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Western envoys sought to advance Kosovo-Serbia normalisation, and tensions over license plates persisted.
Western envoys visited Kosovo and Serbia to push for normalisation. Delegation of representatives from European Union (EU), U.S., France, Germany and Italy 20 Jan met with PM Kurti in capital Pristina and Serb President Vučić in Serb capital Belgrade to discuss Franco-German proposal on normalising relations. Kurti same day said meeting was “good basis for further talks” while Vučić expressed willingness to work on implementing agreement. Vučić 23 Jan claimed that EU had warned of delays to Serbia’s European integration and economic isolation if Belgrade did not accept proposal and said Serbia must “take part in dialogue and continue its European road”. EU Special Envoy Lajčak 20 Jan reiterated that Kosovo’s “overdue implementation of the Association of Serb Municipalities” – which would enable Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo to form self-governing association – is “crucial” for achieving normalisation; Kurti 27 Jan remained defiant over proposal. Meanwhile, European Parliament 12 Jan approved visa liberalisation for Kosovo.
Kosovo and Serbia exchanged blame for “violating” license plate deal. Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla 18 Jan said authorities barred some vehicles with northern Mitrovica city license plates (KM abbreviation) from entering Kosovo, accusing Serbia of renewing these license plates in Dec 2022 and thus breaching 23 Nov EU-brokered deal; Belgrade same day said Kosovo’s actions constituted “flagrant violation” of agreement. EU 19 Jan urged both parties to respect agreement: “This means that Kosovo will refrain from any action against those owners that have KM license plates and effectively maintain the status quo until a more sustainable solution is reached in the dialogue. This also means that Serbia does not issue new KM license plates”.
Violent protests erupted in northern Kosovo following arrest of Serb police officer, but tensions eased late Dec and protesters removed barricades.
Arrest of Serb police officer sparked violent protests in northern Kosovo. Authorities 10 Dec arrested former Serb police officer Dejan Pantic for alleged attacks on municipal election commission offices in North Mitrovica town; Pantic had resigned in Nov along with some 600 Serb officers over license plate dispute before Pristina and Belgrade reached deal on 23 Nov. Pantic’s arrest prompted hundreds of Kosovo Serb protesters 10 Dec to erect roadblocks in northern Kosovo; security forces reported exchanges of fire with protesters and said one stun grenade targeted vehicle of European Union (EU) Mission in Kosovo. EU High Representative Josep Borrell 11 Dec said EU “will not tolerate attacks on EULEX Kosovo or the use of violent, criminal acts in the north” and urged protesters to remove barricades. Thousands 22 Dec demonstrated in Rudare locality, calling for withdrawal of Kosovo police units from Serb-majority north.
Tensions eased late Dec and protesters removed barricades. Serb President Vučić 16 Dec submitted request to NATO-led force KFOR to send up to 1,000 police and military forces to northern Kosovo to “defuse tensions and protect Serb population”; KFOR same day said they are “evaluating” demand but Kosovar President Osmani dismissed idea. Serbia 26 Dec placed security forces at border with Kosovo in “full state of combat readiness” while Kosovo 28 Dec closed Merdare border crossing with Serbia. Vučić 28 Dec announced barricades would be removed after authorities released Pantic and placed him under house arrest; protesters following day began removing barricades, while some border crossings reopened, reducing tensions.
Kosovo formally applied to join EU. Pristina 15 Dec formally submitted application for EU membership, although normalisation with Serbia remains crucial condition for Kosovo’s candidacy. EU ambassadors 20 Dec approved text on visa liberalisation for Kosovo, still to be ratified by European Parliament and EU Council.
Authorities reached deal with Belgrade over license plates, ending nearly two-year dispute that had fuelled worrying rise in tensions.
Pristina and Belgrade 23 Nov struck European Union (EU)-brokered deal to end license plate dispute amid growing concerns of possible violence. According to EU High Representative Josep Borrell, “Serbia will stop issuing licence plates with Kosovo cities’ denominations”, while Kosovo will cease demands to re-register vehicles with Serbian plates. Borrell added that priority is now Franco-German proposal “on the normalisation of their relations”, details of which were leaked by news agency Euractiv 9 Nov. Deal came as tensions peaked during first part of month. Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla 3 Nov suspended northern Kosovo’s police chief for refusing to issue warnings of fines to drivers with Serbia-issued license plates, as per govt plan. In protest, hundreds of Serb lawmakers, judges and police officers 5 Nov resigned, while reportedly thousands next day rallied in northern Mitrovica city. EU mid-Nov deployed 130 police officers from Poland and Italy to take over patrols in northern Kosovo after resignation of some 600 police officers. NATO 7 Nov urged “both to refrain from unilateral action” while EU and U.S. 21 Nov urged Kosovo to “immediately suspend” next phase of license plate plan. Kurti same day agreed to “48-hour postponement” of fines before parties reached final deal two days later.
Authorities delayed license plate rule in bid to ease tensions, as discussions on Kosovo-Serbia normalisation continued.
Kosovo govt announced new license plate rules. As tensions simmered over govt’s 31 Oct deadline for switch of all Serbia-registered vehicles to temporary Republic of Kosovo plates, U.S. Special Envoy Gabriel Escobar 19 Oct said that “Quint” countries (France, Germany, Italy, UK and U.S.) asked PM Kurti to extend deadline for implementation of license plate rule by ten months; EU 21 Oct joined call for postponement. Serb party in Kosovo 28 Oct warned that Serb minority would once again block roads if govt did not delay implementation of rule. Kurti same day announced phased deadlines: until 21 Nov, users of Serbia-registered cars will be given warning, after which they will receive fine; full implementation will be established 21 April 2023. EU 29 Oct said decision was “step in the right direction” but called for longer transition period to “maintain calm”.
Franco-German proposal for normalisation with Serbia sparked debates. Following Sept rumours of Franco-German draft proposal on normalising Serbia-Kosovo relations, Serb President Vučić 8 Oct confirmed its existence, claiming it proposed UN membership for Kosovo in exchange for Serbia receiving financial aid and fast-track to EU membership; FM Donika Gervalla 9 Oct also confirmed document’s existence, said it was “basis for discussion” rather than final proposal.
