A Conversation With Prime Minister Albin Kurti of Kosovo

Confronting current geopolitical realities; reconciling the past: What does the future hold for Kosovo and its people?

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Supporters of the left-wing Vetevendosje party braved rain as they stood with masks and gloves in evenly-spaced rows in the centre of PristinaArmend NIMANI AFP/File

On May 28, 2020, Kosovo held a parliamentary session to vote on a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Last month, President Hashim Thaçi nominated Avdullah Hoti from the Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, to replace Acting Prime Minister Albin Kurti. Kurti met this vote of no-confidence with an appeal to Kosovo’s constitutional court.

Kurti’s “Self-Determination Movement” political party won the most seats in Kosovo’s general election in October. The Prime Minister and his supporters believe that the nomination of Avdullah Hoti was unconstitutional.

In 2010 and 2017, elections in Kosovo were immediately called for after a successful motion of no confidence. Prime Minister Kurtis’s appeal to the constitutional court, however, has unfairly received a different result: The court declared President Thaçi’s decree to be legal.

A Conversation With Kosovo’s Prime Minister Kurti

Allegra Nokaj: President Thaçi of Kosovo has met with Serbia to consider border changes and reach a peace settlement. You have actively voiced your opposition to this deal, which you and many ministers in Kosovo have claimed involves a land-swap to solve relations with Serbia.

Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaçi and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic have denied these secret plans.

To the extent of your knowledge, what are the details of this peace agreement and territorial exchange?

Prime Minister Albin Kurti: Phrases such as ‘border corrections’, ‘land-swaps’, ‘painful compromise’, ‘uniting Preseva valley, Medvegja and Bujanoc with Kosovo’ all surfaced in 2018 when EU HR Frederica Mogherini first supported the idea of border correction.

The Brussels dialogue itself has not been transparent, let alone the meetings between the two presidents. We know that the two presidents, Thaçi and Vucic, have met publicly many times since 2018. We also know that Thaçi has held numerous conferences, interviews and debates promoting the idea of a final deal with Serbia- a deal ‘with painful compromise’ which will include taking Preseva valley, Medvegja and Bujanoc from Serbia.

And we know his declaration where he said “let’s not be hostage of the gifts from the infamous Rankovic” referring to some territorial part in the northern Kosovo. Vucic has not dismissed any of the above.

The narrative is revealing: On one hand, Tachi voiced his request to take some parts east of Kosovo inside Serbia and on the other he suggests giving away some “unwanted gifts”. This is a clear exchange to take and give away- which was rightly called a land-swap. Actually it is more giving than taking: what Thaci says he will take is a sugarcoating of what he is ready to give.

I have been in office since February 3rd and the President of Serbia has refused to start the dialogue with me. Yet, only hours after the Constitutional Court unconstitutionally gave the green light to Thaci’s choice for PM, Serbian President Vucic issued a declaration that he is ready to restart dialogue with Kosovo.

When you live in the Balkans and know the history in this part of Europe, I don’t think it takes too much intelligence to understand what they are talking about. There is coherence and coordination in declarations between the two presidents which cannot be reached without close meetings and in short time.

The two presidents have met often and for a long time. With regard to the details of the agreement there aren’t any documents published. But if we wait for official drafts to be published, it will be too late for ideas or negotiations; only acceptance or refusal.

My job is- to the best of my knowledge and abilities- to prevent any deal that damages the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our republic. It is also my job to protect the interests of the people of Kosovo who have put their faith in me.

The territory in question is home to Lake Gazivode, a precious body of water in Kosovo and a wealth of mining resources.

AN: What will the cost be to Kosovo and its allies if Serbia gains control of this region?

PM AK: Enormous, incalculable and defeating, which is why Kosovo will never accept it. Ujmani/Gazivode Lake is Kosovo’s largest water reservoir and for someone to even raise this question is a direct threat to our existence.

Serbia has approached the dialogue for normalization of relations with the question of “what are you willing to give” for me to recognize you. This is a wrong approach and it will not yield the results the Serbian government is seeking.

Kosovo has made a lot of compromises which I have vigorously opposed for the past 20-years. I have offered Serbia a way forward where we recognize each other as equals, solve our outstanding issues such as the fate of disappeared persons, war reparations and succession, pensions and debt, as well as missing justice for raped women and men.

These issues will never go away unless we address them.

As soon as we close these chapters we will start to normalize. No one should have the illusion that there is a fast track toward normalization without true reconciliation, just like no one should have the illusion that there will ever be reconciliation without true justice.

AN: Likewise, how will Kosovo and its allies benefit if Serbia and Kosovo can successfully reach a peace settlement without the exchange of land?

PM AK: Kosovo declared independence in 2008 with very painful compromises. You are asking who will benefit from peace? First and foremost, it will be Serbia and the Serbian people who are caught up in the government’s nationalist, chauvinist ideals from 14th century.

The Serbian people must free themselves from dogmas and unrealistic visions where their leaders project Serbia as a powerful nation in the Balkans that can dictate and patronize other countries.

Normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is meant to benefit the whole of the Western Balkans and Europe. Achieving this is about closing open or frozen issues which have a potential to turn into violent military conflicts that would drag in other Balkan countries and beyond.

So, the direct beneficiaries from normalization would be the citizens of both countries, Kosovo and Serbia. Free movement of the people, recognition of documents, increased trade and greater cooperation between the people an authorities will make life easier for the ordinary citizens in both countries.

If you want a dialogue which starts with the premise of what will the citizens benefit from this agreement, then any agreement is easier because we all know what makes citizens lives better, but as I mentioned above, Serbia is posing wrong questions and it will never get the right answers.

AN: Thank you, Prime Minister Kurti. We look forward to hearing more from you about the future of Kosovo.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2. of this series on the political situation in Kosovo and the next part of Allegra Nokaj’s interview with Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

(Contributing journalist, Allegra Nokaj) (Contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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