2023 Kosovo: Debacle of International Community in Kosovo

The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. Following the escalation of the political and security situation in Kosovo, IFIMES made an analysis of the current political developments. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis “2023 Kosovo: Debacle of International Community in Kosovo.”

2023 Kosovo:


Debacle of International Community in Kosovo 


Fight against roots of crime in Kosovo 

Crime in Kosovo has its roots in the period of Kosovo’s government-in-exile. The epicenter of crime includes the former commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK-OVK) and (para)intelligence services (ShIK), who acted in cooperation with political structures. Although the ShIK was officially dissolved in 2008 for the purposes of establishment of the official Kosovo Intelligence Agency, it still operates unofficially.

There are strong connections between the current official and unofficial opposition political leaders and the enormous amounts of money, which has been collected through various funds. The Vendlindja thrret (Homeland Calling) fund was used to collect money in Europe and is controlled by the leaders of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). The Kosovo People’s Movement Levizja Popullore e Kosoves was established in 1997-98 and it collected money from the diaspora. In 1999 the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) was established from it. In 1991, the 3% Fund was created under the control of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). Dubious activities are affiliated with the closest family members of former Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi (PDK). In fact, a member of his family had a special role in the Kosovo Insurance Bureau (BKS) and controlled the overall financial system through the Central Bank of Kosovo (BQK). Kurti’s government abolished the popularly called “Thaci’s tax.”

Intransparent privatizations such as in the case of Sharrcem cement plant (Hashim Thaçi is affiliated with its ownership structure), the Amortizeri Company from Priština, the Ferronikeli Company from Glogovac (Drenas), etc. Under Thaçi’s rule the Kosovo power supply corporation (KEK), distribution and airport, as well as construction of roads, were either privatized or given in concession to the Turks. It is indicative that Turkey is also the biggest donor to the Kosovo Security Forces (KBS) with more than 100 million Euros provided in donations. Furthermore, from October a Turkish general officer will be at the helm of KFOR. Turkey also recently delivered modern Bayraktar TB2 drones tothe KBS. The privatization was predominantly a failure and was transformed into a tool of personal enrichment. In some cases privatization was not even necessary, while in specific cases it was done in a very intransparent, dubious and often criminal, that is wrongful, way. 

Numerous examples of crime (drug business, human trafficking, “racketeering” of businessmen, etc.), corruption and intimidation have been recorded in Kosovo. Interest spheres were divided among the political elites and function on the basis of an informal agreement “nobody messes with anyone”– all until the arrival of Albin Kurti (LVV) to power.

Kosovo is in need of de-Thaçization. Specifically, dismantling of the politico-criminal legacy of Hashim Thaçi for the sake of internal consolidation of the country. The new ownership structure and management elite in Kosovo has sprung from fertile soil of war-time and postwar lawlessness, elaborate donations and even more elaborate grey economy and plunder of social capital accumulated over decades. 

Analysts believe that the work of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor's Office for War Crimes is important for reaching justice, which would give satisfaction to the victims and their beloved ones, as well as relax the relations in Kosovo and provide for a better and more certain future. In order to understand the existing internal instability and the current developments in Kosovo it is important to know that it is a consequence of the launched fight against the roots of crime, whose proponents strongly oppose the current authorities at the cost of destabilization of Kosovo and the region as a whole. Furthermore, there is also the strong influence of different lobbies, which needs to be taken into account. It is assessed that the amount of money “made” in criminal activities in Kosovo exceeds the budget of Kosovo, which is in the area of three billion euros. The practice shows that that political-criminal structures never develop strong national institutions and established a rule of law- but do just the opposite. 

Vučić and Srpska lista a factor of Albanian internal homogenization

Albanian political parties in Kosovo seize every opportunity for confrontation with the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) and Srpska lista (SL) /Serb List/, which he supports. This leads to Albanian internal homogenization. 

At all the elections held so far, Srpska lista (SL) has been the favorite in all predominantly Serb communities in Kosovo. As the tensions directed towards Srpska lista grow, not rarely do methods involving intimidation, threats and violence get used. 

At the meeting with the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić emphasized that “this is increasingly becoming a security, and not just a political issue” and requested that NATO takes control and provides security to the Serbs in Kosovo based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, which defines the mandate of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission, KFOR, aimed at protection of all citizens of Kosovo. 

Analysts believe that through confrontation with Vučić Kosovo political structures want to show to their citizens that all the problems of Kosovo and the Kosovo society, stem from and should be attributed to Vučić, which does not reflect the true situation because the problems of the Kosovo society are much bigger, deeper and more complex and have their history. That is why finalization of the Brussels dialogue between official Belgrade and Pristina, as well as signing of a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on normalization of relations is being obstructed. Namely, if the two are accomplished all the excuses and justifications would fall into the water, together with the dreams about annexation to Albania. 