Kosovo French and German leaders urged compromise over normalisation with Serbia, tensions over license plate dispute persisted.Diplomatic efforts to sustain Belgrade-Pristina dialogue continued. After govt reached agreement with Serbia late Aug allowing border crossings with existing ID cards, French President Macron and German Chancellor Scholz 4 Sept asked PM Albin Kurti and Serbian President Vučić to prepare for compromise in Serb-Kosovar normalisation. In positive development, Kosovar deputy PM and education minister 5 Sept visited southern Serbia, while Serbian PM Ana Brnabic 6 Sept visited northern Kosovo with message of “peace, stability and tolerance”.Tensions over license plate dispute persisted. Amid govt’s 31 Oct deadline for switch of all Serbia-registered vehicles to temporary Republic of Kosovo plates, assailants 20 Sept set fire to Kosovo Serb police officer’s car for displaying Kosovo-issued license plates. Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla same day blamed “illegal structures”, allegedly supported by Vučić, for attacks and accused Vučić of trying “to intimidate Serb citizens living in Kosovo”. NATO Mission in Kosovo 22 Sept announced arrival of reserve troops “as part of normal contingency planning” amid heightened concerns as deadline nears, added that “other reserves” could arrive if required.
Following sharp rise in tensions late July, govt reached agreement with Serbia allowing border crossings with existing ID cards, but failed to resolve license plate dispute. Uptick in tensions late July continued into Aug over govt plans to issue temporary IDs and license plates to Serbs entering country. Notably, PM Albin Kurti 10 Aug warned of “possibility of rising tensions and new conflicts”; NATO 17 Aug confirmed increase in troop numbers and reiterated readiness to “deploy them”; and Serbian President Vučić 21 Aug accused Pristina of seeking “final removal” of Serbs, warning that if NATO did not protect them, Serbia “will save our people from persecution and pogroms”; PM Kurti 26 Aug asked NATO for additional troops to “improve security”. However, following unsuccessful talks earlier in Aug, EU High Representative Josep Borrell 27 Aug announced Kosovo and Serbia had reached deal to resolve dispute over temporary IDs, agreeing that neither side will require additional documentation for crossing border. However, sides failed to resolve license plate dispute as govt planned to begin policy of making all Serbia-registered vehicles switch to temporary Republic of Kosovo plates at border from 1 Sept; EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak 31 Aug said “we have two months to find a solution”, referring to 31 Oct deadline set by Pristina for switch to local license plates. Meanwhile, in accordance with June agreement struck with Serbia, govt 10 Aug transferred $40 million to cover Serb minority’s energy costs until Nov, when Serbs will take over payments.
Tensions rose late month amid govt plans to issue temporary IDs for Serbs entering country, with protesters in Serb-majority area setting up roadblocks and reportedly shooting at police. Following decision late June to issue Kosovo ID cards to citizens entering with Serb-issued documents, and to give drivers until 30 Sept to obtain Kosovo licence plates, authorities 25 July said all preparations were complete for new rule to begin by 1 Aug. However, decision fuelled frustration in northern Kosovo, prompting some to take to streets. Notably, protesters in majority Serb North Mitrovica town 31 July set roadblocks at two border crossing points with Serbia while police reported shots fired, harassment of passing Albanian civilians and attacks on cars. Govt condemned unrest while pledging to postpone implementation of new rule until 1 Sept. Serbian President Vučić same day said “Serbs will not suffer any more cruelty” but that Serbian govt “would try to preserve peace at all costs”; PM Kurti meanwhile defended reciprocity measures. NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo same day stated readiness “to intervene if stability is jeopardized in the north of Kosovo”. Earlier, European Parliament 6 July called for “comprehensive, legally binding normalisation agreement” between Serbia and Kosovo to further progress on EU accession; Serbian President Vučić same day said Serbia “won’t consider” mutual recognition of Kosovo and Serbia. EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina dialogue Miroslav Lajčák 10 July announced that Serbian and Kosovar leaders had agreed to meet during month; similarly, Kosovar President Osmani 4 July said she believed “there will be a meeting” between leaders. Lajčák 20 July said Kosovo and Serbia needed to agree on meaning of normalisation and conceded that “it’s better to wait a little and make sure the meeting is successful”; he nonetheless stipulated that meeting should not be postponed again and that it should take place by Sept. Meanwhile, European Council 18 July reconfirmed “desire to intensify the EU-facilitated Dialogue” by extending Lajčák’s mandate until Aug 2024.
Authorities struck long-awaited energy deal with Serbia to support Serb municipalities, but restricted entry for Serbs entering country, sparking Belgrade’s condemnation. Following Nov 2021 announcement that Kosovo would cut energy supply to Serbian municipalities, Kosovo and Serbia 21 June signed agreement in EU-facilitated dialogue to implement previous energy deal signed in 2013; deal paves way for Belgrade-backed company to supply energy to Serbian municipalities, which have not paid for electricity since end of Kosovo-Serbia war in 1999. EU Special Representative Lajčák same day called deal “major step forward”. Govt 29 June announced that citizens with Serbian ID cards entering country would be given temporary Kosovo-issued documents; stipulated that cars with Serbian licence plates must re-register with Republic of Kosovo plates by 30 September. Belgrade accused Pristina of seeking to “expel Serbs” from territory and of launching “general attack on northern Kosovo”. During visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to capital Pristina, PM Kurti 10 June announced plan to submit EU membership application by end of 2022; Scholz reiterated that Kosovo and Serbia could only become EU members if they found “political solution” to dispute over Kosovo’s independence “with a comprehensive, sustainable agreement that also contributes to regional stability”. European Council President Charles Michel 15 June visited Pristina, calling for “rapid progress in implementing past agreements” within EU-led Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, which “is essential for advancing on the EU path”. At EU Western Balkan’s summit, President Osmani 24 June claimed she had received “strongest [support] so far” from EU leaders on Kosovo’s EU perspective and visa liberalisation.
Germany urged govt and Serbia to resume dialogue as Pristina advanced membership bid for Council of Europe, prompting protest from Belgrade. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz 4 May held meetings in German capital Berlin with PM Kurti and Serbian President Vučić, urging both to resume dialogue for “regional stability”; EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák same day hosted trilateral talks with both leaders. Meanwhile, govt 12 May submitted membership bid to Council of Europe, Europe’s leading human rights body, with German and Montenegrian support. Vučić 6 May claimed bid “violates the Washington Agreement” — deal signed in Sept 2020 in presence of former U.S. President Trump in which Kosovo agreed to halt joining international organisations for one year — warning “our response will be stronger than they think” and will involve “diplomatic offensives” urging states to withdraw recognition of Kosovo’s independence; Serbian FM Nikola Selakovic 13 May claimed four countries had derecognised Kosovo, but FM Gervalla-Schwarz same day claimed that information is either “untrue or they have been working for a long time” on derecognition campaign. After temporary agreement for license plate dispute expired in April, EU-mediated talks between chief negotiators of Kosovo and Serbia 13 May ended without new agreement. Former president Hashim Thaçi and three others 12 May pleaded not guilty to war crime charges at Kosovo Specialist Chambers.
