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Through the double-crisis

By Secretary of External and International Relations, Member of the Presidency, Movement for Self-Determination!, Kreshnik Ahmeti

The red colour of the pandemic started to paint Kosova’s map on the 13th of March, when the first two cases were identified in two small municipalities of our Republic. The government had already taken precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, by establishing inter-institutional mechanisms and by intensively monitoring the situation on the ground, especially at the border crossings and at the International Airport of Prishtina.

On the same day that the first cases were identified, the Government convened and took the first major measures, such as closing kindergartens, schools and universities; stopping all commercial flights; closing bars, restaurants and pubs; etc. Parallel to these measures, the Government helped workers, public enterprises and private businesses through a variety of fiscal measures.

All of this was happening while Kosova had a newly appointed Prime-Minister, Mr. Albin Kurti, who won the elections on the 6th of October 2019, and a new Government which was established on the 3nd of February by the coalition of the two former opposition parties, Movement for Self-Determination (LVV) and the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK).

The elections of the 6th of October took place in a sensitive political context. For two years the President of the Republic of Kosova, Mr. Hashim Thaci, has been in a dangerous personal adventure of trying to officiate a secret deal that he struck with the President of Serbia, which is built around the idea of land swapping based on ethnic lines. Such a deal is dangerous because, since it is based on ethnicity, it cannot be implemented without an ethnic cleansing process, which would seriously destabilize Kosova and would materialize the spectre of war that haunts the Balkans. Besides Kosova, such an agreement would also destabilize the region, considering the fragile situation in many Western Balkan states. This agreement has been kept secret by the President because he was conscious that such an agreement would never gain the support of the people of Kosova. This was made clear to him through the streets, with the biggest protest in Kosova since its independence, held in September of 2018 against his land swap project, and through elections, with the victory of the Movement for Self-Determination on the 6th of October 2019, which campaigned on the promise of anti-corruption policies, economic development, and opposing the land swap project.

Even though Kosova was being an example of the good management of the pandemic, on the 17th of March, the President of the Republic of Kosova publicly said that he wants to declare a state of emergency and will formally ask the Parliament to vote such a measure. This meant that he could strip the newly formed progressive government of all of its power and he could run the country for a period of time. This was an excellent chance for him to bypass Prime-Minister Kurti, and reach a formal deal with Vucic, using the state of emergency and thus using the pandemic in his favour. At the time of his announcement, there were only 18 people infected and only one person dead from COVID-19 in Kosova.

After he took this step, his plan was out on the open. His desire to declare the state of emergency was not received positively by the public and he never dared to formally ask the Parliament to vote such a measure. Instead, he turned to our junior partner, LDK and started to pressure them. “Pressure” in Kosova usually means to blackmail a party or a public figure with information of his/her wrongdoings in the past, in order to gain their support. Hashim Thaci, as a former president of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), which is linked with the an illegal intelligence service; as a former member of a Government in coalition with LDK; and as the President of Kosova for whom LDK’s votes were crucial for him to get elected, knows LDK very well. One week after failing to declare the state of emergency, the President succeeded in turning LDK in his favour and against our progressive government, which was then brought down by a motion of confidence put forward by LDK themselves, as a junior partner of the coalition.

So, 52 days after its formation, the new progressive government was brought down. Internationally this was reflected as the first political victim of COVID-19. But, this interpretation shows the failure to grasp the reality of the contradictions of the situation in the country. There were two reasons that the motion of confidence took place: the first one was the fight against corruption that was taking place by the new government, as this risked the old elite’s capital and privileges; and the major reason was the President’s project of ethnically lined land swap that could not take place while Mr. Kurti was the Prime-Minister.

While the Embassies of France and Germany in Kosova sent an open demarche to LDK not to continue with its motion of confidence while the whole society was dealing with the pandemic, the United Stated Ambassador in Kosova tweeted that he was “pleased to see the Assembly will hold a session on the no-confidence vote…” The background of this reaction is the push by former Ambassador Richard Grenell, the emissary of President Trump for the dialog between the Republic of Kosova and Serbia, who is very interested in a deal between the two states. But, the stance of the new progressive government was that more important than the time of the deal, is the content of it.

After the motion of no confidence the political situation stagnated, because the President was not willing to call for new elections, as the Constitution and former practices advised. Our position as LVV was to go to new elections immediately after the pandemic is over. This was reasonable even if we take into account our neighbouring countries: the North of Macedonia goes into election as soon as the pandemic is over, Serbia goes into election on the 21st of June, Montenegro seems like it is going into election during September, and Croatia will go into elections on the 5th of July. So, elections are possible and they should be held according to our Constitution.

