Kosovo: government falls in full coronavirus (and geopolitics?) crisis

Kosovo: government falls in full coronavirus (and geopolitics?) crisis

This article will talk about the fall of the government of Kosovo in full Coronavirus crisis; here you can find how it happened and the reasons that brought this situation as a result of irresponsibility not just of the coalition (second) party member, but also of the President of the country and the opposition as a whole. This is the only case in the world where during a pandemic crisis there is a fall of the government, moreover just after fifty days of work. Power before population’s health! 

In the midst of an emergency in Covid-19, Kosovo finds itself without a government, just two months after the establishment of the coalition government, led by Albin Kurti, which took office on 3 February. The motion of no-confidence promoted by the Democratic League of Kosovo, signed by 46 Mps, was presented to Parliament on 21 March and according to the constitution was to be voted no later than five days after its submission. The LDK members of parliament would also be joined by the members of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) of Ramush Haradinaj, the NISMA party of Fatmir Limaj, and the Alliance for the New Kosovo (AKR) of Behgjet Pacolli.(1)

The Kosovo parliament met in extraordinary session on 25 March to vote on the motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Albin Kurti. To provoke the clash between the two government allies, Vetëvendosje! and LDK, was Kurti’s unexpected move to remove Interior Minister Agim Veliu, a member of the Democratic League, following some of his statements in a television interview in support of President Hashim Thaçi’s proposal, for the proclamation of a state of emergency following the coronavirus epidemic. However, an idea contested by the Prime Minister. The role of President Hashim Thaçi was central; he is responsible for the crisis in compliance with what seem to be directives from Washington, which pushes for an agreement with Serbia. Prime Minister and President clashed over the management of the health crisis, generating a conflict of expertise. While Kurti worked to introduce the model of many European countries by applying restrictions to contain the contagion, Thaçi branded them unconstitutional, urging citizens not to respect the curfew. The President then proposed a state of emergency, calling on the government’s own competences, in reality giving vent to his intolerance towards the leader of Vetëvendosje!, always his political opponent. The impossible cohabitation between President and Prime Minister fits into a delicate context for Kosovo, and although the crisis has arisen and erupted internally, it has distant origins and seems a direct emanation of US diplomacy.(2) 

Mustafa’s party, LDK, had stated that it could renounce the initiative in case of reflection by the Prime Minister, which was asked to lift the removal of Interior Minister Agim Veliu and to abolish 100% import duties from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The response of the Vetëvendosje Movement, however, was clear. « Veliu should be the one to apologize, » said Deputy Prime Minister Haki Abazi. In order for the motion to be passed, at least 61 votes were needed, that is 50% +1 vote to topple the government. In this case, the LDK also needed the 24 votes of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Kadri Veseli, a formation founded by the current President of the Republic Hashim Thaçi, in open conflict with Kurti. The motion was finally voted with 85 votes in favour.(3)

President of the Kosovar Parliament Vjosa Osmani asked the professional opinion of the National Institute of Public Health on the advisability of holding the extraordinary meeting of the parliament in the midst of the coronavirus emergency.  » From the health authorities, we have received a number of recommendations that the parliament’s administration could not meet. However, four members of the parliament’s Presidency voted in favour of holding the sitting and only two were against », said Osmani, according to which the political class should take into account the appeals of representatives of the international community to « take into account institutional unity in these difficult times« . Mr Osmani said that « there is room for coalition allies to find a solution », inviting Meps to vote against.(4)

For days the population, forced to deal with a minimum health system, protests to the balconies with slamming pots and making noise, showing their disappointment, and denouncing an unsustainable situation. And at the opening of the sitting, a protester broke a curfew to place a banner in front of the Parliament saying: « The most dangerous pandemic for Kosovo is politics. Shame on you! ».(5)

The EU countries are concerned: France and Germany had asked to postpone the vote of no confidence to focus on the coronavirus emergency. For MEP, Viola Von Cramon, rapporteur for Kosovo, the motion of no confidence voted in Pristina is « irresponsible ». Then, in the midst of the pandemic, it is impossible to organize new elections.(6)

European Commission spokeswoman Ana Pisonero told Serbian agency Tanjug – « Kosovo needs stability by focusing all its efforts on combating coronavirus and defending citizens’ health. All political leaders in such a situation must show responsibility and act in the interests of the people. The next steps after distrust of the government must be in accordance with the constitution of Kosovo ». (7)

In less than two months, therefore, the always latent disagreement between Prime Minister Kurti, leader of the majority party ‘Self-determination’ (nationalist left), and Isa Mustafa, former prime minister and head of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK, centre-right)which, after lengthy negotiations, had concluded a coalition agreement. But the differences between the two politicians are deeper and concern, among other things, the crucial issue of dialogue with Belgrade, with the 100% increased anti-serbic duties imposed by Pristina in November 2018. 

