Tuesday

25th Sep 2018

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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?

No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected

Following the 2030 renewable target of 32 percent, chair of the European Parliament's environment committee Adina Valean argues in order to reach our climate and energy goals, we need both public and private investment over the next decade and beyond.

News in Brief

  1. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group
  2. Half of EU states at risk of missing recycling target
  3. Commission refers Poland to EU top court over rule of law
  4. Open Society Foundation takes Hungary to court
  5. EU court asked to rule on halting Brexit
  6. EU threatens Switzerland on stock trading
  7. Italy's new basic wage restricted to Italians
  8. UK tycoon offers to create pro-Brexit party

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  2. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  3. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  4. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  5. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  6. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  7. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  8. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  4. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  5. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  7. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  9. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  12. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us