A President Who Loves Smoke Bombs

Albin Kurti is the surprising winner of the Kosovo parliamentary elections and most likely the new prime minister of Kosovo. He literally knocked out from the stand the established dominance and power that depended on two owners of all decisions in the country, president Hashim Thaci and prime minister in resignation Ramush Haradinaj. As some kind of artistic avant-gardist, he shook the established conventions and proved to be quite different. If Thaci and Haradinaj primarily reiterated the importance of resistance to the Slobodan Milošević’s regime and also their merits for proclaiming Kosovo independence, then Kurti spoke of state corruption, theft, poverty, environmental devastation, social disaster and mass emigration. About the state that is falling apart and not functioning. And he was not very picky in the way of proving the correctness of his attitude.

Of course, he did not know Anton Podbevšek’s famous poem collection, Man with Bombs, much less read. However, Kurti loved bombs, and, to tell the truth, not the ones that kill or permanently injure people, but gas bombs. He liked to use them as a political instrument, a way of political and parliamentary discussion.

Following the events in the Ukrainian parliament when the opposition representatives threw smoke bombs on April 27, 2010 to protest against an approved agreement that gave the Russian Navy the right to use the dock in Crimea by 2042, he knew, from then on,  that the bomb was usable before and not after the voting.

In the first days of October 2015, the Kosovo Parliament was to discuss the legal framework for the formation of the Union of Serbian Municipalities, including the right to form its own parliament and government. The opposition blocked the morning part of parliament operation because, allegedly, recognizing the agreement on the community of Serbian municipalities would imply returning part of Kosovo to Serbia. However, after the noon break, representatives of the Pristina government, which supported the agreement, managed to secure a quorum. An agreement on Serbian municipalities would have be voted for. Former Slovenian foreign minister Samuel Žbogar, the then High Representative of the European office in Pristina, sat content on the balcony of the hall. However, instead of voting, it ended with nausea and fainting. Albin Kurti, who sat in the front row, pulled out a smoke bomb from his bag, activated it and threw it into the centre of the hall. Members of the parliament ran out of the hall mostly in panic. The goal was achieved, the parliament never again voted on the Agreement on the Community of Serbian Municipalities. We prevented the division of Kosovo, Kurti was convinced. The smoke bomb was used, as part of a parliamentary debate, in fact more by someone sitting next to him, on March 21, 2018 as well, to prevent a vote on the demarcation of the border line with the Republic of Montenegro. At that time, the parliamentary security guards were prepared better, and they ran into the hall already equipped with gas masks.

Kurti was careful. At the end of November 2015, the Kosovo police broke into his party’s building with a warrant from the Pristina court, for causing general danger and using weapons in Kosovo’s parliamentary sessions, and arrested him. Before that, he was imprisoned by the Milošević’s police in the late 1990s and sentenced to 15 years in prison in a court in Niš for threatening the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. At trial, he used the vocabulary of Josip Broz Tito, that he could only be tried by the court of his people, that he did not accept neither the court, nor Serbia or Yugoslavia. In 2001, he was released from prison on the basis of an agreement to release political prisoners from Serbian prisons. However, at that time, he was only one of hundreds of prisoners, and in 2015, he was already a politician, evidently accompanied by voters.

In the elections on October 6 this year, he won and began the first coalition talks to form a new government with Ibrahim Rugova’s party followers. Kosovo changed Saturday night already. The first to feel this were the financial industry managers, bankers and fund owners.

To be more specific, together with my associates, I regularly prepare political and social risk assessments for already existing economic investments in the Western Balkan countries or for newly planned acquisitions, takeovers and green field investments. These analysis, together with the expertise of the legal and financial environment, become part of a comprehensive assessment of investment risks. Kosovo will need to have them done again.

The parliamentary victory of the Self-Determination Movement and its president, Albin Kurti, brings a series of new things. First, the withdrawal of Haradinaj and the likely departure of the president of the state, Hashim Thaci. Namely, the president was not elected in direct elections, but in the parliament. The new government coalition needs only a simple majority in the third ballot to replace him. At the same time, political priorities will change. Kurti is no longer interested in the wars in the 1990s, and also not just in the question of the status of Kosovo. He made two new points, about a better life for each individual and more freedom for all. These were also winning election messages that took most of Thaci’s and Haradinaj’s spaces. That is why, immediately after the election, Kurti announced that he wanted to review all 33 agreements reached at the Brussels Pristina-Belgrade talks. All his other plans remain relatively vague. If he says that a possible new government would be ready to immediately abolish customs and tax fees on goods coming from Serbia to Kosovo, then he immediately adds that the principle of reciprocity should also be agreed, for example, on the Belgrade recognition of license plates and personal documents bearing the seal and official marks of the Republic of Kosovo. As well as to open the sensitive issue of missing persons, mass graves and Serbian war damages to Kosovo. With Kurti’s government, the idea of ​​dividing Kosovo is likely to be closed, at least temporarily, because, as he says, the discussion on the division of state territory would only lead to new wars. That is why the rulers of Kosovo persecute us, he said in November 2017, announcing victory in the parliamentary elections. We have new winning topics, issues of economic development, necessary reforms and social dialogue. Of course, no one believed him.

Thaci and Haradinaj seemed invincible and held in their hands all the necessary leverages and all the financial power. As of election Saturday, 06/10/2019 and on, they are in opposition and without great power. Thaci is likely to no longer represent Kosovo in Brussels talks with Serbia, as the new government will slowly, without haste, take over with that role. This is where a new problem emerges. If Kurti talks about the necessity of further negotiations to fully normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina, he adds that he wants to negotiate with the representatives of Serbs living in Kosovo, not with the authorities in Belgrade. What he really means with that is not clear, however, it will have to be soon.

The new envoy of the US President, Richard Grenell, may have asked himself about the content of such a principle at the talks yesterday in Pristina as well. Probably, the new prime minister of Kosovo is also an active supporter of the Kosovo-Albania association. However, he said in the elections, the constitution prohibits it and we do not want to start a new Balkan war.

After the current Kurti’s win, many things will be different in Kosovo. And he will no longer have the need to throw smoke bombs.

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