Amid war in Ukraine, regional tensions ran high as authorities warned of Russian and Serbian threats in Western Balkans, and blamed series of small-scale attacks on Belgrade. President Osmani 5 April accused Russia of having interest “in attacking Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina”, while stating Serbia may feel “emboldened by what is happening in the continent of Europe right now”; Osmani also stated that NATO membership is “becoming indispensable, especially in light of events in Ukraine” and EU’s “active appeasement policy” toward Serbian President Vučić is “big mistake”. Following Serbian elections, PM Kurti 12 April claimed that removal of Albanian voters in Serbia’s south from election lists equated to “silent ethnic cleansing” and called polls “neither free nor democratic”. Interior minister 15 April announced four attacks, including one with use of rifles and grenades, on police officers in previous three days in Zubin Potok, Serb-majority municipality in north; PM Kurti same day alleged attacks were “coming from Serbia”, prompting EU and U.S. same day to caution against “speculation”. Temporary agreement with Serbia forged in Sept 2021 that resolved license plate dispute expired 21 April as EU-facilitated talks failed to produce new permanent deal, while reports indicated temporary measures would remain in place; EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák same day warned against actions that “jeopardise the security on the ground”. Meanwhile, at UN Security Council briefing on UN Mission in Kosovo, govt and Serbia exchanged barbs: FM Gervalla-Schwarz 22 April accused Serbian FM Selaković of trying to “manipulate facts” and said Vučić “propagated genocide as something heroic”; Serbian counterpart claimed Gervalla-Schwarz ignored past “crimes committed by the Kosovo Albanians”.
Govt sought to advance NATO membership bid in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while dispute over Serb participation in Serbia’s April polls continued. Amid war in Ukraine following Russia’s Feb invasion, President Osmani 17 March reportedly asked U.S. President Biden to “advance” NATO membership bid, underscoring “we are exposed to persistent efforts by Russia to undermine Kosovo and destabilise the entire Western Balkans”. Govt 2 March opened “security fund” for donations by citizens and diaspora to security forces. PM Kurti 23 March warned of “danger” from Serbia, arguing Serbia might “imitate Russia”. Govt 23 March approved all “sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia and Belarus”. Polish authorities 9 March reportedly stopped two Kosovars heading to Ukraine to join resistance forces; Kosovo’s Head of Special Prosecution Blerim Isufaj same day told media “the law prohibits participation” in foreign conflicts. Meanwhile, govt during month reportedly rejected proposal to permit Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to organise polling stations for Serbian elections on its territory, reversing its policy; PM Kurti 21 March insisted on need for formal “agreement” on issue with Serbia. In response, Serbian President Vučić 22 March announced sanctions and France, Germany, Italy, UK and U.S. 23 March criticised govt, saying policy “is not in line with our values and principles and will undermine their European aspirations”. Judicial review body 24 March suspended presiding judge of Mitrovica court after she appeared at meeting with Vučić; Chairman of Serb opposition party Srpska List Goran Rakic next day called on Kosovo Serbs to boycott Kosovo institutions until judge is reappointed, as several hundreds of protesters reportedly rallied in northern Mitrovica city.
Country marked 14th anniversary of statehood and govt expressed willingness to resume dialogue with Serbia. Ahead of country’s National Day on 17 Feb, which marks 14th anniversary of statehood for Kosovo, U.S. President Biden 15 Feb congratulated country on its “independence”; at ceremony in parliament, PM Kurti 18 Feb declared “Europe is where we belong, while NATO is a condition for peace for all of us”, same day asked EU for “more funds” to continue reform process. Following meeting with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Kurti 20 Feb affirmed willingness to dialogue with Serbia “if there is the same will from the Serbian side”. After Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov 18 Feb alleged mercenaries were recruited from Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia to fight in Ukraine in order to “destabilize Russia” (see Ukraine), authorities 21 Feb rejected “false” Russian allegations. Kosovo’s and Serbia’s negotiating teams 23 Feb engaged with dialogue facilitators in Belgian capital Brussels in attempt to resume dialogue; meeting ended without decisive progress.
Assembly banned international organisations from facilitating voting in Serbia’s referendum on Kosovo territory, prompting criticism from Serbia and Western countries. Assembly 15 Jan passed resolution to ban international organisations from facilitating voting on Kosovo territory in Serbia’s constitutional referendum that took place next day; referendum seen as effort to strengthen independence of judiciary and enhance rule of law institutions in Serbia. Ban prompted Kosovo authorities to confiscate ballots, prevent setting up of polling stations, and deny entry to Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) planning to recover ballots. Director of Serbia’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Petar Petković, 15 Jan accused Kosovo of “open confrontation with the Serbian people”; France, Germany, Italy, UK, U.S. and EU 14 Jan expressed regret over decision to prevent OSCE from collecting ballots of eligible voters and urged Kosovo and Serbia to “engage constructively in the EU-facilitated Dialogue”. After govt late Dec expelled Russian official from UN Mission in Kosovo for alleged “harmful activity”, UN Sec-Gen Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric 1 Jan stated that designation of persona non grata “is not applicable to United Nations personnel”; Russian foreign ministry 4 Jan called expulsion “continuation of the provocative line for aggravation of interethnic relations”. Opposition Social Democratic Party 29 Jan called for protests over spiking energy prices; thousands reportedly gathered in capital Pristina, which led to scuffles with police. U.S. Special Envoy Gabriel Escobar and EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak 31 Jan visited PM Kurti in Pristina in effort to reinitiate dialogue with Serbia.
EU and dozens of civil society organisations emphasised importance of continuing Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Deputy PM Besnik Bislimi 7 Dec alleged Serb’s “parallel structures [inside Kosovo] are now more powerful than before”, hindering progress in Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue; 47 civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia 10 Dec jointly demanded resumption of EU-led Belgrade-Pristina dialogue due to “deep concern for the deterioration of the situation on the ground”. EU and Kosovo 7 Dec held fourth meeting of Stabilisation and Association Council, agreeing on “importance of constructive engagement in the EU-facilitated Dialogue to negotiate and achieve a comprehensive legally binding normalisation agreement with Serbia”. Likewise, during EU-Serbia Accession Conference on 14 Dec, EU renewed condition of Serb-Kosovar normalisation for progress in Serbia’s EU accession. After leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia late Nov met for Open Balkans Initiative, Kosovo FM Donika Gervalla 3 Dec claimed initiative could obstruct Kosovo’s regional integration. Kosovo 9 Dec arrested Serbian citizen at border suspected of war crimes during Kosovo war.