The role of the USA

The break, however, has deeper roots, to be found in the growing pressure of the United States on Pristina to remove tariffs on products from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, seen by Washington as a necessary step to resume dialogue with Belgrade and reach an agreement. While Kurti chose to remove tariffs gradually and in exchange for a policy of reciprocity with Serbia as part of the government’s program, the LDK stood for total and immediate removal, denouncing the risk of damaging relations with the United States. The removal of the first tranche of tariffs, those on raw materials, which took place on 20 March, was not enough to bring the two allies closer together. The position of the LDK is also in line with that of President Thaçi, Kurti’s historic rival, and supporter of tariff removal. The conflict between the two turned into an institutional conflict between the government and the president, so much so that, after Kurti’s announcement of new restrictive measures against the coronavirus, Thaçi presented himself to the press by branding the measures as unconstitutional and urging citizens and law enforcement to not respect them.(8)

Washington VS Bruxelles

The crisis of government also highlights the divisions of the international community. On the one hand, the countries of the European Union are deeply concerned, as expressed clearly in a joint statement by the Foreign Ministers of France and Germany, which called for the vote of no confidence to be postponed and for efforts to be concentrated on the coronavirus emergency. On the other hand, however, there are the United States, the real protagonists of this crisis: in a tweet of March 24, the American ambassador said, pleased » (pleased, satisfied) to see the parliament meet for the vote of no confidence.(9)

A tweet shared by Richard Grenell, the envoy of President Donald Trump to manage the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, in recent months one of the main actors of American maneuvers on Kosovar policy.

It is increasingly clear that the strategies of Brussels and Washington are going in opposite directions: while the EU welcomed the Kurti government, the US has focused everything on Thaçi, chosen as the representative of Kosovo, who, you can sign the agreement with your Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic. Kurti himself, in the debate that preceded the vote in the Chamber, accused the two presidents of having already signed an agreement that provides for an exchange of territories between the two countries, the real reason, according to him, of the fall of his government. 

What about the future?

After the fall of the government, different perspectives are now opening up. According to the Constitution, the President of the Republic should give the mandate to Vetëvendosje again! But the chances of a new alliance are almost nil, unless there are some twists and turns. Thaçi could then give the mandate to the second party, the LDK: although Mustafa, at the moment, denies the hypothesis of an alliance with the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Thaçi, this option remains plausible.
It would be a return to the past, since the two parties have already ruled together several times. There is also the possibility of an executive unit/technician to manage the emergency that also includes the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, but hardly VV would agree to be part of it. Last option the elections, which however could not be held in the short term because of the coronavirus emergency: in that case, the current government could remain in office as resigning.(10)

A range of hypotheses, a political crisis in the midst of a global crisis that seriously concerns the citizens of Kosovo, many of whom, unable to go to the streets, have demonstrated their dissent towards the political class through a noisy protest from the balconies of the house. The long-awaited change, represented by the election of Kurti, undergoes an unexpected stop, organized by the old political elite with the approval of the American. All this, blatantly, just as the country is facing an emergency situation. (11)

Stars and stripes pressures 

On March 20, Kurti, fulfilling his promise to relaunch the dialogue mediated by the European Union, had eliminated the duties on raw materials, promising its total removal in April, and demanding the principle of reciprocity with Serbia. This is where the long “american hand” intervened.

In recent months, the White House has appointed US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, a diplomat very close to President Donald Trump, as special envoy for the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. A completely new post that demonstrates the renewed American interest in being a pacifist in the Balkans. And to Grenell = that in the last months had also facilitated an agreement for the future resumption of the air connections and railwaymen between the two capitals ¿ the gradual removal of the duties did not like at all, Also reconfirming the intransigence towards the principle of reciprocity wanted by Kurti. An apparently unmotivated intransigence, but which serves as the perfect alibi to unleash the government crisis. President Thaçi and the LDK allies immediately sided with the United States, the godfathers of Pristina’s independence and with which they do not want to compromise the international alliance. And in US plans, therefore, the removal of duties must be total and immediate. (12)

