|By International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES).
On 17 October 2021, Kosovo will hold its fourth local elections since its declaration of independence on 17 February 2008. In Kosovo, heads of municipalities and municipal concilors are elected at local elections.
The Kosovo Central Election Commission (CEC) verified participation of 90 political subjects. Specifically, 32 political parties, 34 civic initiatives, one coalition and 23 independent candidates. There are 1,885,448 voters eligible to vote at the local elections.
Out of 35 candidates for mayors in 10 predominantly Serb municipalities, 19 are Serbs, including three women. Out of 167 candidates for heads of 38 municipalities on Kosovo, only 13 are female candidates. The CEC has also approved a list of 15,577 viters who will vote by mail from abroad.
Kosovo Serbs will have an opportunity to elect from 18 lists their candidates in 21 municipalities. Specifically, the Serbs constitute a majority in 10 municipalities, and in 11 they do not. The Serb community from the north of Kosovo (municipalities Kosovska Mitrovica, Zvečan, Zubin Potok and Leposavić) will participate for the third time at local elections organized by Kosovo authorities. The election campaign officially begun on 16 September 2021.
Kosovo still has problems with the final electoral roll, which is unrevised and not credible, as it is illogical that Kosovo has more voters than citizens.
CSM on hold
The Brussels agreement brokered between official Belgrade and Pristina in 2013, envisages establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) on Kosovo. The Community of Serb Municipalities would be established by a statute, but guaranteed by Kosovo laws. Modification of Kosovo laws requires a two-thirds majority. Hence, the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) can be dissolved only by decision of member-municipalities. Although it is established outside the legal framework of Kosovo, the CSM is an integral part of the constitutional and legal order of Kosovo, and not part of the Republic of Serbia. Kosovo authorities do not want to implement the establishment of CSM and, in this respect, refer to the decision of the Kosovo Constitutional Court, which had ruled that 24 provisions were not in line with, that constituted a violation of, the Kosovo Constitution.
Analysts believe that establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities would be a way to finalize the dialogue and sign a comprehensive legally binding agreement on normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
Kosovo still without visa liberalization
Kosovo still faces numerous problems and challenges regarding its judiciary, economic development, enormous unemployment rate, emigration, dysfunctional administration, crime and corruption.
The talks on the Stabilization and Accession Agreement (SAA) with the EU, the talks on liberalization of the visa regime and the dialogue with Serbia are the processes that Kosovo has still not finalized. On the political scene, there has been a halt in the dialogue, primarily because of the failure to implement the Brussels and Washington agreements achieved between official Pristina and Belgrade. The agreements have to be fully implemented and the parties cannot take only what suits them in the signed agreements.
The Kosovo government has to invest additional efforts to achieve a visa-free regime for Kosovo citizens, because Kosovo is the most isolated area in Europe. Some of the challenges that the new Kosovo authorities will have to address include: enormously high unemployment rate, the situation regarding the respect of human rights, attracting foreign investments, relations with neighbors, stopping the emigration of citizens, fight against regional and international crime and corruption, etc. Therefore, the current Kosovo government has to ensure liberalization of the visa regime for Kosovo citizens and provide to the European Union convincing evidence regarding its fight against crime and corruption, which is one of the prerequisites for liberalization of the visa regime.
Decriminalization of Kosovo
The practice shows that political-criminal structures have never developed strong state institutions, but did just the opposite. The permanent political crisis on Kosovo was a political concept and method the current political structures pursued to remain in power. With the arrival of Albin Kurti (LVV) to power and after the political changes in Montenegro, primarily because of the uncompromising fight against crime and corruption led by the Vice-president of the Montenegrin Government Dritan Abazović (URA), the criminal structures have sought refuge elsewhere in the region.
So far, whenever a new government came to power in Kosovo it announced speedy development and promised to build strong institutions that would be a factor of internal stability and peace in Kosovo, which would contribute to stability and peace in the region. However, as the promises were never fulfilled, the citizens of Kosovo became deeply disappointed with the ruling political structures and are the only ones in the region without a visa-free regime. It is important that a visa-free regime is firstly established between Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina-if the intent is to implement the “Open Balkan” initiative.
The roots of the crime in Kosovo date back to the period of the government in exile. The nucleus of the criminal structures include commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK-OVK) and (para)intelligence service (ShIK), who act in cooperation with the political structures. The ShIK was to be dissolved back in 2008, because in 2009 the official Kosovo Intelligence Agency (AKI-KIA) was established.