PM Kurti expressed dissatisfaction with ruling Vetëvendosje party’s performance in second-round municipal elections. 21 municipalities 14 Nov voted in second round of municipal elections; EU Electoral Observation Mission 16 Nov described elections as “well administered and competitive”. Opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) candidate Perparim Rama won in capital Pristina in run-off against Vetëvendosje party; Vetëvendosje won four of 12 municipalities it competed in, which PM Kurti described as “unsatisfactory” results for his party. Serb Srpska Lista party won ten municipalities, most in second round. Following Sept arrest of Kosovo Liberation Army Veterans’ Association leaders Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj for allegedly revealing confidential information about protected witnesses, Haradinaj 8 Nov accused Kosovo Specialist Court, located in Netherlands’s capital The Hague and with mandate over crimes commenced or committed in Kosovo in 1998-2000, of bias; court 17 Nov confirmed trial next month for possible offences against administration of justice. Electricity network system operator KOSTT 23 Nov announced end to subsidies for electricity supply to four Serb municipalities; Pristina Basic Court in Oct annulled Energy Regulation Office decision to pay Serb municipalities’ bills.
EU brokered temporary agreement to resolve tense standoff with Serbia triggered by licence plate dispute, while police and Kosovo Serb protesters clashed. Following govt’s implementation of regulations affecting Serbian licence plates that triggered unrest in north and dispute with Belgrade, NATO mission 2 Oct deployed to border crossing points with Serbia in northern Kosovo in support of EU-brokered temporary agreement. EU deal 4 Oct came into force, requiring covering up national symbols on licence plates and establishing Working Group to find permanent solution to dispute. Working Group 21 Oct met for first time in Belgian capital Brussels, due to report back on their findings at High-Level Dialogue in six months. Meanwhile, authorities in Mitrovica city in northern Kosovo 1 Oct charged ten ethnic Albanians with involvement in Sept ethnically motivated attack against Serbs. In worrying incident, police 13 Oct clashed with Kosovo Serb protesters who reportedly threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police during anti-smuggling operation in Mitrovica; incident left six officers and one protester injured. Serbian President Vučić same day met Kosovo Serb representatives, who asked for weapons and Serbian troops in or out of uniform, and stated: “If they [Kosovo authorities] start violence, you protect your people and we will be with you”. Meanwhile, U.S. 13 Oct urged for calm and EU 14 Oct warned against “unilateral actions”. In first round of municipal elections held 17 Oct, ruling Vetevendosje party failed to secure victory in any of 17 constituencies that produced clear winner; 21 remaining constituencies due to be decided in run-off votes.
New govt regulations on licence plates triggered protests at Serbian border and escalated tensions with Belgrade. Govt implemented regulation beginning 20 Sept requiring replacement of Serbian licence plates with temporary Kosovo ones when entering Kosovo; govt said move imposes “reciprocity” with measure similar to long-time Serbian practice with Kosovo-registered cars. Rejecting decision, hundreds of Kosovo Serbs 20-21 Sept blocked roads leading to Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings, prompting armed police 20 Sept to deploy to border, where they fired tear gas at blockades. European Commission immediately called on both parties to exercise restraint “without any delay”. Serbian President Vučić 21 Sept held National Security Council meeting to discuss possible economic and political sanctions “if Kosovo does not change its decisions”. Serbian defence ministry 24 Sept said President Vučić gave order to heighten alert for army and police units; Serbian fighter jets 26 Sept flew close to Jarinje border crossing. Police 25 Sept said Serbs set fire to car registration office in Zubin Potok town and threw two hand grenades (which did not explode) at civil registration office in Zvecan town near border crossings in Mitrovica district, northern Kosovo; PM Kurti same day accused Serbia of attempting to “provoke a serious international conflict”. EU and NATO next day called on Kosovo and Serbia to de-escalate situation in northern Kosovo. Meanwhile, Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, Netherlands, 15 Sept began first case against former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Salih Mustafa for atrocities committed during Kosovo War.
Parliament failed to adopt non-binding resolution calling for implementation of U.S.-brokered 2020 deal with Serbia. Opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) 6 Aug introduced resolution to parliament calling on govt to implement Sept 2020 Washington-backed deal with Serbia; deal concerns economic issues and notably requires Serbia to pause efforts aimed at de-recognition of Kosovo; 57 ruling Vetëvendosje party members – out of 83 MPs present – abstained from vote.
EU-led Belgrade-Pristina talks continued in Brussels, concluding without significant progress. Following talks in June, PM Kurti and Serbian President Vučić 19 July participated in their second face-to-face meeting as part of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue hosted by EU in Belgian capital Brussels; dialogue focused on missing persons and other issues. After closing of talks, EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčak 20 July said “very little progress” had been made, with both parties accusing other of unwillingness to make compromise; parties agreed to resume talks in Sept. Vučić 20 July told media that Serbia had accepted points in EU proposal reportedly refused by Kurti, such as bolstering efforts to identify remains of missing persons, refraining from destabilising actions, and holding monthly meetings to prepare for high-level talks; Kurti same day stated, however, that Vučić had rejected his six-point “Declaration of Peace” along with request for elimination of alleged barriers to free trade. Parliament 7 July adopted resolution condemning 1995 Srebrenica massacre and recognising it as genocide; representatives from Serb party boycotted vote.
EU- and U.S.-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue resumed in Brussels. EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary and Special Representative for Western Balkans Matthew Palmer 1 June concluded two-day visit to Kosovo; envoys met with PM Kurti, President Osmani and opposition representatives. In press conference, Palmer stressed that “it is up to the sides to agree on parameters” of dialogue. During joint visit to Serbia, EU and U.S. envoys 3 June met with President Vučić and PM Ana Brnabić; Brnabić declared that dialogue with Kosovo was priority and Vučić same day commented he believed in “compromise solution”. Belgrade-Pristina dialogue 15 June resumed in Belgium’s capital Brussels. After meeting, Vučić accused Kurti of “complete lack of responsibility” because Kurti allegedly demanded recognition of Kosovo and refused to discuss 2013 deal to establish Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo; Kurti defined meeting as “constructive”, while noting Vučić refused his new proposals on issues related to free trade, peace treaty, and mutual recognition and reciprocity. In letter to Kurti publicised 28 June, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We want to see Kosovo advance more quickly on its European path” and urged next dialogue meeting with Serbia to take place “as soon as possible”.
