible score of 60) for political rights and 31 (out of a possible score of 40) for civil liberties. “Balloting in Kosovo lofted the opposition nationalist Vetevendosje party into office, where it has an opportunity to change the country’s culture of corruption”, the report said.