Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti talks partnerships with other parties, holes in the dialogue with Serbia, and Vetevendosje’s model for Kosovo’s final agreement.
In an interview for BIRN, head of Kosovo’s opposition party Vetevendosje, Albin Kurti, spoke out about his party’s cooperation with the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, emphasizing that their joint mission is to “stop” President Hashim Thaci.
Kurti addressed the 100 per cent customs tax on goods coming from Serbia, the issue of political representation of Albanians in Presevo Valley, an Albanian majority area in south Serbia, and the expectations of the Kosovo Government’s negotiating team for the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia that was put together in January.
BIRN: The latest announcement by the Government’s negotiating team states that in the last phase of the dialogue with Serbia, war reparations will be discussed, as well as the issue of missing persons, while all of their statements emphasize that mutual recognition is the main goal. Why would you not support a dialogue that addresses issues that Vetevendosje, as a critic, has consistently raised about the EU-mediated dialogue so far? Or, do you not believe that the negotiating team will set these as conditions?
Kurti: We have set forth some necessary steps for the dialogue. Those steps are meant to begin with full transparency of the dialogue that has played out so far, the review and evaluation of the 33 agreements issued during the last six years, and the accountability for those responsible for its current failure. Then, we must officially and openly announce our demands from Serbia, as a state, as a government and as an assembly, who owes Kosovo so much.
We cannot believe that those who misled us, brought about stagnation or even regression over the past years while leading the dialogue would now be able to sort something out that would be good for Kosovo. As far as the negotiating team is concerned, it is already well-known and affirmed by the EU that their role is solely as Thaci’s advisers, and therefore they are incapable of setting out conditions. In addition, Hashim [Thaci] is not even reporting to them or sharing any documents, so they [the negotiating team] do not have any information on the dialogue so far.
Once again, the only approach to moving forward with a legitimate, democratic process supported by citizens and political entities is to begin reviewing the current dialogue, and then turning our intentions to the demands on Serbia, as well as with new elections that would determine which conceptual and principled platform, which negotiating team and which leader should be in charge of the dialogue and in charge of Kosovo.
BIRN: The President of the United States and the European Union have urged for an agreement that would normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Is Kosovo ready for such an agreement, and do you consider this agreement to be another concession to follow the concessions already made through the Ahtisaari package?
Kurti: Initially, the world’s opinion and that of our friends and allies should have a clear view on what ‘normalization’ means. Regular relations for Kosovo can only come from recognition and reparations from Serbia. Nothing else. If any Kosovo politician hints at the fact that we can have regular relations with Serbia without having prior recognition, this needs to be investigated, as it is against Kosovo’s sovereignty. Kosovo is an independent country, and it has regular relations only with the countries that recognize it.
I am certain, with the contacts I am in possession of, that Kosovo’s allies see it this way, and when they discuss the agreement, they discuss recognition of Kosovo. But we would not help ourselves, nor our allies, by having politicians from Kosovo setting out proposals for normalization without prior recognition.
As far as sacrifices and concessions are concerned, Kosovo has sacrificed a lot already. There will be no recognition of Kosovo as a result of concessions made by our side, rather it would be solely through our persistence towards our country’s progress and development. Even recognitions are reduced, European integration seems to be far away, visa liberalization as well, not because we have not sacrificed enough, but because we have a very corrupt image, and the entire world identifies us as a country governed by mafia, monopolists and criminals.
To believe that Kosovo can ‘buy’ recognition through concessions is a mistake. We did not ‘buy’ visa liberalization, although Ramush [Haradinaj] did make concessions by donating 8,200 hectares to Montenegro [by passing the demarcation deal]. Nor with Ahtisaari’s package did we ‘buy’ a seat at the UN. Those who think that by bestowing territory to the north we will earn the recognition of Serbia, Russia and China, should know they are mistaken.
So, once again, let us not follow [Hashim] Thaci’s ridiculous logic, let us figure out that we cannot simply buy recognition. It can be achieved only if we are capable of building a serious and developed country, and this can be done with hard working leaders, not with selfish luxury-chasing leaders.
BIRN: According to you, how should the Presevo Valley issue be addressed in the context of the dialogue with Serbia? Do you support the proposal of negotiation team chairman Shpend Ahmeti, that the Presevo Valley issue should be addressed through the dialogue?
Kurti: Those in the valley are not diaspora to be represented from here, rather they are part of an autochthonous, national Albanian land. Unelected minority parties cannot represent the Presevo Valley from Prishtina. Our position is clear: Presevo Valley should be represented in the dialogue through their representatives. There is nothing excessive in this statement, and this should have been done from the beginning. Kosovo Serbs had their representatives in the dialogue, even with decision-making positions.
In what way the Valley should be treated depends on the requirements of the Valley’s inhabitants themselves. They should not seek anything less than the rights and benefits that Kosovo Serbs enjoy, and if Serbia refuses to grant them those rights then they will have to internationalize their concerns, it is assumed, with Kosovo and Albania’s assistance. The world would either force Serbia to respect the rights of those in the Valley in the same way that it does for Kosovo Serbs, or support their separation and independence. There is no other way. The apartheid or discrimination of Albanians in their lands in the 21st century is unacceptable.