Tensions persisted between Kosovo and Serbia at regional summit while Pristina announced intention to file genocide lawsuit against Belgrade. During summit of Western Balkan nations in Slovenia, dispute between Serbian President Vučić and Kosovo President Osmani 16 May surfaced over wording of resolution on sanctity of state borders; Vučić reportedly opposed resolution as it would indirectly recognise borders of former breakaway province of Kosovo. At summit, Osmani declared that “Republic of Kosovo as a sovereign and independent country is a permanent project” while Vučić commented that Kosovo “would like to interpret the borders as it wishes”. Kosovo PM Albin Kurti 7 May confirmed that Kosovo intends to file genocide lawsuit against Serbia in International Court of Justice. Osmani 19 May dismissed 12 of country’s ambassadors following foreign ministry proposal to recall those who were political appointees of former govt. EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary and Special Representative for Western Balkans Matthew Palmer 31 May began visits to Kosovo; talks with PM Kurti, Osmani and other leaders aimed at preparing for dialogue with Serbia in June.
Parliament endorsed Vjosa Osmani as new president while EU and U.S. continued to call for normalisation talks with Serbia. Parliament 4 April elected Vetëvendosje party candidate Vjosa Osmani as new president, with 71 votes in favour out of 120; vote was boycotted by two opposition parties and ethnic Serb community party; in response, President Osmani said that peace with Serbia “would be achieved only when we see remorse and an apology.” In congratulatory letter to Osmani, U.S. President Biden 20 April urged Kosovo institutions to prioritise dialogue with Serbia, underscoring that “normalisation of relations with Serbia is essential for Kosovo to realise its potential and fully integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions”. German FM Heiko Maas 23 April called on Serbia and Kosovo to resume talks on normalising bilateral relations. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 27 April expressed hope that Serbia and Kosovo will resume normalisation talks on 11 May; PM Kurti next day rejected offer after meeting with senior EU officials, including Borrell and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in Brussels 27-28 April.
Parliament confirmed new govt led by Albin Kurti as PM, while EU special representative sought to reignite Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. Following landslide win of Vetëvendosje party in snap parliamentary elections in Feb, Central Election Commission 4 March ratified results and parliament 22 March approved new govt headed by Vetëvendosje party leader Albin Kurti. Newly confirmed PM Kurti said govt would prioritise fight against corruption, economic development and missing persons issue in dialogue with Serbia. Serbian President Vučić 23 March accused Kurti of violating Kosovo constitution by not including two Serbian ministers in newly formed govt. Prior to formation of new govt, EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák 1-2 March visited capital Pristina and met with Kurti, then Acting President Vjosa Osmani and then Acting PM Avdullah Hoti. After meetings, Lajčák 2 March stated that under incoming govt “there are no obstacles to reaching a comprehensive agreement between Kosovo and Serbia”; Osmani said that end goal of dialogue should be EU membership for both countries, and that Kosovo could “no longer make concessions”. Lajčák 3 March met with Serbian President Vučić in Serbian capital Belgrade, and stated that “dialogue is key for [Kosovo and Serbia] to advance on their European path”. Belgian authorities 16 March arrested former commander of Kosovo Liberation Army Pjeter Shala under indictment issued by Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.
Opposition Vetëvendosje party won landslide victory in snap parliamentary elections, while U.S. renewed calls for Kosovo-Serbia mutual recognition. Govt 14 Feb held snap parliamentary elections resulting in landslide victory of Vetëvendosje party with 48% of votes, while Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) came in second with 17%; acting leader and PM candidate for PDK Enver Hoxhaj 15 Jan congratulated Vetëvendosje on results. Vetëvendosje will control at least 53 of 120 seats in parliament. Germany and France 22 Feb congratulated Vetëvendosje on victory and called for swift govt formation. Meanwhile, U.S. President Biden 7 Feb urged Serbian President Vučić to reach “comprehensive normalisation agreement with Kosovo centred on mutual recognition”; in response, Vučić same day said Serbia is ready to continue dialogue but will not recognise Kosovo. European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee 23 Feb endorsed Committee report which called on member states to recognise Kosovo in order to contribute to normalisation of Kosovo-Serbia relations; Serbian FM Nikola Selaković next day condemned report as “gross violation of the existing practice of Brussels”. FM Meliza Haradinaj Stublla and Israeli FM Gabi Ashkenazi 1 Feb signed joint declaration establishing diplomatic ties; next day, Selaković expressed dismay over Israeli recognition of Kosovo, and EU said decision diverges from its position on Jerusalem. Lawyers representing former President Thaçi and three other former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla leaders at war crimes trial at Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague 16 Feb accused prosecution of hampering investigations by not properly disclosing evidence.
Acting President dissolved parliament and announced snap elections, which Central Election Commission banned former PM Kurti from running in. Following Constitutional Court ruling in Dec that PM Hoti’s govt was illegitimate, acting President Vjosa Osmani 6 Jan dissolved parliament and announced snap parliamentary elections scheduled for 14 Feb. Former PM and leader of Vetëvendosje party Kurti and Osmani 14 Jan confirmed they would run together as part of Vetëvendosje’s electoral list. In controversial decision, electoral commission 20 Jan banned Kurti and 46 other candidates from running, citing criminal convictions in last three years (Kurti was handed suspended sentence in Jan 2018 for throwing tear gas in parliament). Vetëvendosje, Alliance for Future of Kosovo and four smaller parties subsequently appealed commission’s decision; in response, outgoing PM Hoti 22 Jan said parties had obligation to respect ban, while Osmani 24 Jan urged commission to act impartially otherwise she would “be obliged to take all measures to protect the integrity” of commission and electoral process. Meanwhile, Osmani 11-12 Jan travelled to Brussels and met with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, European Parliament Speaker David Sassoli and EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák; during meetings, Osmani emphasised that Kosovo had fulfilled all formal requirements for visa liberalisation and encouraged EU “to be more vocal in relations with Serbia ... to implement the agreement signed in Brussels”.
EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue resumed and Constitutional Court declared PM Hoti’s govt as illegitimate. Kosovo State Coordinator on Dialogue Skender Hyseni and Serbian Director of Government Office for Kosovo Petar Petkovic 10 Dec met for new round of EU-brokered talks in Brussels led by EU Representative for Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak; meeting produced no significant narrowing of differences on financial claims and property issues. Constitutional Court 21 Dec ruled that PM Hoti’s govt was illegitimate as it received Assembly majority with invalid vote cast by MP Etem Arifi who was convicted for corruption in Aug 2019; acting President Vjosa Osmani 22 Dec began consultations with political parties to set date for snap elections. Kosovo electricity network system operator KOSTT 15 Dec began to operate independently from Serbian operator EMS in newly-established regulatory area covering whole Kosovo territory, including Serb-majority north; Serbian President Vucic warned govt to refrain from such unilateral moves that could hamper ongoing talks. FM Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla 27 Dec accused Serbia of violating Kosovo’s national security through “illegal roads” and “unverified pharmaceutical products”, said Serbia had “undermined” ongoing normalisation process. Chief Prosecutor in Mitrovica municipality next day revealed investigation was underway into how COVID-19 vaccines from Serbia had reached Kosovo’s Serb-run north without prior consultation with local authorities; Vucic same day said distribution of vaccine in northern Kosovo does not violate Brussels agreements.
Amid ongoing tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, President Thaçi and three other former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) chiefs were indicted for serious international crimes. Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office 5 Nov confirmed war crimes and crimes against humanity indictment against Thaçi and three other former KLA chiefs, including current MP and head of opposition parliamentary group Vetevendosje, Rexhep Selimi, former parliament speaker and head of intelligence service, Kadri Veseli, and Social Democratic Initiative (NISMA) party’s national council chairman, Jakup Krasniqi. In response, Thaçi same day announced resignation citing need “to protect the integrity” of presidency, passing position temporarily to Speaker of Assembly Vjosa Osmani in accordance with constitution; Thaçi 9 Nov pleaded “not guilty” to war crimes and crimes against humanity charges. Specialist Prosecutor’s Office 17 Nov released documents accusing those indicted of attempting to interfere with potential prosecution witnesses ahead of trial. Meanwhile, acting President Vjosa Osmani 10 Nov said that dialogue with Serbia should be suspended due to war crime indictment against former KLA chiefs-turned-politicians. PM Hoti 19 Nov met virtually with French President Macron to discuss Kosovo-Serbia dialogue and visa liberalisation. Serbian President Vucic 21 Nov requested to visit Kosovo after 16 Nov discovery of mass grave near Serbian town of Raska next to border with Kosovo; Kosovo FM 25 Nov said Vucic would not be granted entry into country until he apologised for “genocide” against Kosovo citizens; Serbian govt next day said trip had been cancelled. Govt 20 Nov signed contract with EU for €26.5mn in financial support to counter impact of COVID-19.
EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue remained on hold while discord surfaced over implementation of previous agreements. Following postponement of EU-led Kosovo-Serbia talks in Sept due to COVID-19, PM Hoti 1 Oct said that govt remained open to dialogue but would not discuss Kosovo Association of Serb Municipalities (ASM) – provision of 2013 and 2015 Brussels agreements that would enable Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo to form self-governing association – which 2015 Constitutional Court ruling mandated be formed in accord with constitution. EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák throughout month urged govt to establish ASM. PM Hoti 13 Oct said govt would not implement ASM before reaching final settlement that includes mutual recognition with Serbia; Serbian President Vučić 15 Oct expressed readiness to continue dialogue, while insisting on full implementation of association agreements. Following meeting with Vučić in Serbia’s capital Belgrade, Lajčák 16 Oct said “dialogue will continue” and next step will be negotiations on status of Association in Brussels. Meanwhile, Serbian govt 14 Oct operationalised Merdare Common Border Crossing Point with Kosovo, thus finalising implementation of 2011 Integrated Border Management deal; U.S. Special Envoy Richard Grenell same day welcomed move. Hoti 19 Oct hosted U.S. delegation to discuss implementation of economic normalisation deal with Serbia signed in Washington D.C in Sept; govt next day adopted 16-point plan for further implementation of deal. State Coordinator Skender Hyseni 29 Oct met with Serbian delegation for another round of EU-led dialogue in Brussels to discuss financial claims and property issues. Following Sept arrest, former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Salih Mustafa 28 Oct pleaded not guilty to war crimes at Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, Netherlands.
U.S.-led Kosovo-Serbia talks resumed and produced first agreement on normalisation of economic ties ahead of restart of EU-led dialogue. Kosovo PM Hoti and Serbian President Vucic 2 Sept met in Washington DC for U.S.-brokered dialogue and 4 Sept signed agreements on normalisation of economic ties; deal excluded contentious issue of mutual recognition. Agreement included provision for Serbia to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, while Kosovo would also open embassy in city; Israeli PM Netanyahu same day welcomed news and said his country would establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo; EU 7 Sept raised “serious concern and regret” over embassy plans. President Trump called agreement “major breakthrough” in which both parties “committed to economic normalisation”; Vucic said that agreement was with U.S. and not Kosovo; Hoti also expressed hope deal would lead to mutual recognition. Hoti and Vucic 7 Sept met in Brussels with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell for EU-led talks; at meeting, Hoti and Vucic agreed to practical cooperation on issues of missing and internally displaced persons; subsequent round of EU-led talks scheduled for 28 Sept postponed due to COVID-19. The Hague Special Chamber tasked with investigating alleged crimes during 1998-1999 war 24 Sept announced its first arrest, detaining former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Salih Mustafa based on “warrant, transfer order and confirmed indictment issued by a pre-trial judge”; Mustafa faces charges of torture, false imprisonment and murder.
U.S.-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue resumed. Following cancellation of U.S.-sponsored Kosovo-Serbia talks in June and resumption of EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue in July, Kosovo State Coordinator for Dialogue with Serbia Skender Hyseni 3-5 Aug visited Washington D.C. to request permanent and active U.S. presence at negotiating table; Hyseni 4 Aug stated that U.S. Special Envoy Richard Grenell confirmed he remained “committed and strongly engaged in the Kosovo–Serbia dialogue, which must conclude with mutual recognition”. Grenell 14 Aug announced new meeting between both countries would take place early Sept in Washington D.C; both Hoti and Serbian President Vucic confirmed their participation; PM Hoti 14 Aug stated that they would meet “as two independent countries” and talks would focus on “major economic cooperation projects”. Meanwhile, European Commission 11 Aug signed Memorandum of Understanding for €100mn in macro-financial assistance program.
EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue resumed after two-year hiatus, and legal proceedings against President Thaçi over allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity continued. Following June cancellation of U.S.-sponsored talks in Washington, EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue 10 July resumed at Franco-German-hosted virtual summit, in first official round of dialogue between two entities since Nov 2018; Serbian President Vucic and PM Hoti held video meetings with French President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel and EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell with Hoti saying dialogue should lead to “mutual recognition” with Serbia as “only way to normalize relations and open the way for both countries in the EU integration process” and talks should be guided by principle of “non-negotiable” nature of Kosovo’s territorial integrity. EU-facilitated dialogue between both sides on normalisation of relations 12 July took place with Borrell and EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčak; parties agreed on main elements of dialogue process, while Borrell welcomed both parties’ commitment to talks. Hoti and Vucic 16 July met face-to-face in Brussels with Borrell and Lajčak to discuss economic issues and missing and displaced persons, reaching agreement on next steps in subsequent round of EU-led dialogue held 23 July. Following end June indictment of Thaçi by Special Prosecutor of The Hague Special Chambers on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo, Special Prosecutor 13 July questioned President for four days in The Hague; Thaçi 16 July stated to press that if prosecutor and judge evaluate testimonies professionally “they can easily conclude that I have not committed any war crimes.” Throughout July govt saw spike in new COVID-19 cases, causing PM Hoti 12 July to tighten measures such as ban on religious events and public gatherings, as well as making mask wearing mandatory. Govt 30 July signed agreement with EU Commission for €100mn in macro-financial assistance.
Despite initial steps by new coalition govt toward restarting Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, broader efforts stalled following indictment of President Thaçi for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Parliament 3 June confirmed new govt led by former Deputy PM Avdullah Hoti; 61 voted in favour out of 86 MPs present in 120-seat chamber, while MPs from largest party Vetëvendosje (LVV) did not attend session in protest; EU and U.S. welcomed govt’s formation. Govt same day announced readiness to restart EU-led dialogue with Serbia on normalising relations that stalled in 2018, without “allowing the border to be changed or territories to be exchanged”; 6 June lifted new trade restrictions against Serbia introduced by outgoing PM Kurti late-May. U.S. Special Envoy Richard Grenell 15 June announced Kosovo-Serbia meeting 27 June at White House to resume talks, with focus on Kosovo pausing its applications to international organisations and Serbia committing to “temporarily pause the derecognition campaign”. PM Hoti 17 June invited opposition parties LVV and Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) to discuss upcoming dialogue with Serbia; both parties however rejected invitation on grounds that govt lacked legitimacy. Special Prosecutor of The Hague Special Chamber on alleged crimes by Kosovo Liberation Army 24 June publicised indictment (filed under seal in April) of President Thaçi on war crimes and crimes against humanity charges relating to 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo; Thaçi’s office same day cancelled upcoming U.S. trip for talks with Serbia and Thaçi 29 June denied charges, stating he will resign immediately as president if indictment is confirmed. Hoti 27 June reaffirmed govt was “committed to the process” of talks and new date would be set.
Tensions continued between caretaker PM Kurti and President Thaçi following collapse of Kurti’s govt in late March and Thaçi’s April nomination of former Deputy PM Avdullah Hoti to form new govt. Following request by Kurti’s Vetëvendosje party (which is calling for new elections) to annul presidential decree that gave Hoti governing mandate, Constitutional Court 28 May ruled that president had not exceeded his authority in nominating Hoti as PM, allowing the nomination to go forward. Around 500 supporters of Vetëvendosje party 13 May staged first demonstration in series of protests in support of new elections despite COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings; second protest 28 May involved around 5000 supporters; other parties including Democratic Party of Kosovo criticised protests for endangering public health amid COVID-19 outbreak. Kurti and Alliance for the Future of Kosovo 6 May condemned remarks reportedly made by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Kosovo newspaper Koha that suggested that EU would not oppose potential land swap deal as resolution of longstanding dispute between Kovoso and Serbia; EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak 11 May clarified land swap “is not on the agenda and should not be on [the EU’s] agenda”; Thaçi 27 May stated he would not participate in EU-led talks with Serbia on normalising relations. Kurti 18 May said January agreement with Serbia on restoring commercial flights between capitals was not yet “fully-fledged agreement” but rather “expression of interest”.
Following collapse of coalition govt in March, President Thaçi 1 April consulted party leaders on formation of new unity govt. Thaçi 19 April announced need for further steps to form new govt, as outgoing PM Kurti’s Vetëvendosje party called for new elections as soon as possible. Isa Mustafa, leader of former coalition partner Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), 14 April said party stood ready to form new governing coalition with smaller parties as soon as it receives official mandate from president; Thaçi 23 April gave LDK mandate to form new govt; LDK same day nominated former Deputy PM Avdullah Hoti as its candidate for PM. Thaçi 30 April formally nominated Hoti as PM; thirty Vetëvendosje party legislators filed legal complaint with Constitutional Court to challenge nomination, claiming Vetëvendosje is only party permitted to form new govt. Kurti 20 April accused U.S. envoy Richard Grenell of being “directly involved” in collapse of his coalition govt. Kurti 1 April confirmed decision to lift 100% tariffs on import of Serbian goods until 15 June; in response to announcement, Director of Serbia’s office for Kosovo Marko Djurić same day said that Kurti “did not abolish fees” and he rather conditionally suspended taxes. Outgoing Health Minister Arben Vitia 13 April announced intensification of COVID-19 prevention measures until 4 May, introducing stricter curfew; LDK condemned new measures as continuation of “legal and constitutional violations”. Despite ongoing bilateral tensions, Serbia 17 April delivered over 1,000 COVID-19 test kits to Kosovo as sign of “solidarity”.
New coalition govt collapsed as parliament passed no-confidence vote following divisions over response to COVID-19 outbreak and lifting of import tariff on goods from Serbia. COVID-19 response raised tensions after President Thaçi 17 March proposed state of emergency with “full and maximum mobilisation of the Kosovo Security Forces”; Serb minority party Lista Sprska objected, describing proposal as “silent occupation of Serb municipalities”. PM Kurti 18 March dismissed Internal Affairs Minister Agim Veliu (from coalition partner Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK) for creating “unnecessary cause of panic” on COVID-19 after Veliu insisted on state of emergency in TV interview. LDK leader Isa Mustafa 20 March said dismissal was unacceptable and that he had not been consulted, gave Kurti ultimatum to retract dismissal and remove import tariffs on Serbian goods by 25 March, or his party would file no-confidence motion against govt in parliament. LDK 25 March filed no-confidence motion, which passed 82 to 32; Thaçi to nominate new candidate for PM. Political tensions started to rise earlier in month over 100% tariff on imports from Serbia: Kurti 5 March sent letter to European Commission president announcing partial abolition of tariffs from 15 March. Thaçi 10 March urged Kurti to abolish tariffs to avoid jeopardising Kosovo-U.S. relations; U.S. 13 March announced suspension of $50mn aid program due to refusal to lift tariffs. PM Kurti 31 March said that govt would lift 100% tariff on all goods imported from Serbia as of 1 April.
