Elections and Kosovo’s Never-ending Problems

By Dr. Idlir Lika*

The socialist Self-Determination Movement (LVV) led by Albin Kurti will win the Kosovo snap polls set to be held on Feb. 14, 2021, this time maybe even by a landslide. This is the widespread expectation among all serious observers of Kosovo’s political scene, including the author. What we do not know is whether the LVV will be allowed to serve a full term in office once it assumes power. This points to perhaps the most pressing problem the youngest “nation-state” in Europe has faced since its independence from Serbia thirteen years ago: political parties / elites in Kosovo lack real power and autonomy to rule their own country. They are instead treated like pawns which serve the often-short-term interests of outside powers, which in turn, turn a blind eye on their clients’ indulging in rampant corruption, crime, and state-capture. What goes on within the borders of Kosovo is not decided in Pristina (as it should normally be), but in Brussels and Washington. Indeed, it is striking that not a single Kosovar government has finished its full term since the independence from Serbia in 2008. The fate of the last democratically elected government, however, was undoubtedly the most flagrant.
In late March 2020, during the peak of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration, more specifically its Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Richard Grenell, engineered the collapse of the LVV-led coalition government of Albin Kurti (after only 50 days in office) because the latter apparently was giving Trump a lot of hassle. Mounting pressure on President Hashim Thaçi and on Isa Mustafa, the leader of Kurti’s coalition partner the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the Trump administration brought down the LVV-led government in a no-confidence vote in parliament, installed in its place a compliant minority government led by Avdullah Hoti of the LDK (supported by the Serbian minority), and on Sept. 4, 2020, finalized the whole process by getting Serbia and Kosovo sign a theatrical “economic normalization” agreement in the White House. As I have previously argued in these pages, this deal clearly had only the short-term goal of serving Trump’s re-election purposes and did not reflect any sort of genuine commitment by the White House to advance the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. Now that Trump is gone, the deal is largely forgotten and useless.
There is no question that Serbia poses the greatest existential threat to Kosovo’s statehood by derailing the recognition of its external sovereignty. However, it has to be pointed out that Washington and Brussels, without denying their crucial role in the achievement of Kosovo’s independence, are also somehow harming its statehood by their often-heavy interference in issues of internal sovereignty. Paradoxically, despite the Western allies’ oft-repeated discourses of democracy and rule of law, their regional policies, informed often by short-term interests, are actually producing the opposite result – derailing democracy in Kosovo. Indeed, as two prominent comparative democratization theorists, Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, have put it, democracy requires effective statehood first. Without this pre-requisite, the five conditions for achieving a consolidated modern democratic regime (an institutionalized civil; economic; political society; state bureaucracy; and rule of law) cannot be fulfilled.
It is in this respect that Kosovars, especially the youth, have pinned great hopes on another LVV victory at the polls on Feb. 14. This is also due to the fact that Vjosa Osmani, the former speaker of the Parliament, the current acting president, and the only LDK politician who supported Kurti during the March 2020 no-confidence vote, will take part in the elections on the LVV list and has already announced her candidacy for the presidency. Kosovars want employment, want to raise their children on their own soil and not emigrate, they want rule of law and an accountable government. The three major parties of the right, the LDK and the two that sprang out of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK) – Hashim Thaçi’s the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and Ramush Haradinaj’s the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), have all had their chance and utterly failed in providing any of the services Kosovars long for. As sarcastically noted by a prominent Macedonian Albanian political commentator, for thirteen years the rightist Kosovar elites were entrusted with building a state, however they instead built only villas for themselves.
It is now time to test Albin Kurti and the LVV, and Kosovars more than ever want to give the leftists their chance, this time hopefully unrestricted by outside powers. Indeed, numerous pre-election polls show the LVV leading by a wide margin (41-46% of the national vote), the PDK polling second (16-20%) while the LDK plummeting to a historical low of 15%. The political standing of the LVV’s political opponents during the upcoming snap polls is more tenuous than ever before. The PDK’s founder and historic leader, Hashim Thaçi, resigned from his presidential post and is currently facing criminal prosecution in the Hague for alleged war crimes during the 1998-99 Kosovo War, whereas the LDK has seen its legitimacy steadily eroding since they brought down their coalition partner (the LVV) in March 2020, and the Constitutional Court invalidated in Dec. 2020 the government of the LDK Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti (because the June 2020 parliamentary confirmation of Hoti’s administration was passed with a vote by a legislator who has since been jailed).
Brussels, and more so Washington, should throw their weight behind the reformist LVV this time. The unpredictability that characterized the Trump era is gone now and with it the transatlantic divide over the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. The Biden administration should mend the transatlantic ties and thus unify the American and European tracks for advancing Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. Trump/Grenell’s “economy-first-politics-next” logic was deeply flawed. You cannot have economic normalization in the lack of mutual diplomatic recognition, and in domestic contexts characterized by rampant corruption and authoritarianism. Hence, the transatlantic allies should focus more on stamping out those socio-political ills and on strengthening statehood in Kosovo first. Political instability in Kosovo benefits no one other than the Serbian strongman Aleksandar Vucic. And this is why Brussels and Washington should support the reformist LVV this time. Needless to say, success is far from guaranteed, but at least the LVV should be given a try. /Anadolu Agency

* The writer is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Istanbul Gelisim University