BIRN: How important is it for you to line up with the Democratic League of Kosovo by refusing to be part of the negotiating team, considering that even Isa Mustafa’s former government signed several agreements in Brussels, which you persistently ask for the revision of?
Kurti: We have convenient communication and coordination with Mr Mustafa and LDK, which plays a very good role because it leaves Thaci with no authority in his efforts for a quick deal. Our common position is that neither Hashim Thaci nor a group of small parties alongside him can push this dialogue forward.
The fact that we are in the opposition unites us, and being part of the two largest parties in Kosovo means that these two opposition parties enjoy the support of the absolute majority of citizens. Concerning the past, of course we had some disagreements and clashes, because if we had agreed about everything in the past, we would not be two separate parties now, rather we would be a single entity.
In politics, we as Vetevendosje do not rely on the anger of the past, but we are led by our programmatic and ethical views, and we are willing to cooperate sincerely and honestly with the subjects that have similar approaches to us, for as long as these approaches unite us. We are not like PDK, once we enter into cooperation with other subjects we stick to our word until the end, with full responsibility. Therefore, our agreements were generally in writing and transparent, never in the dark.
BIRN: Does your request to review the agreements reached in Brussels put your partnership with LDK at risk?
Kurti: Absolutely not. We even have their support for a review and assessment of the last six years of the dialogue, as well as for a parliamentary inquiry into the entire process of dialogue and agreements, as soon as possible. They know, the entire world knows, which person and which party has been pushing the non-transparent process beyond any mandate and that has damaged Kosovo.
BIRN: We have recently seen you use lenient language against LDK. Does this mean that LDK remains the only political force with which you can enter into political cooperation with in the future to establish a coalition, perhaps a pre-election coalition? Is LDK a political party that can earn Vetevendosje’s confidence to make changes in Kosovo?
Kurti: We have preserved the use of harsh language for those in power, especially for PDK, because they have been in power for 12 years without interruption, and have captured the state across every institution. The other parties have entered into coalitions with PDK, believing they could stop them, and it turned out to be impossible. What Vetevendosje always said became true, that the only way to stop PDK is by leaving it alone, thus, refusing to enter to a coalition with PDK. Nowadays all political parties have figured out that whoever joins forces with PDK sees its support shrink, and whoever opposes PDK sees it increase. Even its voters are abandoning PDK, and the support had fallen to less than 20 per cent.
As far as coalitions are concerned, I cannot make such statements so light-heartedly. For Vetevendosje, coalitions are a serious matter because that specific coalition will govern afterwards. Therefore, initially, the discussion about a coalition should be based on its platform, and then after that it shall be approved by the party, too. We have shown that we have found common ground beforehand with other subjects, including LDK as far as the agreement on our political platform is concerned. However, I am enthusiastic about the future, regardless of whether there will be a coalition or not. Considering the pace with which we are organizing the party, seeing it expand everywhere through the villages and neighborhoods of Kosovo, we will soon be the largest party in the country, and perhaps the largest Albanian political entity in the Balkans.
BIRN: To what extent do you believe that Kosovo and Prime Minister Haradinaj are prepared to resist international pressure and when, according to you, should the tariff be removed?
Recently, we have also reported about smuggling in northern Kosovo. What is your proposal, how should the Government of Kosovo react in the north, as it obvious that authority there does not exist to its fullest extent?
Kurti: I think that the tariff should not be removed. In addition, full reciprocity between Kosovo and Serbia should be established, as we voted for in the Kosovo Assembly on December 7, 2011 with the initiative from our party. The only method to force Serbia to recognize Kosovo is through the reciprocity process.
In regard to the smuggling, it can be stopped only if we control the borders. This can be done easily, through Kosovo Police and the Kosovo Security Force, KSF. But it is impossible to do so as long as we have people linked to smugglers installed in our leading state institutions.
BIRN: In the past legislature of the Assembly, we saw a much more unified and stronger opposition, though not as large as it is now. While in the current legislature, we are seeing an incapable opposition that is failing to challenge the country’s government. Why is this happening? What can Vetevendosje and LDK do in order to have a more unified opposition in terms of action and approach?
Kurti: For the time being, the opposition is firm and has a united attitude. It is the president who is at his lowest point of public support. This president and this government had much more confidence at the time when we entered into the technical and political dialogue some years ago than at present.
We held a massive protest on September 29, 2018, and if the government or the president continues to push forward dangerous projects, be assured that we can protest twice as much as before. These poor and unemployed people cannot endure the criminality and foolishness of a group of ignorant and dishonest men for one more day.
You are asking what the opposition should do more, but I remind you that we are in a strange situation where the government no longer has the majority, and is forced to buy votes from MPs in order to pass any law. The budget has not been approved yet and their government depends on the MPs that they could, potentially, buy. This is a dead government, a zombie government. With the distrust between the governing coalition parties, it cannot be a long lasting government, constantly bullyragging and embracing each other publicly at the same time, in a disgusting way.