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The KLA isn’t the only winner

Daniel Serwer

June 12, 2017



A coalition led by three parties that trace their origins to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) won a plurality in Kosovo’s parliamentary election yesterday. Running for the first time together, the winning KLA coalition has promised the prime minister’s post to Ramush Haradinaj, who was acquitted twice by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Self-Determination Movement (Vetëvendosje), which advocates a referendum on union with Albania, came in second, with former Prime Minister Mustafa’s coalition a close but disappointing third.

Ramush was serving as prime minister in 2005 when ICTY first indicted him. He resigned and went to The Hague to defend himself, successfully. He was indicted again in 2011 and acquitted again in 2012. French authorities detained him in January of this year at the request of Serbia but freed him in April. His appointment as prime minister will complicate relations with Serbia, whose laws he unquestionably broke during Kosovo’s armed rebellion in 1998 and 1999, and Montenegro, as he for several years has opposed demarcation of its already agreed border with Kosovo. Ramush’s brother and supporter Daut was convicted in 2002 of murdering members of a KLA rival group. He was also involved in a short-lived but violent Albanian insurgency in Macedonia in 2001.

The emergence of a KLA government will complicate an already complicated situation. It will harden attitudes among Serbs, both within Kosovo and in Belgrade, where a former deputy prime minister to a Milosevic-supporting government is now president, elected on a pro-European Union platform. The EU and US will try to revive implementation of a Brussels agreement that provides for reintegration of Serb-majority northern Kosovo with the rest of the country, in exchange for more Serb autonomy. Ramush has the kind of authority required to reach such an agreement with the Serbs, but he will want in exchange needed Serb support for conversion of Kosovo’s lightly armed security forces into a small NATO-compatible army.

Having more than doubled its vote in percentage terms, Self-Determination is also a big winner and will be the new government’s main opposition. Using so far non-lethal violence both on the streets and in parliament to make its points, it opposes Kosovo statehood, preferring to make the country a part of Albania, and the talks with Belgrade. It also criticizes both the winning coalition and the outgoing government for corruption and abuse of power, a charge that resonates strongly in a country disappointed in the economic benefits of almost a decade of independence. Self-Determination’s mayor of Pristina, Shpend Ahmeti, has acquired a good reputation for managing the city well.

The big loser in this election is the political party derived from Kosovo’s peaceful protest movement of the 1990s, led then by Ibrahim Rugova. Coming in third, its fragile ad hoc coalition will have a difficult time influencing events in a political scenario dominated by the out-sized personalities of Ramush, Self-Determinatio leader Albin Kurti, and President Thaci, another former KLA leader.

Many will feel trepidation about domination of Kosovo by former KLAers and Self-Determination, both of which are led by consummate showmen. They seem more likely to compete for attention, often appealing to pan-Albanian  and anti-Serb nationalist sentiment, than for prizes in good governance. But we all need to respect the outcome of truly democratic elections, which these seem to have been. Ramush and his government can always prove their critics wrong. I wish them well in meeting the real needs in today’s Kosovo: economic and social improvement as well as good relations with its neighbors.



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