It is important for Kosovo Albanians, just as it is for other peoples in the region, to properly face the past, because otherwise it is rather unlikely that they will be able to secure a better future.
Militarization of Kosovo
Despite the announcements on establishment of “reciprocity” regarding Serbian registration plates, the Kosovo government did not inform its citizens about when will that happen or what procedures will be in force. On Monday, 20 September 2021, it introduced “reciprocity” for registration plates issued in Serbia and at the north of Kosovo, started to charge fees for issuing of Kosovo temporary plates for passenger and cargo vehicles, which had registration plates issued in Serbia, and deployed heavily armed forces of Special Units of the Kosovo Police Force (ROSU). As a response to such measures of the Kosovo government, Kosovo Serbs erected barricades at border/administrative crossings Jarinje and Brnjak.
Freedom of movement was the first agreement brokered between Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels. This has been the most frequently discussed agreement and some of its provisions have even been revised. The relations between the two parties have evidently been degraded to such an extent that they can no longer agree even on the issue of “reciprocity”, which practically affects the daily life of the population.
The crux of the problem are the registration plates issued by the Republic of Serbia for municipalities on Kosovo, which were valid until 14 September 2021. The agreement specified that upon expiration of the deadline both parties would reconsider, under EU mediation, this issue. However, Kosovo authorities unilaterally introduced temporary plates for vehicles from Serbia under the pretext of “reciprocity.”
Temporary plates were introduced by the 2011 Agreement, which gives Kosovo the right to, just like Serbia, issue temporary registration plates, as well as to issue the so-called “entry/exit documents”. Although so far Kosovo did not apply the respective provisions of the Agreement, it now issues only the temporary plates, and not the entry/exit documents.
The multiyear application of such a practice on cars from Kosovo is the reason why in Kosovo the latest move was interpreted as “justified”. The problem is that this decision will not affect Serbia, but Serbs on Kosovo, as well as further complicate the lives of Albanians from Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveđa, whose livelihood is linked to Kosovo.
Gabriel Escobar, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and the new envoy of the State Department for West Balkans stated “I think both sides should refrain from militarizing this issue and should not send special units to a place where there is KFOR and where there is no need for that. As far as the issue of license plates is concerned, we would like to see some progress in Brussels in the next seven days.”
All until the establishment of second Kurti’s government, for over a decade Kosovo had been illegally collecting fees for car insurance for vehicles from third countries, which according to some assessments generated more than 100 million Euros in unlawful revenues from car insurance charged at border crossings on vehicles entering Kosovo. Car insurance tariffs were charged as follows: 15 Euros per vehicles for a period of 15 days and 30 Euros per vehicle for a period of 30 days. Collection of unlawful revenues is attributed to the closest members of Hashim Thaçi‘s family. Kurti’s government abolished this unlawful collection of revenues, which was dubbed as “the Thaçi’s tax.”
According to analysts, the current situation is a result of the wrong moves the international community has made in Kosovo and is a sort of a defeat of the international community, particularly the EU. Poor mediation of the dialogue by the EU, the failed EULEX mission and unnecessary deployment of special units of ROSU, whose composition does not reflect the demographic structure at the north of Kosovo, bearing in mind that KFOR units have the mandate to guarantee security on the whole territory of Kosovo. Unilateral moves undermine the already fragile peace and latent stability, and the reciprocity measures would make substantial sense only after the signing of a comprehensive and binding agreement on normalization of relations between official Belgrade and Pristina. It is evident that the dialogue between official Belgrade and Pristina has to be continued and become a priority. So far, the EU had spent more than two billion Euros of EU taxpayers’ money in Kosovo- mainly in vain. Most importantly at this time, Belgrade and Pristina have managed to achieve under EU mediation a provisional agreement for the next six months, which will provide for unimpeded movement of cars without removal of registration plates. Actually, this agreement has prevented further escalation of the conflict.
De- Thaçization of Kosovo
Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutors’ Office (KSC-SPO), was envisaged as the response by Kosovo to the assertions from the Report of Special Rapporteur of the Council of Europe (CoE) Dick Marty on trafficking of human organs and, simultaneously. It was also an additional impetus to embark on de- Thaçization of Kosovo, that is dismantling of Thaçi’s regime, which should pave the way to internal consolidation of the country. Therefore, it is important that the KSP-SCO has taken root, as it will enable achievement of justice, which would provide satisfaction for the victims and their families, but also relax the relations in Kosovo and provide for a better and more certain future.
