European Western Balkans

Kosovo’s Year in Review: Exceptional hardships and challenges

Albin Kurti and Hashim Thaçi; Photo: Twitter / HashimThaciRKS

The year 2020 in Kosovo was characterized with economic decline, rise of social inequality and intense political competition, which signals a difficult year ahead.

On October 6, 2019, Kosovo held assembly elections which produced an opposition victory with the left-wing Self-Determination Movement, LVV, coming in first and the right-wing Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, coming in a close second.

This outcome gave the citizens of Kosovo some hope, who otherwise felt frustrated by the widespread corruption and unemployment linked to the previous party coalition. Additionally, the appointment of special envoys by the US and EU to help finalize a comprehensive deal between Kosovo and Serbia created a bright spot on the horizon.

Unfortunately, these hopes were not borne out. While 2020 started off optimistic, it quickly backfired. The new government led by LVV’s Albin Kurti lasted for only 52 days. Their coalition partners, LDK, initiated a motion of no confidence and brought down their own government, all while in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The newly formed Government by LDK, elected last June, did not maintain power for long either. On December 21, Kosovo’s constitutional court ruled that the country must hold a new general election due to an invalid vote that helped elect the Hoti government. Kosovo will hold new election on February 14, 2021.

Ineffective and fragile government

In the last two years, Kosovo has had four different prime ministers, with LDK’s Avdullah Hoti being the most recent one. Since he was elected in June, Hoti has been dealing with a legitimacy dilemma.

He was not among LDK’s top voted candidates running for assembly in the last elections, yet he was chosen as the new prime minister. In addition, his government found it difficult to secure 61 votes to pass any laws, with the economic recovery package being the most important one.

Hoti stated that COVID-19 crisis management and economic recovery would be his government’s top priorities. However, the number of infected people and deaths have skyrocketed. The government has been incapable of effectively dealing with the crisis, forcing people to take matters into their own hands.

Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti; Photo: Flickr / GazetaTjeter Redaksia

The lack of adequate testing and medical treatment has pushed citizens to travel abroad for tests and pay for medical treatment from their own pockets. Moreover, thousands of people have lost their jobs and poverty and social inequality has increased.

While the Hoti government is not entirely to blame, his government failed to pass an economic recovery package for months due to not having a simple majority in the Assembly.

Read more: Osmani calls early parliamentary elections in Kosovo for February 14

An abundance of scandals

Despite proclaiming to be a transparent prime minister, Hoti dismissed several public officials in October without sufficient warning or explanation for his actions. Those dismissed included the chief of police and directors of Kosovo Customs and National Tax Agency.

Furthermore, Hoti abolished the special anti-corruption task force which operated within the Kosovo Police. This decision was met with skepticism by the European Commission. A few days later, it became known that the task force was investigating three tenders signed by LDK’s Minister of Interior, Agim Veliu.

In the same week, the Ministry of Finance and Transfers revealed that 2.1 million euros were illegally withdrawn from the state treasury and transferred to a private company through four suspicious transactions. The case remains unresolved and the funds have not been returned to Kosovo’s budget yet.

The list of scandals also includes the Minister of Justice, Selim Selimi, who appointed an individual convicted of drug trafficking as his political advisor. As soon as the media broke this news, Selimi dismissed the advisor from his duties.

Moreover, Foreign Minister Meliza Haradinaj recommended the son of Haxhi Shala, someone with very limited foreign service experience, to serve as consul general at Kosovo’s Embassy in Prague. Haxhi Shala’s vote was crucial for the success of the Hoti government and his son’s appointment was largely seen by the public as a quid-pro-quo deal.

Read more: Unlocking Kosovo in 2021: last chance to right the wrong

Kosovo-Serbia “economic normalization agreement”

The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue reached a deadlock when Serbia launched a derecognition campaign against Kosovo and Kosovo retaliated with a 100% customs tariff against Serbian goods.

The US appointed two special envoys in the region to get the ball rolling. Fearing that this move would highlight the EU’s failure to reach a final agreement for over a decade, the EU decided to appoint a special envoy as well.

As expected, American re-engagement was highly welcome in the most pro-American country in the world, whereas the EU’s appointment was viewed with skepticism. On September 4th, Kosovo’s PM and the Serbian President met at the White House to sign documents pledging to normalize their economic relations.

Kosovo-Serbia White House signing ceremony; Photo: Twitter / AIEmbassyUSA

The meeting was viewed as a political stunt to portray President Trump as a peacemaker rather than a genuine effort to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

A wave of arrests by the Specialist Court

Kosovo’s Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office based in The Hague, Netherlands, confirmed indictments against former top Kosovo Liberation Army officials, accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Indicted individuals include former president and prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, former assembly chairs, Jakup Krasniqi and Kadri Veseli, and LVV’s MP, Rexhep Selimi.

The arrests have caused a political earthquake in Kosovo because the individuals are not only KLA figures, but also some of the most prominent political individuals who have played an important role in Kosovo’s path towards independence. Hashim Thaçi, for instance, read the declaration of independence 12 years ago and is the first person to serve as Kosovo’s prime minister.

The trials will likely continue for years and the outcome of the Specialist Court has the potential to create more tension in Kosovo’s society.

Difficult year ahead

The repercussions of Kosovo’s economic and political situation in the last year will reveal themselves in 2021.

The first quarter of 2021, in particular, will be a critical period. The country will hold snap elections and the Assembly will have to vote for a new president. This is the first time since the declaration of independence in 2008 that the country is going to elect the prime minister and president at the same time.

Despite difficulties and looming pessimism, new elections are an opportunity for Kosovo to break free from patronage politics and produce a paradigm shift. The hope is that the new government will be formed in a transparent and democratic manner.

Furthermore, the new US administration, which is considered to be friendly towards Kosovo, has given the citizens of Kosovo some hope for 2021.

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