But why were we in such a hurry when, until last year, the United States had remained substantially disengaged from the Balkan issues? The resolution of the Kosovo issue is indeed a strategic interest of the second (or third) band, but the White House is pressing to resolve the issue by virtue of the presidential elections next November. After the so-called Plan of the Century, archiving also the Balkan practice would allow Trump to present himself to the world as the man of providence able to resolve conflict situations that have lasted for decades.(13)

It is no coincidence that in the speech that preceded the distrust of the government, Prime Minister Kurti openly accused President Thaçi of having already signed an agreement in secret with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic. The two had met informally in recent weeks in Washington. Although both have denied the press that they have signed any agreement, according to some diplomatic sources the main suspect is the infamous exchange of territories between the two countries mentioned informally since summer 2018: The Preshevo Valley in southern Serbia with an Albanian majority would go to Pristina, in exchange for northern Kosovo, inhabited mostly by Serbs. This would be the incentive that would lead Belgrade to recognize the independence of its now former province, in which there are many monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which would enjoy a sort of autonomy. 

Geopolitical competition (and uncertain future scenarios)

The US intervention would be renewed not only at regional level, but also at international level. The dialogue, despite the freeze of a year, was in fact the exclusive competence of the European Union, which since 2013 mediates the process of normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina sanctioned by the Brussels agreements. The United States’ meddling and haste therefore generate geopolitical competition in a region already in precarious balance as regards security and stability. 

The EU response is not delayed. The High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, has proposed the appointment of a special envoy for dialogue: Miroslav Lajcak, a former Slovak Foreign Minister and a senior diplomat in the Balkans. But this appointment leaves many doubts. Lajcak is a diplomat from one of the five EU countries, Slovakia, which do not recognise Kosovo’s independence. A characteristic that unites him with Borrell himself, who comes from Spain, and that arouses perplexity in Pristina. Lajcak has a particular dossier in the region and many accuse him of having pro-Serb sympathies. 

His appointment is therefore rather part of the logic of competition against Washington, which pushes for an agreement between the Serbian and Kosovar presidents before November, and then replace Brussels in the geopolitics of his neighbourhood.(14)

Washington has never hidden that Thaçi is the preferred one, who has been invited to the White House in recent weeks along with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić, in a meeting that has strengthened the rumors of a possible upcoming agreement that, according to Kurti, it would include a dangerous exchange of territories. 

The decision to initiate a vote on the motion of no confidence was criticised by the German and French embassies. Vjosa Osmani, the vice president of the LDK, also refused to support the motion of no confidence when it was announced.

In an article in the Koha Ditore newspaper of 21 March, former politician and journalist, Veton Surroi expressed similar sentiments by recalling the protests against Milosevic, a way to circumvent the police curfew at the time. He added that he was sorry to see that a new political crisis forced citizens to do the same 30 years later.(15)

Getoar Aliu


1 Agenzia Nova; 25/03/2020; Link:https://www.agenzianova.com/a/0/2866077/2020-03-25/kosovo-crisi-di-governo-oggi-in-parlamento-mozione-di-sfiducia-contro-kurti/linked 

2 Ibidem.

3 Ibidem. 

4 Ibidem. 

5La Repubblica, 26/03/2020; Link:https://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2020/03/26/news/kosovo_in_piena_emergenza_coronavirus_cade_il_governo-252372105/?refresh_ce 

6 Ibidem. 

7 Ibidem.

8 Andrea Zambelli; East Journal; 26/03/2020; Link: https://www.eastjournal.net/archives/104112 

9 Ibidem. 

10 Ibidem. 

11 Ibidem. 

12 Giorgio Fruscione; ISPI (Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale); 26/03/2020; Link: https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/kosovo-cade-il-governo-piena-crisi-coronavirus-e-geopolitica-25560 

13 Ibidem. 

14 Ibidem. 

15 Besa Luci, KOSOVO 2.0; 26/04/2016; Link: https://kosovotwopointzero.com/en/leter-from-the-editor/  

Getoar Aliu

Je m’appelle Getoar Aliu. Originaire du Kosovo, je vis en Italie depuis 2005. Chez EU-Logos, je suis analyste politique, chargé du portefeuille «Politique européenne de voisinage». Je suis diplômé en Science politique et relations internationales à l’Université de Sienne. Actuellement je fais un master en Etudes européennes à l’Université de Florence. J’ai choisi ce portefeuille parce que je suis intéressé par les relations politiques et économiques que l’Union a avec les pays de l’est et les pays du sud de la Méditerranée.

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