Marty’s report specifies that in the period from 1998 to 2000 members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (OVK- UÇK) had committed crimes. The Specialist Chambers has jurisdiction over crimes committed on Kosovo in the period from 1January 1998 and 31 December 2000. Although it is a Kosovo court, it is funded by the EU and includes international staff. Four leaders of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (OVK/UCK), Hashim Thaçi, Kadri Veseli, Jakup Krasniqi i Rexhep Selimi, are tried on the basis of indictments for a number of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murders, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution and torture. Thaçi and Veseli were even involved in obstruction of justice, while one witness in this case was assassinated.
Showdown with Vučić through Kosovo
Local elections in Kosovo are once again an opportunity for a showdown between a part of Serb opposition and Albanian political parties, on one side, and the Serb List (SL), which is supported by the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) on the other. In fact, as the Serb List (SL) is a favorite to win the local elections in the Serb communities in Kosovo, they will try to use that for a showdown with Serbian President Vučić and in such a way influence the results of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Serbia. As the day of the local elections in Kosovo approaches, the tensions aimed against the Serb List, including threats and violence are increasing. Therefore, it is of exceptional importance to finalize the Brussels dialogue between official Belgrade and Pristina with the signing of a legally binding agreement on normalization of relations, as well as to abolish borders and eliminate barriers in the region through the “Open Balkan” initiative.
Merkel recognizes Vučić’s central role in the region
During her recent visit to Serbia, the outgoing German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) stated that Serbian President Vučić was a person who “does not make false promises, but strives to implement in practice everything that he promises.”
Analysts believe that thanks to President Aleksandar Vučić Serbia has become the center of developments in the region and is of key importance for preservation of peace and stability. Economic development and establishment of “Open Balkan” are the priorities in regional cooperation, because due to the economy of scale principle small countries cannot attract global investors and therefore have more difficulties ensuring sustainable growth and development. Elimination of internal borders and administrative barriers, as well as custom fees, would definitely be more efficient for West Balkan countries if they would have a harmonized infrastructure policy and work together on economic recovery of the region.
During his recent visit to Serbia, the Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz noted the excellent economic development and added that while the pandemic had caused an economic setback in many countries, Serbia did not record almost any decrease in its economic growth. He reminded that Serbia’s forecasted growth was at a level between 6 and 7%, which, as he said, was a very positive development that will have a positive effect on the Austrian economy as well, because of the close ties between the economies of the two countries. Serbia managed the corona crisis well, which is good for Austria as one of the major investors in the country. We profit from positive development of Serbia, Kurz underscored.
While Vučić is fully rebranding Serbia, Kosovo has so far constantly regressed because of the irresponsible political elites, who held public offices and responsible positions but were always focused on their parochial interests and unlawful acquisition of wealth, not the interests of Kosovo.
Local elections– chance for groundbreaking changes
After the recent parliamentary elections, one of the key players on the political scene in Kosovo is the Self-Determination Movement (LVV), which has prevailing primacy over other political subjects and enjoys major public support. So far, the central authorities at Kosovo impeded development of individual local communities and the local elections are an opportunity to end that practice.
The voters are not inclined to support a coalition of LVV with other parties, because many voters believe that the political-mafia structure had unconstitutionally and illegally removed the first government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti. This applies primarily on the younger people who perceives the LVV and its leader Kurti as a breath of fresh air on the political scene.
Victory of the LVV at local elections would further stabilize the political situation at the local level and allow for groundbreaking changes in local communities in Kosovo. However, in this context, it is important that the LVV demonstrates political sensibility towards minorities and particularly the Serb community.
The citizens want positive changes. Every second citizen of Kosovo is under the age of 30 and their future is still uncertain and sealed.
Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels/Pristina, 8 October 2021
 IFIMES – International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has Special Consultative status at ECOSOC/UN, New York, since 2018.
 Gabriel Escobar, Interview with VOA: “Issue of 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
 AA: “Vučić: Merkel was undoubtedly the true leader of Europe”, link: https://www.aa.com.tr/ba/politika/vu%C4%8Di%C4%87-merkel-je-nesumnjiva-liderka-evrope-koju-su-svi-%C5%BEeleli-da-%C4%8Duju/2363822
 RTS – Kurz: European integration is primarily a geopolitical issue, EU has to be a reliable partner, link: https://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/9/politika/4500970/kurc-evropske-integracije-su-pre-svega-geopoliticko-pitanje-eu-mora-biti-pouzdan-partner.html