Regardless of the Constitution, former practices and the fact that LVV never rejected the mandate to nominate a new candidate for Prime-Minister, the President skipped LVV as the political party that won the elections, and gave the mandate to Mr. Avdullah Hoti, previously Deputy Prime-Minister of Mr. Albin Kurti and currently Vice President of LDK. This move by the President was challenged by LVV in the Constitutional Court. On the 28th of May, the Constitutional Court gave an interpretation of the situation that was built completely by the public opinions given by the President. Its verdict is full of political statements and is in complete contradiction with its own verdict given in 2014, regarding the same case. Furthermore, the final official document that the Court published differed from the initial official document of the verdict. This was a clear sign of manipulation by the Constitutional Court. In the end, the Court opened the way for Mr. Hoti to form a new Government, as Mr. Thaci wished.

On the 3rd of June, after an immense pressure by the President towards the MPs (in one case, the night before the session, at 1 AM, the President himself went to one of the MP’s home and “convinced” him to vote for Hoti’s government), Mr. Avdullah Hoti’s government was voted with a minimal majority, 61 votes from 120 MPs in the Parliament. On the second day in his office, Mr. Hoti gave the competence for the dialog with Serbia to President Thaci, and on his third day in the office, he removed reciprocity as a principle of the relations between the Republic of Kosova and Serbia. This means that the international position of Kosova, in relation to Serbia, has degraded to something else, which is less than an international relation. On the other hand, Hoti has appointed a lawyer as the Minister of Health. The first thing that the new Minister of Health did, was to loosen up all the measures against the spread of COVID-19, while the number of cases per day is increasing and has reached the peak again.

This situation has frustrated the majority of the people in Kosova. Since there are still movement restrictions and physical distancing measure, two practicing protests were organized in Prishtina in the last three weeks. The numbers from one to the other grew ten times:  the first one was attended by 500 people, while the second one was attended by 5,000. These protests rehearsals were taken as preparations for future protests, under COVID-19 limitations, to oppose the illegitimate government and the President’s land swap project.

It is the first time in our Republic that people have been protesting to save the government and not against it. Days prior to the motion of confidence, while the movement restrictions were in place, people were banging pots from their balconies to oppose the motion of confidence called by our former junior partner, LDK.

The most recent polls, conducted by UNDP and financed by USAID, showed that the level of satisfaction with the current Prime-Minister is the highest ever since 2010. The level of satisfaction for the former Prime-Minister, surveyed in 2019 was 20.7%, while the level of satisfaction for Prime-Minister Kurti is 65.4%.

This goes hand-in-hand with the most recent polls regarding the support of the citizens for political parties. In the last elections, LVV won 26.3% of the votes, while now 52.8% of the surveyed citizens declared their support for LVV. This huge rise in support comes as a result of progressive policies that the Government led by Mr. Albin Kurti took in this brief period of time.

Besides the protest rehearsals, currently there is also a petition taking place, which asks for new democratic elections and which is expected to be one of the biggest ever in our Republic. In the time of the writing, in the first week the petition has been signed by more than 150,000 citizens. In general, there is a lot of pressure by the citizens who are asking for new elections. On the other hand, there will be tough resistance against the dangerous project of the President to sign an agreement with Serbia, which would territorially divide the country and change its borders.

The coming months will be decisive for the future of the Republic of Kosova and for the Balkans in general. On one side, we have a project of dividing people by their ethnicity, driven by corrupted authoritarian leaders who have been ruling in the last decade, and on the other side we have the people, who are asking for democratic elections, a unitary state regardless of ethnicity, economic development and fight against corruption, all of which have been shown to be possible by the Kurti Government.

The initial coup d’état, tried by the President through the motion for the state of emergency, was prevented by the good management of the pandemic by the Government of Kosova. Then, the President tried a second coup d’état, through the Constitutional Court, which resulted successful and changed the democratic electoral system in the Republic of Kosova. History teaches us that when the financial and economic interests of a corrupted elite are opposed by a Government, the old elite uses their influence within the state mechanisms to get rid of such a Government. But, they cannot get rid of the people who are demanding democracy and progress. The change in the Republic of Kosova has started in the 6th of October, 2019. It may be a tough process, but it will be impossible to be stopped.