Friday

20th Oct 2017

Opinion

Kosovo on the brink over Montenegro deal

  • Thaci tried to shrug off popular concern on demarcation, but to no avail (Photo: Marco Fieber)

The news from Kosovo is gloomy. For two years now, continuous confrontation between ruling coalition and opposition parties have put the country into a deadlock.

The latest dividing issue is the demarcation agreement with Montenegro, with the country seeming to be on the brink of the chaos. The political parties are almost “at war” with each other. Harsh words are being exchanged daily.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Thaci - years of misrule have created a perfect storm (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

The opposition accuses the government of high treason for giving away territory, while ruling officials claim that opponents of the demarcation agreement are anti-American and anti-European.

The public is not only confused, but extremely irritated with these political games, which instead of clarifying the situation, have complicated matters further.

It all started in Vienna. On 26 August 2015, Kosovo and Montenegro signed a document by which the bordering line between two states is formally drawn. The government says that it merely confirms a border that already existed since the times of socialist Yugoslavia.

But the population of the affected region started protesting even before the agreement was signed. They claim the deal reduces Kosovo’s territory by at least 8,000 hectares. The opposition has also protested.

The agreement was signed by the then minister of foreign affairs of Kosovo, now president, Hashim Thaci, who casually ignored all criticism. He insisted that Kosovo “lost no territory” in the deal, but his words had little weight in Kosovo due to the many empty promises he had made for seven years while prime minister.

The problem grew worse as Thaci’s casual approach spread among the ranks of the government and state institutions, who waited for months for somebody else to convince the public that the demarcation with Montenegro is harmless.

In the meantime, Kosovo endured tear gas in parliament, peaceful and violent demonstrations, an opposition boycott, and an institutional blockade. The debate raged: hundreds of articles, new books and old maps were published against the demarcation pact, but the government kept waiting silently for the situation to calm down, and then for its parliamentary majority to ratify the deal.

The demarcation, a condition for a visa-free regime with the EU, was to have been ratified in June. But, months of silence and of ignoring the public proved to have been fatal for the government-border pact.

A majority of Kosovo citizens are convinced that with this agreement the country is losing territory. Even some MP’s from the ruling coalition are against the demarcation, while Serb MPs are refusing to take part in the vote, conditioning their support on unrelated concessions in their favour.

No majority

In such circumstances, the 2/3 parliamentary majority needed to ratify the agreement was unreachable.

That’s why the ratification vote was already postponed twice. The government seems to be unable or unwilling to find a way out, even though some civil society activists have already suggested that Kosovo should simply ask Montenegro to reopen negotiations.

Meanwhile, the international community, including the US and the EU, supports the agreement. This Western “wind in the sails” of the Kosovo government eventually prompted (or pushed) the authorities to start a campaign in favour of demarcation.

Thaci and his PM Isa Mustafa now continuously talk of how “Kosovo does not lose one inch of land”, and of how refusing the agreement “will be fatal for Kosovo”, making unsubstantiated claims that failure to ratify will result in Kosovo’s international isolation. They say that the territory that opposition experts claim is being given away was “never part of Kosovo”.

These recent polemics and debates are not changing anybody’s mind - the opposition is still against the pact and is using the situation to try bring down the government, while the government is growing more nervous with every day that passes.

There’s a story going around that one Western official told Thaci and Mustafa that demarcation has to be passed. “If you won’t do it, there are others who can”, the official reportedly said, which, when translated, means: either demarcation or new elections.

It is a difficult choice, at a time when the credibility of the government is at a low point due to other scandals. To highlight but one, eavesdropped conversations between governing officials (including Thaci and parliament speaker Kadri Veseli), published recently by media, which expose deep corruption, nepotism and misuse of power with the aim of seizing control of the whole state apparatus.

In these circumstances, the situation has, quite literally, become explosive.

Explosive

Mysterious bombs and grenades have been thrown in recent weeks at the parliament building, and at public radio and TV stations. Police suspects the opposition, but some suspect that the authorities themselves are doing it as a political stunt. Everybody feels insecure, and nobody really understands how we came to this boiling point.

As things stand, the vote on demarcation has essentially become a vote for or against the Thaci-Mustafa government. If demarcation fails, they cannot hold on to office.

A similar fate seems to await them even in other scenarios. The ratification needs to take place within weeks, rather than months. If it does not, the government will be under pressure to either resign, or push for ratification no matter what.

But, even if the government succeeds and the agreement is ratified, it will be done against popular feeling and is likely to deepen the political confrontation.

Imagine: all this trouble, over a demarcation deal with a friendly neighbour that was supposed to be a piece of cake!

But then again, it is obvious that this is more about the enormous problems that are facing Kosovo and its discredited elite rather than about a few hectares of land.

Demarcation was the straw that broke the camel's back, amid the many other unresolved issues, including chronic unemployment, economic stagnation, high-level corruption, government impunity, social unrest, and lack of rule of law.

It is a perfect storm of sorts, which was brewing for years, and seems about to hit hard.

Agron Bajrami is editor-in-chief of Koha Ditore, an Albanian language newspaper that is the largest circulation daily in Kosovo

EU's Kosovo meddling risks Balkans chaos

The EU and the US are is unfairly pressuring Kosovo to ratify a border deal with Montenegro against the will of the opposition. It could bring trouble to the Western Balkans region.

Kosovo's gloomy visa-free future

EU proposal to lift visas for Kosovars created a positive buzz in Pristina. But what will it do to improve ordinary people's lives?

Ukraine language law does not harm minorities

Some European politicians keep spreading fictitious arguments on Ukraine's language law as being an impediment to minority rights, Ukraine's education minister says.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  2. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving up to 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  3. European Jewish CongressEJC Applauds the Bulgarian Government for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  4. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  5. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  8. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  9. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  10. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  11. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  12. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  3. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  4. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  5. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  6. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  7. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  11. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups