Thaci: Albania can’t push harder than EU or the US

In an exclusive interview with Life in Kosovo, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci discussed the Specialist Chambers, Albania’s mingling in Kosovo affairs, and corruption.

Since he took office in February, President Hashim Thaci seems to have moved away from the limelight. While in government, Thaci supported the establishment of the Specialist Chambers in the Hague, a new court that will be dealing with war crimes committed in Kosovo during 1998-2000. Thaci was one of the Kosovo leading political figures accused of war crimes, including organ harvesting, in a 2011 report by the Council of Europe.  

“We should see the formation of the Special Tribunal [the Specialist Cambers] as a way of clearing, or getting rid of the allegations, of the things that have been mentioned in reports of the Council of Europe,” Thaci said on Thursday.

“I’ve led the process of establishing this court and everyone should be equal before law,” Thaci said when asked whether he believed he would be indicted.

A former foreign minister, Thaci also discussed the recent backlash Albanian PM Edi Rama had to face after discussing Kosovo in Belgrade.

“It was a responsible, correct and just declaration for Trepca. The same goes for [Kosovo’s] recognitions, and what he said about Mr. [Nehat] Thaci,” said president Thaci on Thursday, referring to the Kosovo regional police director detained in Serbia on charges of organized crime since September 29. “Albania is obligated to deal [with Kosovo], to give statements for issues that are important.”

Days after the Kosovo government passed a law on the Trepca mining complex, a decision heavily criticized by the Serbian government, Rama defended Kosovo’s independence and the government’s sovereignty over Trepca in Belgrade Security Forum.

Rama’s comments caused a furore in Kosovo with various people who criticized his involvement in Kosovo’s affairs.

Responding to the ongoing debate on what role Albania should have in respect to Kosovo, Thaci maintained that attacks on both sides of the border are no good.

“Only by strengthening both of these countries can we strengthen the Albanian nation. At the end of the day we are one nation that lives in many countries,” he said, adding that Albania’s support has been continuous.

In 2014 Rama became the first Albanian PM to visit Serbia since 1946. During his visit he declared, “Kosovo is independent, recognised by 108 countries across the world and supported by a decision by the International Court of Justice, which is undeniable.”

“Albania has spoken about Kosovo when others didn’t,” said Thaci, nevertheless maintaining that Kosovars have a unique identity. “Since ’99 and onwards, we have to understand that Kosovo has built its own identity, its legitimate institutions and its representatives. Albania has the right and should talk about Kosovo, and Kosovo has the right and should talk about Albania.”

“Issues like telecom, energy transmission, et cetera–these are issues that Kosovar authorities discuss with Brussels with the presence and leadership of the European Union, and the support of the United States. It’s not in [Rama’s] mandate to deal with the implementation of agreements between Kosovo and Serbia,” said Thaci.

Thaci however affirmed Hoxhaj’s contention that Albania was not an international factor like the United States or the European Union.

“Don’t think that Albania can push something for you in Belgrade when even the EU or the US cannot,” said Thaci wearily.

Thaci also discussed the issue of visa liberalization, which he has promised since he ran for prime minister in 2007.

“Kosovo institutions have completed the necessary reforms, in legislation as well as in the economy,” said Thaci. However, Kosovo will only get a visa-free regime if it shows noticeable progress in fighting corruption and ratifies a contentious border demarcation deal with Montenegro.  According to the 2015 court monitoring report produced by BIRN and Internews Kosova, Kosovo’s judicial system has failed in the war against corruption, by coming up short with indictments and harsh sentences.

“Since I’ve become President, I’ve declared clearly that no one who is being accused can stay appointed in a public institution,” said Thaci.

However, when challenged about Nijazi Thaci–his relative and the director of operations in a public company who has been indicted for abuse of office yet still holds a public post–President Thaçi answered, “I didn’t appoint him there, I can’t tell people what to do, and everyone is independent [to decide for themselves].”

When asked why, when he was head of his party for 16 years, he allowed for mayoral candidates to run for office while they had ongoing controversial indictments for abuse of office as they competed and won elections, he said “I can not tell people who to elect.”

The second condition that EU has placed on Kosovo for visa liberalisation is the demarcation with Montenegro, which led the Kosovo parliament to operate under teargas in the past year.

“It’s a shame that for this issue, the demarcation, we are being held hostage for visa liberalization,” said Thaci, adding that people who were blocking the process had visas for themselves, alluding possibly to opposition MPs. Opposition parties and inhabitants claim that in this deal, Kosovo is losing 8,000 hectares of land.

“I think the professional commission did their job correctly and justly,” continued Thaci. “Now it’s up to the Kosovo assembly to do their job to ratify it.”

“Kosovo’s territory hasn’t changed with the Montenegro demarcation. Peja’s territory hasn’t changed at all,” Thaci reassured, adding that there’s no evidence that the Kosovo territory has gotten smaller. He invited citizens who have proof to the contrary to bring them to the government.

Thaci also said he was open to take the border demarcation dispute to arbitration. In a recent interview for Life in Kosovo, Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic also said that his government would be open to take the issue to arbitration, if Kosovo Assembly cannot come to an agreement on the deal.

When asked about the 200,000 jobs Thaci promised when he ran for prime minister in 2014, he shrugged it off saying he was prime minister no longer.

“I promised 200,000 jobs, and if I was prime minister, I would keep that promise,” Thaci said. “I planned it and I would have implemented it.”

Discussing other international affairs, Thaci happily declared his endorsement for Clinton in this year’s American presidential elections.

“It’s not up to me to have a say in what’s going on in the elections there,” Thaci said smiling. “But Albanians, wherever they live, are enthusiastic and cannot wait for the former Secretary of State and future President Hillary Clinton to win.”

Correctiona previous version of this article noted that the Specialist Chambers will prosecute crime committed during 1998-9. The Chambers will deal with crimes during 1998-2000.

and 21/10/2016 - 15:05

21 October 2016 - 15:05

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosova. For 8 years, PI has been reporting on current affairs, published exclusive investigations and longform features & essays about Kosovo and the region.