Unsigned agreement more important than the signed one 

The Brussels agreement[2] was signed in 2013 and envisaged normalization of relations and an easier life for Kosovo citizens. One item of the agreement was related to the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO), which has not been implemented independent of the 24 remarks presented by the Kosovo Constitutional Court in the decision on assessment of whether the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities was in line with the Constitution. The Kosovo Assembly ratified the Brussels Agreement, and the Kosovo Constitutional Court ruled that the Community of Serb Municipalities should be established. US Special Envoy for Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar stated that from the US perspective establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities was legally binding within the framework of the agreement brokered 10 years earlier between Serbia, Kosovo and the EU. “For us it is an obligation because we have supported the process and one political side cannot withdraw from it unilaterally. Therefore, we shall search for a way to realize that idea[3].” Although the Brussels Agreement was signed, it has never been fully implemented primarily because of the obstructions by the Kosovo authorities in the implementation of the Brussels agreement and particularly its part related to missing persons (archive of OVK/UÇK) and establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO). 

Furthermore, the agreements[4] on “economic normalization” signed in Washington in September 2020 are also essentially not implemented. 

Analysts believe that the Kumanovo, Brussels, Washington and Ohrid agreements have never been fully implemented because the signatories to the agreement have selectively undertaken obligations in line with their unilateral interests, while the international community has remained passive and absent from the implementation of the signed agreements. In fact, both are victims of the incapability of the EU to resolve European problems. Implementation of the Brussels, Washington and Ohrid agreements are a path towards establishment of enduring peace and long-term stability, as well as preemptive elimination of new incidents and situations such as the ones in the north of Kosovo. The narrative in favor of transformation of the region is not a narrative of conflict. All stakeholders need to show the will to find a solution 24 years after the Kosovo war - the solution being implementation of the agreements signed so far. The main question is will and in what way the Western Balkan region be transformed or will it live in unfinished and frozen conflicts. 

The most detrimental aspect of the insisting on the Ohrid agreement, which has not been signed, is the way in which it was brokered and the fact that it states that the previous agreements remain in force while it is just a continuation of the previous agreements. It is stated that the Ohrid agreement is a part of the process of European integration of both countries. Flaws in the agreement itself are evident. They were made so that it remains an unimplemented agreement, because it has left space for ambiguities and different interpretations. It is incomprehensible that simultaneously with the insisting on the unsigned Ohrid Agreement, the agreements that have been signed so far, primarily the Brussels Agreement, are being ignored. 

International community experiences debacle in Kosovo 

The situation in Kosovo is partly a consequence of the wrong moves made by the international community so far and it represents a debacle of the international community and particularly the EU. The amateur mediation of the dialogue by the EU, the failed EULEX mission and the unnecessary deployment of ROSU/Regional Operation Support Unit/ units to predominantly Serb areas in the north of Kosovo. The composition of the ROSU does not reflect the ethnic structure of the population in the north of Kosovo, and NATO/KFOR units have the mandate to guarantee security on the whole territory of Kosovo. 

Unilateral moves undermine the already fragile peace and latent stability, while reciprocity measures would essentially make sense after the signing of a comprehensive and binding agreement on normalization of relations between the official Belgrade and Pristina. The international community allowed the Kosovo Government to dismiss members of the Management Team, to what the EU responded with a statement that such a move by the Kosovo Government violates the spirit of the dialogue agreements. The draft statute of the Community of Serb Municipalities, which was developed by the Management Team was the starting point for the talks and the Kosovo Government was to take a stance on it, not a priori reject it in full. So far, in Kosovo the EU primarily splurged around 2.5 billion Euros of EU taxpayers’ money. 

Analysts believe that the EU has not lost its credibility because the US administration had decided to get involved in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, but because specific member countries had delegated their own envoys and in such a way practically brought into question the authority of Brussels. Without a major engagement of the US in the dialogue, and particularly in the phase of closing a final agreement, it will be difficult to expect any significant progress. The OSCE mission in Kosovo also experienced a debacle, particularly because of the organization of the recent illegitimate local elections in four municipalities in the north of Kosovo (Severna Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zubin potok and Zvečan). By supporting the organization of illegitimate extraordinary local elections in four predominantly Serb municipalities and by bringing ethnic Albanians to mayor positions in Serb areas the international community actually deepened the existing crisis and destabilized the situation in Kosovo. Why did during his hearing before the US Congress Escobar remain silent on the facts about the local elections in the north of Kosovo, which he recognized even before they were held and which led to escalation of the situation. Who is responsible for the holding of illegitimate local elections if it was known that Serbs would not participate in them? And now, Escobar requests organization of new local elections in the north of Kosovo. Therefore, the debacle of the international community in Kosovo does not come as a surprise. 

International NATO/KFOR forces have a strong role in ensuring and maintaining security in Kosovo for all the citizens, irrespective of their ethnic affiliations, and particularly for the Serb community, as was confirmed in the NATO release from the recently held summit in Vilnius.

KFOR made a mistake by silently allowing that Kosovo special police units be unnecessarily deployed to the north of Kosovo, despite the fact that they should not be deployed without the approval by KFOR. Gabriel Escobar, envoy of the State Department for the Western Balkans stated “I think that both sides have the task not to militarize this issue, not to send special units to the areas where KFOR is present and where is no need for such a thing[5].” 

