October 6, early parliamentary elections were held in Kosovo, the opposition center-left Self-Determination Party of Albin Kurti was supported by 26% of voters, so it gained the victory.
The ruling Alliance of the Future party of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj won only 11.6% of the vote, while its partners in the Democratic Party of Kosovo coalition, President Hashim Thaçi, won 21.15%, the Social Democratic Party NISMA did not even recross the threshold.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi
Kurti has already announced his victory and stressed that Self-Determination would be able to form a coalition with the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo, which won 25% of the vote and receive at least 60 seats in the 120-seat parliament of the partially recognized republic. The Social Democratic Party will join the future coalition, for which 11% of Kosovo’s voters have voted (about 2 million people).
Early parliamentary elections were held as a result of the resignation of Haradinaj from his post as prime minister in July 2019 after he received a summons to the special tribunal for Kosovo in The Hague. He is suspected of committing a war crime: the killing of 39 civilians during the armed conflict in Kosovo in 1998-99 when Haradinaj was the commander of one of the armed forces of the Kosovo separatists.
A change of power in Kosovo poses certain risks for countries that have problems with territorial integrity, including Ukraine. The Self-Determination Party stands on more extraordinary positions than the former field commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and advocates holding a referendum on the inclusion of the province in neighboring Albania.
Kurti lays mines in slow motion in the frozen conflicts in the Balkans and the post-Soviet space creates a new precedent for the redistribution of state borders in Europe.
Reasons for the change of power in Kosovo
The key to the victory of the Self-Determination party was the discontent of the people of Kosovo with the inability of Haradinaj, Thaçi and other veterans of the Kosovo conflict to solve the socio-economic problems of the region. Despite the fact that over the past ten years, economic growth in Kosovo has been 4% per year, poverty remains a pressing issue in the region.
According to Amnesty International, Kosovo is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe (93rd place), second only to Moldova (117th place) and Ukraine (130th place). Unemployment is the scourge of Kosovo. The main vacancies are concentrated in the public sector.
From the 4th quarter of 2018 to the 1st quarter of 2019, the unemployment rate in Kosovo increased from 30.7 to 31.4%. More than half of Kosovo’s youth are out of work (the average age of Kosovo’s inhabitants is 29).
Corruption pervades all areas of Kosovo's life.
In January of this year, teachers went on strike in Kosovo, demanding a 30% increase in salaries (up to 515 euros per month). But the members of the current government are "boggling" (by the standards of Kosovo): at the end of 2017, their salaries were doubled - from 1,443 to 2,950 euros per month.
Total corruption, lack of prospects in the labor market force the people of Kosovo to seek a better life in other countries. Since independence in 2008, more than 200,000 people have left Kosovo for political asylum in the EU member states.
In these elections, Kosovo Albanians gave preference to the Self-Determination party, as Kurti built his political campaign on the idea of combating corruption and improving the activities of state bodies in the public interest. Locals perceive it as a policy of a new formation, which is included in European political circles.
But the victory of the Kurti party is the result of PR technologies and the hopes of the destitute population of Kosovo. He does not offer qualitatively new political solutions or innovative ideas, but rather, is repelled by the unfulfilled ambitions of part of the Kosovo separatists in the 90s.
People are the same, their goals are different
If we pay attention to the activities of Kurti during the Kosovo conflict of 1998-99, he is not much different from Donetsk separatists Pavel Gubarev and Denis Pushilin. These figures did not directly participate in the hostilities, but simply destabilized the situation and pumped up centrifugal sentiments in their cities.
In 1998, Kurti organized separatist rallies in Pristina in support of the separation of the province of Kosovo from Serbia.
Kurti pursues a geopolitical goal of uniting Kosovo and neighboring Albania into a single state and suggests holding a referendum on self-determination. He did not come up with anything new since the idea of creating Great Albania has been exaggerated since the middle of the 20th century.
In practice, this idea was realized only by the Albanian far-right during the Second World War, when the Albanian protectorate under the control of fascist Italy and then the Albanian kingdom under the auspices of Nazi Germany were north-west of Northern Macedonia, the Serbian Kosovo, and Preševo Valley, southern Montenegro, northern Greece (Albanian minority).
Ukshin Hoti, the leader of the Party of the Albanian National Union, called for consideration of the inclusion of Kosovo in Albania and served in Serbian prisons. Even the President of Kosovo, who emphasized the development of Kosovo as an independent state, in May 2019 proposed holding a referendum on unification with Albania.
The development of Kosovo as an independent state has come to a standstill. Haradinaj and Thaçi failed to realize their foreign policy goals: to join the UN (Russia is blocking), to begin the process of integration into the EU and NATO. Kosovo does not even have its own army and attempts to create it this year have met criticism in the EU and NATO.
Joining Albania will allow Kosovo to solve some of the problems: automatically appear within the borders of NATO, receive subsidies from Tirana.
In April, the Self-Determination party agreed with the Albanian authorities to open a center for facilitating the unification of Kosovo and Albania, integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.
