48 hours of Kosovo independence

The recent increase in customs tax by the Kosovo government exhibits the need for sovereign decisions, but could be a camouflage for political point scoring for politicians who want to mask their failures.

Overall societal and political unity is not something common in Kosovo’s recent political history. However, it seems that Kosovars “en masse” have embraced the latest decision of the government of Kosovo to impose a 100 per cent customs tax on products coming from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This week’s decision of the government of Kosovo has been justified by Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj with reference to the “continuous obstructions” to Kosovo’s sovereignty caused by Serbia across the international scene.

Although the justification mainly points to the list of economic agreement violations by Serbia, it is axiomatic that such an introduction of retaliatory measures, which have found broad support across Kosovo’s political spectrum, came directly following Serbia’s campaign to ensure the failure of Kosovo’s bid for Interpol membership.

On the other hand, the EU condemned the imposition of tariffs and urged Kosovo authorities to “immediately” revoke the newly imposed tariffs, hailing the move as contrary to the rules of Central European Free Trade Agreement, CEFTA. The Kosovo government seems to stand firm with Haradinaj, who alleged that Kosovo will revoke the customs tax only when Serbia recognizes Kosovo as a sovereign state.

For many critics, the asymmetrical stance of the EU towards Kosovo, in comparison to Serbia, is apparent.

The EU’s chief of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini has never requested Serbia to “immediately” stop its aggressive politics towards Kosovo’s sovereignty, which the vast majority of its member countries recognize as a independent state. Former EU diplomats in Prishtina have also criticized such unequal treatment and the language used by Mogherini.

While Mogherini prefers not to comment on the obstructionist politics of Serbia towards Kosovo’s efforts to join international organizations, the EU becomes very vocal when it is Kosovo that reacts with its own obstructionist measures.

If good neighborly relations is something that the EU has been meditating for years with the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, why is an aggressive approach to foreign policy acceptable, while unilateral action to impose customs tax increase finds such harsh criticism.

Such hypocritical positioning becomes even more apparent when CEFTA itself has not officially reacted to the decision of the Kosovo government.

The basic question should be repeatedly posed: what sort of normalcy between Kosovo and Serbia has the EU achieved in these seven years in the process of normalization between Kosovo and Serbia?

Politicians in Prishtina have seen that being loyal and constructive towards the EU does not always pay off. In fact, their constructivity served to corrupt politicians to maintain power but produced no benefit for the country over the years. Its position has slowly weakened while the EU uses soothing language with Serbia despite its constant action in international relations to undermine the existence of its neighbor.

Certainly, such developments produce scenarios that benefit politicians domestically. One of the worst and most perilous consequences of the customs tax may indeed be internal, and the amnesty afforded to politicians for constant failures serves Haradinaj and other government officials an opportunity to camouflage and mask their own failures.

Besides the aggressive politics of Serbia, Kosovo officials, especially Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli, should be held responsible for the failure of Kosovo’s Interpol membership. Days before the voting took place, Pacolli expressed a firm belief that Kosovo would join Interpol. Someone has to explain how it is possible that the support could not transcend 60 votes, when Kosovo has been recognized by more than 100 countries worldwide.

Kosovo citizens, besides in principle giving support to the government’s tax increase, must simultaneously demand internal responsibility for the Interpol failure. Despite support to such measures, citizens don’t need to look very far back in history to understand that this state of affairs between Kosovo leaders, the EU and Serbia is a product of weak and incoherent Kosovar politicians as well.

In these 48 hours, only one person was silent: Kosovo president Hashim Thaci has not said a word pertaining to the government’s actions.

No matter how long the government of Kosovo is able to sustain the EU’s pressure to revoke the tax, or the possibility to misuse the situation for narrow political goals, this kind of momentum is seen very infrequently, a chance for a tiny country to enjoy its full sovereignty.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

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