The results of last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Kosovo have been hailed in local, regional, and international media as a turning point. Being the first post-independence elections in which former UÇK (Kosovo Liberation Army) commander Hashim Thaçi’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) did not secure the largest share of the vote, they can indeed be seen as the elections in which the people of Kosovo voted for change. The formerly-dominant PDK, only managed to secure 21% of the vote. By contrast, the Lëvizija Vetëvendosje LVV (Self-Determination Movement), which began as a protest movement against the international presence in Kosovo, and campaigned on a platform of fighting corruption and taking a stronger stance in the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue, won 26%.
These elections can perhaps also be seen as a turning point from an inter-ethnic reconciliation perspective. Upon the announcement of his victory, LVV leader and presumably Kosovo’s next Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced that ‘as far as dialogue with Serbia is concerned, in my first week in office I will start dialogue with the Kosovo Serbs. Dialogue from the bottom up’. In a political landscape where Kosovo’s Serb community is virtually absent from the public rhetoric on both the Kosovo and Serbian sides of the fence, such a statement is refreshing. Moreover, Kurti’s stated intention that he will begin negotiations with Kosovo Serb Sloboda (Freedom) Coalition candidate Nenad Rašić and not Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista (Serbian List) representatives, in his preparations to form a government, can be seen as a positive development for proponents of inter-ethnic co-operation. In a rare appeal to voters across the ethnic divide, Rašić made a campaign video in the Albanian language, and also declared during the election campaign that Kosovo Serbs must initiate dialogue for reconciliation. These two examples of support for engaging the Kosovo Serb community give an indication that these elections represent a turning point for Kosovo, not just in terms of shunning UÇK-based parties, but also perhaps in progress towards inter-ethnic reconciliation.
The picture, however, may not be as positive as it first appears. Firstly, the fact that Kurti’s declaration regarding reaching out to Kosovo’s Serbs was made in an interview with an Albanian news channel in Tirana, and standing in front of an Albanian flag, gave a visual reminder of LVV’s fervent support for unification with Albania. This may perhaps leave Kosovo’s non-Albanian communities pondering just where their place is in an LVV-led Kosovo. Proponents of transitional justice in Kosovo may also begin to question the likely impact of this political sea-change on progress towards dealing with the past, when considering Kurti’s comments on the Specialist Chambers. In another interview, Kurti described the establishment of the court, which has been established in The Hague to process cases relating to alleged crimes committed by the UÇK as “regrettable”. He additionally lamented that it was too late for the mechanism to be dismantled now, and declared that ‘I don’t believe the UÇK committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, but there could have been some committed by individuals’. He then gave the hypothetical example of an elderly Serb woman being killed by an Albanian for her flat, but made no mention of the organ trafficking allegations or other serious crimes that are being investigated by the court. So while Kurti may not come from a “war wing” party, he provides no evidence that he will be the first from Kosovo’s political establishment to accept the possibility that war crimes could have been committed by the UÇK. Moreover, Kurti does not deviate from his predecessors in his attitude that reconciliation can only come from Serbia taking responsibility for what happened during the war, stating that ‘reconciliation happens when Serbia recognises Kosovo’s need for independence and pays for the war reparations’.
Similarly, while Nenad Rašić’s campaign could be seen as a step forward for reconciliation in Kosovo, his Freedom Coalition was unable to win any of the ten parliamentary seats that are reserved for Kosovo Serbs. All ten of these seats were won by Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista representatives, in a campaign environment that was marred by intimidation in the Kosovo Serb areas, according to the EU Election Observation Mission. Moreover, while Albin Kurti has expressed his preference for working with Rašić over any Srpska Lista representatives, according to the Constitution, while ministers and deputy ministers may be qualified people who are not deputies of the Assembly, such an appointee would have to be formally endorsed by a majority of the Kosovo Serb MPs. This is a somewhat unlikely scenario given that Rašić described Srpska Lista as a “political monster” during the election campaign, and openly condemned its intensifying intimidation of candidates and supporters from other parties during the campaign. Given Kurti’s declaration that ‘in order to have democratic state-building, we need Serbian List and the PDK in opposition’, and his Constitutional obligation to appoint at least one minister and two deputy ministers from the Kosovo Serb community, and with the approval of Srpska Lista, forming a government will be a challenging task. Key voices in Belgrade warned of the consequences of a potential exclusion of Srpska Lista MPs in government, with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić asserting that ‘this will create and leave disastrous consequences for Serb-Albanian relations’.
So while it is refreshing that the concept of dialogue between Kosovo’s majority Albanian and minority Serb communities has gained some visibility in these elections, indications are that in spite of this celebrated turning point, serious obstacles regarding a shift in attitudes towards transitional justice, inter-ethnic co-operation and reconciliation in Kosovo remain. Moreover, even before the new government is finalised and announced, it seems unlikely that these elections prove to have a positive impact on relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
Cover photo credit: vanesa*/flickr/all Creative Commons