Community of Serb Municipalities– path towards normalization of relations 

The Brussels Agreement signed between the official Belgrade and Pristina in 2013 envisages establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) in Kosovo. The Community of Serb Municipalities is to be established on the basis of a statute, but is guaranteed by the laws of Kosovo, whose modifications require a two-third majority. The ZSO can be dissolved only by decision of member municipalities. Although it is created outside the legal system of Kosovo, the ZSO is a part of the constitutional order of Kosovo, and not a part of the Republic of Serbia. Kosovo authorities do not want to implement the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities and invoke the decision of the Kosovo Constitutional Court, which had identified 24 violations that is provisions that are not in line with the constitution of Kosovo. 

Analysts believe that the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities is a path towards normalization of relations. “A key element is fulfilling Kosovo’s obligation since 2013 to establish a Community of Serb Municipalities. The ZSO would empower municipalities with shared interests, language, and culture to coordinate on common challenges in delivering some public services, including education, health care, and local economic development[6],” Escobar stated at a recent hearing in the House of Representatives of the US Congress. 

The Community of Serb Municipalities would be formed by 10 municipalities with under 100,000 residents. Hence, it is rather unlikely that they could be a factor of destabilization. The competences that the Community would be given could not significantly restrict the activities of the central government in Pristina. The central government would continue to have executive, legislative and judicial powers in Kosovo. 

The fear of establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities is exaggerated, as it is still unknown what the Community of predominantly Serb municipalities is going to look like. The ZSO is a sensitive issue for both sides, which is why in this phase maximalist approaches are present. If there is anything in the process of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, then it is the agreements. There is an inflation of agreements and every new agreement actually conceals the failures of the previous one. There is the Washington Agreement from September 2020 to which nobody is paying attention any more, despite the fact that unlike the Ohrid Agreement the Washington Agreement was signed. Therefore we expect that the Ohrid Agreement will be consigned to memory, because a new sustainable solution needs to be found. 

Kosovo in need of “one society for all”-concept

The integration paradigm of former Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (SDSM) is based on the “one society for all” concept, which means a society that does not exclude anyone regardless of their ethnic, religious, political or any other affiliation. In the case of Kosovo, it would mean that all work together on prosperity of Kosovo and all its citizens. With the arrival of Zaev to power, interethnic incidents, which previously were a daily occurrence, stopped.  The Macedonian experience with harmony of interethnic relations should be used in Kosovo, primarily as this year North Macedonia, specifically its Minister of Foreign Affairs Bujar Osmani (BDI/DUI) is the OSCE Chairman-in-Office. 

The process of relaxation of the situation in Kosovo should include civil society organizations, the business community and prominent individuals from different ethnic communities. They should establish a kind of a “Conclave[7] which would include key actors on the Kosovo social scene and would achieve consensus on key issues for the future. The US, EU, Russia, China, Turkey and if necessary some other countries as well should support such a general consensus, as its guarantors. However, the Ukraine crisis prevents such a thing from happening. The outcome of the Ukraine crisis will have an effect on the resolution of the issue of both Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, it will generally have an effect on the future of the Western Balkan region. 

It is recommended that Kosovo authorities release all the Serbs detained over the past few months, just as the authorities in Belgrade had released three Kosovo police officers in order to overcome the existing situation and to turn to creating a new and more favorable social ambience in Kosovo. Such an act would contribute to creation of an atmosphere for withdrawal of Kosovo special police forces from the north of Kosovo, lying the ground for holding of local elections in four predominantly Serb municipalities and the start of the process of establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities. 

Analysts believe that the ball is now with the authorities in Pristina, which over the past weeks were strongly criticized by the US, and somewhat less by the EU. Kosovo, which has been under the patronage of the West since the nineties of the last century, does not show any signs of improvement of the situation, which can lead to the end of the romance between Kosovo and the West, as confirmed by the already introduced “mild” sanctions, which are a warning sign. 

Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels/Pristina, 1 August 2023         

[1] IFIMES - The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018. It is also the publisher of the international scientific journal European Perspectives.

[2] Brussels Agreement, link: https://www.srbija.gov.rs/cinjenice/283757

[3] Al Jazeera Balkans: “Sixth day of barricades in North of Kosovo,” link: https://balkans.aljazeera.net/news/balkan/2022/12/15/escobar-formiranje-zajednice-srpskih-opstina-za-sad-je-obavezujuce 

[4] Washington Agreement, link: https://rs.n1info.com/vesti/a636581-tekst-sporazuma-beograd-pristina/

[5] Interview with  VOA, Gabriel Escobar: Registration plates to be discussed in Brussels, Serbia and Kosovo not to militarize the situation,“ link:  https://www.glasamerike.net/a/ekskluzivno-intervju-garbrijel-eskobar-glas-amerike-srbija-kosovo-tablice-dijalog-evropska-unija-integracije/6244592.html

[6] VOA – Hearing in the US Congress on the Western Balkans: Serbia and Kosovo in Focus, link: https://www.glasamerike.net/a/kongres-predstavnicki-dom-pododbor-evropa-sad-pretres-zapadni-balkan-eskobar/7185923.html 

[7] The name is derived from the Latin word cum clavemeaning literally "with key”, as the cardinals are locked in the Sistine Chapel on their own for the actual balloting process.