Kosovo’s failure to establish a government two months after an election is stalling its bids for greater international recognition and blocking funds for the poverty-stricken country.
A coalition led by President Hashim Thaci’s PDK party – itself in power since 2007 – topped early parliamentary polls held on 11 June, but the alliance did not win the absolute majority needed to govern alone.
Made up of the old guard of ex-guerrilla fighters, the coalition can only form a government after nominating and winning support for a parliamentary speaker.
But so far the coalition has boycotted assembly sessions and a vote for speaker because it needs the backing of more deputies.
“The ruling political class doesn’t want to give up power,” said Agron Bajrami, editor of the Koha Ditore newspaper.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province, unilaterally declared independence in 2008, backed by Western powers. The move has since been recognised by more than 110 countries – but not by Serbia or Russia – and Kosovo is not a United Nations member state.
The UN mission in Kosovo warned on Wednesday that the political deadlock was hurting the country economically and socially.
“The election process itself consumed the energy of institutions during these past three months,” UN envoy Zahir Tanin said at a Security Council meeting.
“Important economic and social opportunities were missed during such a period.”
The country is a potential candidate for European Union membership, but it now risks missing out on pre-accession assistance totalling €78 million this year, according to the EU office in Pristina.
The office said the funding programme needs to be ratified by parliament and that this “should occur by December 2017, otherwise Kosovo will risk losing” the allocated aid.
One of the poorest parts of Europe, Kosovo also lost around €16 million in July from an International Monetary Fund programme because there was no government to make a required legal amendment on war veterans, local media reported.
Although the sum is relatively small, “this sends a bad message to all potential foreign investors on the situation in Kosovo,” said economic analyst Naim Gashi.
Stalled accession bids
Hanging over Kosovo’s political crisis is the creation of a new special court to try war crimes allegedly committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought Serbian forces for independence in the late 1990s.
Finally the Kosovo Special Court is to start its proceedings where KLA members responsible for crimes during the war 1 Jan 98-31 Dec 2000. https://t.co/w3GwC0cKxC
— Ann-Charlotte Nilsso (@nilssac1) July 9, 2017
Thaci is speculated to be among those on the list of ex-KLA fighters to be indicted, which may be announced later this year.
Bajrami suggested that the PDK’s keenness to cling to power was a self-preservation tactic, because “being in power offers you more favourable conditions to negotiate immunity”.
While the stalemate ensues, hopes are waning that Kosovo can join international organisations such as Interpol and UNESCO this year.
Such accession bids have long been fiercely opposed by Serbia, but Kosovo’s own internal woes are now holding them back.
Kosovo’s acting foreign minister Emanuel Demaj said the country had not yet reapplied for UNESCO membership, following a failed 2015 bid, with the UN cultural body’s general conference taking place in two months.
— B92 in English (@b92english) August 14, 2017
The new application depends on the amendment of two laws – one for religious freedoms another for cultural heritage – which are impossible to pass without a functioning parliament.
Pristina has also applied for membership of Interpol, which meets in Beijing in late September, but Demaj said there were going to be “difficulties”, with many member-states yet to respond to Kosovo’s bid.
Vulin: Russia to prevent entry of Kosovo to Interpol
— NewsFront in English (@ENnewsfront) August 16, 2017
Also at a halt – and most troubling for the Balkan region – are the EU-negotiated “normalisation” talks between Belgrade and Pristina, which began in 2011 and are crucial to both sides’ bids to join the bloc.
“The two sides haven’t met for almost a year and we don’t even know when the negotiations will resume” due to the “political uncertainty” in Kosovo, said Bajrami.
Most of Kosovo’s 1.8 million people are ethnic Albanians, but many Serbs consider the former province the medieval cradle of the Serbian state.
In an unusual move, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić recently called for an “internal debate” on the issue, and said Serbs should get rid of their “mythic approach” towards Kosovo.
But Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić said a compromise deal should involve the redrawing of boundaries between ethnic Serb and Albanian areas – a division that Kosovo will not accept.
“Kosovo is a multiethnic democracy with internationally recognised borders. Serbia’s renewed ideas for border change are dangerous and unacceptable,” said Kosovo’s former foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj on Twitter.
Leading Western powers issued a joint statement last weekend voicing concerns about Kosovo’s internal deadlock and calling on deputies to let the work of the new parliament begin.
International law professor Vigan Qorrolli said this intervention was not enough and warned that the crisis “endangers the very state itself”.
“Even though we need guidance like a small child, we are left on the street alone.”