Over 70% of Albanians in Kosovo and 60% of Albanian citizens support the idea of creating a single state. The Albanian government has already decided to open the border with Kosovo next year.
If the West is really ready to close its eyes to the unification of Kosovo and Albania, then there will be a threat of escalation of the conflict between the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs, who compactly live in northern Kosovo. Kurti does not enjoy authority among Kosovo Serbs.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi and his Serbian counterpart Alexander Vučić discussed the possibility of exchanging Northern Kosovo for the border regions of Serbia, where Albanians live compactly. However, the Self-Determination party is opposed to this transaction.
Serbian President Alexander Vučić
The question is about the option of dividing Kosovo into spheres of influence between Serbs and Albanians, providing local Orthodox shrines with international legal status, like the Athos monastery in Greece. In such circumstances, Serbia, with the support of Russia, may attempt to return Northern Kosovo by means of provocation. So far, Kosovo is not part of Albania, and 100 of the 193 UN member states recognized its independence.
Following the Kosovo Albanians, 150,000 Kosovo Serbs can hold a referendum on self-determination, while Russia and Serbia can recognize its results.
Belgrade could provoke a conflict with Kosovo Albanians in order to then deploy Serbian troops to northern Kosovo under the pretext of protecting the local population. Apparently, Moscow and Belgrade are preparing for such a scenario. In March 2018, the Serbian army conducted the Sadejstvo-2018 exercises on the border with Kosovo.
Every year, Moscow and Belgrade hold "Slavic Brotherhood" military exercises. Russia is the largest arms supplier to Serbia: aircraft, tanks and armored vehicles. The escalation of the conflict in Kosovo can be used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to increase their ratings, which fell against the backdrop of the dispersal of protests and the development of the image of a defender of the Balkan Slavs like Russian tsars in the 19th century.
However, the likelihood of the success of such a provocation is doubtful. Northern Kosovo is not Crimea, but a territory that is part of NATO’s area of responsibility.
Today, 3,500 troops from the International Peacekeeping Force in Kosovo (KFOR) are subordinated to NATO in Kosovo. Since 1999, a military base Camp Bondstyle has been operating in Kosovo, where 1,400 American troops are deployed. Their task is precisely to prevent Serbia’s attempts to recapture its lands. Last year, KFOR exercises took place in northern Kosovo.
The threat to territorial integrity
If a referendum on unification with Albania is held in Kosovo, this will create yet another dangerous precedent for changing state borders in Europe and the escalation of frozen armed conflicts. Self-determination can be remembered by reactionaries among Macedonian Albanians.
Albanian separatists launched an armed uprising in 2001 in the north of modern Northern Macedonia (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) under the influence of the success of Kosovo separatists. Then the riots managed to suppress the Macedonian security forces with the support of NATO.
The situation in the neighboring Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina might be destabilized. Republika Srpska has some separatist sentiments. Bosnian Serbs tried to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina by armed means with the support of Belgrade in the 90s.
In March 2019, Chairman of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina and former President of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, called for the unification of the Serbs and was against joining NATO. The current head of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Željka Cvijanović, is skeptical of integration into the EU and NATO.
The Republika Srpska maintains close ties with Russia, purchased small arms there, and Russian specialists trained the local police special forces. In recent years, new transport hubs, an airfield, which, if necessary, can be used to transfer arms and manpower, have been built in the region.
If Kosovo Albanians can afford to unite with Albania, then the Bosnian Serbs will demand unification with Serbia. To avoid the escalation of the Bosnian conflict, the US and NATO will have to react. In recent years, the West has minimized the military presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The plans of the new Kosovo authorities pose a potential threat to the territorial integrity of Georgia and Moldova, where pro-Russian separatist entities exist.
Deputy Director of the Institute of CIS Countries Vladimir Yevseev and leading researcher at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies Sergei Yermakov assume that the inclusion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia might be made if Georgia joins NATO.
Russian MP and head of the defense committee Vladimir Shamanov believes that the unification of South Ossetia and the Russian region of North Ossetia is possible in the future. The idea of joining Russia is popular among the separatists of Transnistria, which is part of Moldova.
President of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, Vadim Krasnoselsky, advocates joining the separatist entity in Russia on the basis of the 2006 referendum. Then 97% of local residents supported this idea.
Moscow does not hurry to join depressive separatist formations on the territory of Georgia and Moldova since it is not profitable from a financial and economic point of view. Nevertheless, the Kremlin is closely following the actions of the Kosovo separatists, which, when the opportunity arises, uses it as a precedent in foreign policy.
Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008, six months after the declaration of independence by the parliament of Kosovo and its recognition by the United States and several other influential countries.
The ambitions of the new Kosovo authorities to join Albania pose a challenge to the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The Russian leadership will have another argument for refusing to return Crimea to Ukraine, where an illegal referendum on self-determination was also held.
The idea of joining Russia is quite popular among Donbas separatists. The head of the “DPR” Denis Pushilin considers the entry of the unrecognized republic into the Russian Federation as an ideal option. Former head of the "LPR" Igor Plotnitsky advocated holding a referendum on accession to the Russian Federation.