In-depth | Government

Ten days of Kosovo’s new government

By - 20.09.2017

Ramush Haradinaj’s tenure as prime minister begins.

Today (Sept. 20) is the 10th day since Ramush Haradinaj became the new prime minister of Kosovo.

After a three month wait between June’s election and confirmation of his new role through the Assembly on Sept. 10, Haradinaj and his new government have spent the last 10 days working on a wide range of issues, from local borders, to relocating residents, even North Korea’s nuclear threat.

Here are some of the key moments that have defined the new government to date.

Dismissing the demarcation commission

The first day (Sept. 11) began with a step that surprised no one. The new prime minister dismissed the state’s commision created to help resolve the issue of the demarcation of the border with Montenegro — a request he repeatedly made of former prime minister Isa Mustafa.

Haradinaj has since appointed Shpejtim Bulliqi as the new head of the State’s Commision on Demarcation. Bulliqi, a former deputy in the Kosovo assembly, is well known for having been an opponent of the work of the previous commission, going against the line of his party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

During his election campaign, Haradinaj promised that Kosovars will be able to travel visa-free in the Schengen Zone within the first three months of his mandate. However, one of the  European Union’s conditions for this is the resolution of the border demarcation issue, which now seems more complicated.

The demarcation issue has featured heavily in Kosovo’s political debate over the last two years, with Haradinaj being vocal against the deal. While part of the opposition, he insisted that 8,000 hectares of Kosovo land would be given to Montenegro if the border demarcation deal would pass. Now prime minister, Haradinaj has confirmed that people are working to persuade Montenegro to renegotiate the original deal made on Aug. 25, 2015, that has since been ratified by the Parliament of Montenegro.

Sending journalists back to school

By Thursday (Sept. 14), uncertainty over the process and his three month deadline seemed to have given Haradinaj a headache, resulting in the flexing of some muscle. Appearing at a press conference, Haradinaj lost his patience when asked by a journalist about the position of the U.S. embassy on the demarcation deal.

“I have respect for the media, but the vast majority of you either do not know how to read English or you don’t understand what they said. It’s your problem. I have no comment,” he snapped, before going on to advise all journalists to “go back to school to learn English.”

The Association of Kosovo Journalists reacted by asking for “cooperation and not insults.” To help ease tensions, Haradinaj apologized and called a meeting on Monday (Sept. 18) with editors and journalists to discuss issues of their choice. Many rejected the invitation, including the head of the Association of Kosovo Journalists, Shkelqim Hysenaj.

Suspicious deaths at the hospital

On his first day after being appointed the new Minister of Health, Uran Ismaili said that he will “find the medicine to cure Kosovo’s health care system.” But in his first few days in office, Ismaili was faced with the mysterious deaths of four people inside the country’s biggest health institution, the University Clinical Center of Kosovo (QKUK).

There are suspicions that the deaths were the result of one of QKUK’s suppliers for inhalational anaesthetic, Bubeari Komerc, producing a gas whilst only licensed to import it, though circumstances surrounding the case remain vague and are the subject of an ongoing investigation. On Sept. 14, Ismaili issued a statement explaining the measures the ministry had undertaken to secure an independent investigation and pledging to shed light on the case.

Accusations of the Minister of Agriculture

Last Wednesday (Sept. 13), the new Minister of Agriculture, Nenad Rikalo, was alleged of being involved in the mistreatment of Kosovar Albanians committed by Serb paramilitary forces during the 1999 war. According to a few of his former neighbors, who spoke to KTV, Rikalo and his brother were notorious for their treatment of Albanians in the Dardania neighborhood in Prishtina.

The allegations sparked calls for Rikalo’s immediate dismissal, with opposition party Vetevendosje releasing an official statement requesting his removal from his position. The head of LDK’s parliamentary group, Avdullah Hoti, suggested an Assembly session be held to discuss the allegations.

Haradinaj responded by calling for calm, stating that there is no concrete evidence of Rikalo’s mistreatment of Albanians. The Special Prosecution of Kosovo have announced they will undertake any necessary action to review the allegations, though an official investigation is yet to be launched. Rikalo has denied all accusations against him.

Another solution to the ongoing energy crisis

On the same day that the allegations against Rikalo emerged, the government announced that it had salvaged an expropriation agreement with the residents of Shipitulla in the Obilic municipality, that would enable them to overcome the potential energy crisis.

Although Kosovo has the fifth largest reserves of lignite in the world, it faces problems of access, as much of it lies beneath private properties. The only way of reaching it is through displacing people from their homes and land, including in Shipitulla.

An expropriation deal had previously been struck on Aug. 30 by outgoing Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, though there had since been allegations made that Kosovo Energy Corporation (KEK) were breaking the terms of the deal.

On Sept. 12, Haradinaj held a meeting with the residents in the Obilic municipality, who expressed their concerns that KEK’s excavators were putting their families at risk by not remaining the agreed distance of 250 meters away from their properties. Haradinaj stated that he will initiate the revaluation of properties, and secure employment for a member of every family whose properties will be affected in Hade and Shipitulla — a request that was made by the residents present at the meeting.  

KTV reported that the prime minister has warned that measures will be taken against all those who have slowed down the expropriation process in Hade and Shipitulle, although he didn’t specify details on the nature of these measures. The prime minister also said that the displacement of people will be done according to the Hade model — despite the fact there has been a lot of criticism of how the displacement of people in Hade was handled, with many local residents and civil society groups arguing that the rights of local people were violated.

Neighborly relations

The screening of a Serbian state sponsored film to ambassadors of UNESCO member states at a Serb Cultural Center in Paris saw the Prime Minister’s Office spring into action on Saturday (Sept. 16), releasing a statement condemning the film’s content as offensive, and part of “a continuous effort to denigrate the state of Kosovo.” The head of the so-called Office for Kosovo and Metohija in the Serbian government, Marko Djuric, described the reaction as “the first big award for the movie.”

Despite this hostile early exchange, Haradinaj’s approach with the neighboring country does not seem so different from that of the previous government. Whilst paying a visit to Kosovo president, Hashim Thaci, the prime minister himself confirmed that dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, has “no alternative”, a mantra repeatedly stated by the former government. In the very near past, whilst in opposition, Haradinaj, had positioned himself as an opponent of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, labelling it a “failed process.”

Feature image courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Office.