Kosovo’s political scene has rarely been as harmonious as in yesterday’s extraordinary Assembly session held to discuss the arrest of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) leader and former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj in France. Haradinaj was arrested at Basel-Mulhouse Freiburg airport on January 4 based on a 2004 Interpol warrant issued by Serbia for allegations of war crimes.
During the day-long session that ended after 22:00, many deputies spoke of the “glorious past” of the former KLA commander. While all the deputies who spoke in yesterday’s session called for Haradinaj’s immediate release, the unity came to an end when a resolution proposed by his party, calling for an end to the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia until Serbia cancels all outstanding arrest warrants, was rejected in a vote.
Haradinaj has twice been acquitted of war crimes charges by the U.N. backed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia court in the Hague, most recently in 2012. His current detention is the second time that he has been detained under the 2004 Interpol warrant by a country with which Kosovo shares amicable relations after he was arrested in Slovenia in 2015; on that occasion he was released after just two days.
While Kosovo shares strong relations with France — which supported the 1999 NATO air campaign against Serbia and was one of the first European countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008 — many have criticized the Fifth Republic for its handling of the ongoing Haradinaj issue. Calls for the French authorities to ignore what they see as political warrants from Serbia have been widespread within Kosovo with Prime Minister Isa Mustafa saying that France has no reason to detain Haradinaj and that such Serbian warrants are intended to increase tension in the region. President Hashim Thaci, who is currently on a visit to the United States, has also urged France to release Haradinaj.
Condemnation of the arrest has been echoed by a number of foreign diplomats, including leading figures from Albania such as Prime Minister Edi Rama and Vice President of the European Parliament Ulrike Lunacek.
France’s Foreign Affairs and Development Ministry has issued a statement saying that the arrest is a matter of “judicial procedure” and that they are in contact with Kosovo’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However the suggestion that this is purely a judicial matter has been widely dismissed in Kosovo, with critics pointing to the call by the EU External Action Service’s spokesperson Maja Kocijancic for the issue to be resolved via communication between Kosovo and Serbia as evidence that it is political. Questions have also been raised as to why Haradinaj was not arrested in France in 2016 when he visited last year for the 2016 European football championship, if this is a simple matter of following judicial procedure.
Just after the Kosovo politician was arrested last week, Serbia’s prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, called for Haradinaj to be extradited to Serbia, a request that was formally made to French authorities yesterday.
In yesterday’s Assembly session, opposition deputies from AAK, Vetevendosje and NISMA demanded that the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia that has been ongoing since 2011 be halted, while some MPs from the governing coalition parties suggested that it should be “redesigned.” Vetevendosje MPs also repeated its long-held calls for “political, economic and trade reciprocity” with Serbia, which have been repeated more vociferously since Haradinaj’s arrest.
Increased political tensions between Kosovo and Serbia in recent days is also reflected in the cancellation of a planned visit to Kosovo by Serbia’s president, Tomislav Nikolic, last week. Nikolic had intended to celebrate Orthodox Christmas Eve with members of the Kosovar Serb community on January 6 but cancelled his trip after Kosovar authorities refused permission for his staff to enter Kosovo to make the necessary preparations.
Numerous protests calling for Haradinaj’s immediate release have also been held in recent days in Kosovo and by members of the Kosovo diaspora in various European and U.S. cities. Serbia’s foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, has suggested that members of Kosovo’s diaspora are preparing to attack Serbian embassies, a response quickly condemned in a statement by Kosovo’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which called it an “open provocation to regional stability.”
In the coming days, French authorities are expected to take a decision based on Serbia’s calls for extradition, with few commentators anticipating that the request will be upheld. However, his detention in France has already impacted upon political relations between Kosovo and Serbia.K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.