Kosovo and Serbia continued to normalise bilateral relations and parliament approved new govt. President Thaçi and Serbian President Vučić 14 Feb signed agreement to restore rail and road connections on margins of Munich Security Conference in Germany and under U.S. mediation. New PM Kurti 27 Feb announced provisional 90-day suspension of tariffs on raw materials imported from Serbia from 15 March as sign of “goodwill” to urge Serbia to halt campaign against recognition of Kosovo’s statehood. Two main parties in ruling coalition, Vetëvendosje (Self Determination) and Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), 2 Feb agreed that new coalition govt would have fewer ministries (fifteen instead of 21) and would prioritise reciprocal trade, economic and political measures toward Serbia. With 66 of possible 120 votes, parliament 3 Feb approved new govt, confirming Kurti’s appointment as PM and ending three-month political deadlock; MPs from Serb minority party Srpska Lista reportedly abstained from vote. PM Kurti 26 Feb wrote in letter to parliament that President Thaçi violated constitution by signing in 2013 “secret agreement” with NATO to limit powers of national security forces; agreement gave NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo “absolute veto powers” over all security force actions in Serb-dominated areas in north. In anti-corruption efforts, govt withdrew several decisions of former govt which new FM Konjufca described as “unlawful”, and dismissed board of state-owned company Kosovo Telecom on allegations of corruption.
President Thaçi 20 Jan nominated Vetëvendosje party leader Albin Kurti to be next PM, ending three-month political deadlock, while Kosovo and Serbia agreed to launch direct commercial flights after two-decade hiatus. With governing coalition negotiations following Oct 2019 snap elections apparently stalled, Thaçi 6 Jan warned of “constitutional crisis” and gave Vetëvendosje (“Self-Determination”) party 48 hours to form coalition and nominate PM, and 10 Jan said that he might ask Constitutional Court to clarify his constitutional responsibility “to make the institutions functional”; Kurti 13 Jan criticised “threatening warning”, urging Thaçi avoid putting further pressure on negotiating process. Thaçi 20 Jan nominated Kurti to be next PM with constitution granting him fifteen days to form new govt and secure parliament’s approval. Kosovo and Serbia 20 Jan agreed to launch direct commercial flights in deal mediated by U.S. after flights were halted in 1998; outgoing Minister of Infrastructure 21 Jan called deal “a step towards mutual recognition”; Belgrade said deal would be implemented once Pristina lifts its 100% tariffs set in Nov 2018 on Serbian goods.
President Thaçi 12 Dec called for new parliament to hold “constitutive session” 24 Dec between Vetëvendosje (“Self-Determination” party) and Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK); talks on new coalition govt between Vetëvendosje and LDK 25 Dec failed over agreement on candidate for next presidential elections; LDK 26 Dec said in unexpected turn of event it is willing to vote for minority Vetëvendosje govt without joining it, would stay in opposition. More than 20 officials from main Serb party Srpska Lista 17 Dec took on positions assigned by Serbian govt in Serb-controlled north. Pristina condemned claim by Serbian President Vučić 5 Dec that 1999 wartime massacre in southern village Račak was fabricated; Thaçi 10 Dec called for Belgrade to acknowledge its blame for “crimes against humanity”; Pristina court 5 Dec convicted Kosovo Serb MP Ivan Todosijevic of incitement to ethnic, racial or religious intolerance for claiming massacre was staged. Albania and Kosovo 3 Dec agreed to merge their electricity power grids, ending Kosovo dependence on Serbia; Belgrade accused them of pursuing “Greater Albania of energy”, urged international community to intervene. Kosovo’s Special Prosecution 2 Dec indicted six people in connection with 2018 murder of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanović; trial postponed 30 Dec until 11 Feb. Journalist Ensar Ramadani said Acting Trade Minister, Endrit Shala, assaulted him 17 Dec.
Leader of Vetevendosje (“Self-Determination” party, which won 26.29% of votes in Oct election, 32 of 120 seats in parliament) Albin Kurti continued talks with second-placed Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK, which won 24.46%, 29 seats) on formation of coalition govt, and efforts to secure support of three minority MPs. Final result announced 7 Nov, however following complaints from losing parties Election Complaints and Appeals Panel 11 Nov ordered recount of votes from over half of polling stations in Kosovo, and invalidated 3,782 ballots cast in Serbia on procedural grounds, prompting criticism from Belgrade and challenge at Supreme Court by Vetevendosje party against decision. Election turnout reported as 44.72%, higher than previous polls. Ghana 11 Nov announced it had reversed its 2012 recognition of Kosovo independence, saying decision had been “premature”. Hungarian nominee for EU enlargement commissioner 14 Nov told MEPs he would aim for “successful conclusion” to EU-mediated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina in 2020. After meeting with his Serbian counterpart in Paris 12 Nov, President Thaçi said dialogue should continue “without any conditionality”.
Vetevendosje (“Self-Determination”) party won 6 Oct snap parliamentary elections with preliminary results giving it 25.9% of vote; Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) came second with 24.9%, and Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK, in govt for twelve years) third with 21.3%; voter turnout some 44%. Vetevendosje and LDK started coalition talks 10 Oct. EU Observation Mission said elections “well-administered and transparent”, but criticised “uneven playing field” and reports of intimidation in Serb-majority areas. Election commission 6 Oct suspended vote counting after officials reported health problems after opening ballot boxes containing votes cast in Serbia; Belgrade claimed allegations were attempt to ban ethnic Serb Srpska Lista party. During his confirmation hearing at European Parliament, new EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated that development of an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia will be priority for new European Commission, and announced that his first official visit will be to Pristina.
Newly appointed U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer 19 Sept reiterated calls for Kosovo to lift its controversial customs tariff on Serbian imports, and called on Kosovo and Serbia to restart talks after Kosovo’s snap legislative elections scheduled for 6 Oct. During visit to Serbia, Czech President 11 Sept said he supports his country withdrawing its recognition of Kosovo.