Lista Srpska demonstrated its powerful position in Kosovar politics last Saturday (Sept. 9), making the so-called “PANA” coalition wait for hours to vote in its new government. It was a political move that was considered by many analysts in Prishtina as a ‘humiliation’ for Kosovar democracy and a signal of a new found dependency on the Serb representatives.
Lista Srpska’s 10 reserved seats have played a key role in the formation of the new government, as they were crucial to reach the minimum majority of 61 votes needed for Ramush Haradinaj to be elected prime minister. The numbers make the muscular Haradinaj a weak prime minister in terms of votes, and dependent on Lista Srpska, which openly expresses its coordination with the Serbian government in Belgrade.
When the session to vote in Haradinaj’s government was due to take place in Prishtina, Lista Srpska were holding extensive “consultations” in Belgrade, delaying the voting. This lack of punctuality from Lista Srpska seems to be a deliberate move by the Serb representatives, demonstrating their newly increased power in Kosovar politics.
A sign that Lista Srpska has improved its bargaining position became obvious in its new share of governmental ministries. In the previous government’s mandate (from 2014-2017), Lista Srpska selected ministers at only two ministries; the Ministry of Communities and Returns and the Ministry of Local Government Administration.
In comparison, this year’s agreement also includes the Ministry of Agriculture, something which sparked a sceptical reaction amongst the Kosovar public, especially after the PAN coalition had placed such a strong emphasis on agriculture during the election campaign.
This generosity from the PAN coalition towards Lista Srpska is perhaps a concession made in light of their candidate for Prime Minister, Haradinaj, who just a few months ago exponents of the party were calling to be extradited on a war crimes charge. On the same day as Lista Srpska were confirming Haradinaj as prime minister, politicians in Belgrade reiterated that he continues to be on their list of suspected war criminals.
However, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic stressed that supporting Haradinaj was still a better choice than Vetevendosje’s Albin Kurti, who Vucic claims seeks to form a “Greater Albania.” Vucic seems to have forgotten Haradinaj’s rhetoric after being freed from France, when he called for a redrawing of the maps in the region, intending to include the southern city of Nis inside Kosovo’s borders.
Enver Robelli, a well known columnist for the Kosovar daily Koha Ditore and regular contributor for international media, told K2.0 that Belgrade had other reasons for preferring Haradinaj over both Kurti and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK)’s Avdullah Hoti. “None of them could be blackmailed by Serbia,” says Robelli. “At any moment Belgrade can pull the plug on Haradinaj’s government. It can overthrow him, and use blackmail against him.”
Robelli is concerned about Haradinaj’s appetite for power. “Knowing Haradinaj’s unstoppable desire for power makes me afraid that he might make all sorts of compromises with almost anyone in order to stay in the prime minister’s office,” he added.
Although Haradinaj denied claims that the agreement with Lista Srpska includes other conditions, the director of the so-called Office for Kosovo and Metohija in the Serbian government, Marko Djuric, claimed that Haradinaj has agreed not to include in the upcoming governing program the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force into the Kosovo Army.
The creation of the army includes the need for constitutional changes, and thus approval by two thirds of the Serbian deputies in the Kosovo Assembly. Although no other agreement has been made public, it is believed that the formation of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities is a longstanding priority of Lista Srpska.
For Robelli, the government is likely to be blackmailed and restrained in order to fulfill the demands of Lista Srpska, posing a threat to Kosovo’s sovereignty. “The behaviour of Lista Srpska will depend on the speed that the governing coalition will fulfill its appetites for the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities ― which for me, is a euphemism for another “Republika Srpska” within Kosovo. After all, why should a community of municipalities have an anthem and flag?,” Robelli asks rhetorically.
In Serbia, Djuric reacted to the developments in Kosovo by saying that “this is the first time the Kosovo government is dependent on the Serbs’ votes.”
The remaining elephant in the room
With the latest developments causing a widespread reaction amongst the Kosovar public, the scaremongering of the opposition parties LDK and Vetevendosje has peaked.
However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Lista Srpska also demonstrated power over an LDK Prime Minister, Isa Mustafa, during the last government’s mandate, which saw the debut of the Serb party as part of the government.
If not caught by amnesia, one will easily remember the chaos seen for weeks on the streets of Prishtina, calling for the dismissal of the then leader of Lista Srpska, Aleksandar Jablanovic. The protests were ignited by Jablanovic labelling a group of protesters in Gjakova as “savages,” after they had halted a bus full of Serbs on their way to a church — many of the protesters were women who’d lost family members in the war and believed there were suspected war criminals on the bus.
The dismissal of the then Minister for Communities and Returns came after the magnitude of the violence that erupted in the streets destabilized the country, though Mustafa was initially reticent to do so.
Another party that have been vocal in recent years against the increased power of Lista Srpska is Vetevendosje. However, the party have said that constitutional obligations should be respected, suggesting that other Serb citizens could be installed in the government if Lista Srpska would not agree to join the government alongside Vetevendosje.
However, this course of action seems difficult to reconcile with principles of democracy, as Serb List overwhelmingly won the votes of Serb citizens in Kosovo.
According to Robelli, only a possible cooperation between Vetevendosje and the LAA coalition, which could have formed a parliamentary majority regardless of Serbian votes, would have been able to disable the power of Lista Srpska. He blames both entities for “too much personalising” of the debate preventing the possibility of a partnership.
As things stand, Lista Srpska is becoming a perilous trojan horse for Kosovo’s sovereignty. It already has the constitutional right to block key decisions of a country that is nearly completing its first decade as an independent state. Now, the polarisation of the political spectrum in Prishtina has paved the way for Serb List to play a more pivotal role, occupying a crucial position in the new Kosovar government, while maintaining strong ties with Belgrade, who continue to contest Kosovo’s statehood on a daily basis.K
Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K 2.0.