Hope for better relations is running thin as Kosovar nationalists vehemently oppose government plans to give some autonomy to Serb-dominated areas of Kosovo 

 

South Korea, Taiwan, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Jordan, India, Bolivia, Mexico and the Alabama state legislature are just some of the luminaries where verbal fireworks in parliament have tipped into the physical.  Kosovo sought to join their number in October, with opposition politicians unleashing not just a smoke bomb on the debating floor but following it up in the days after by throwing eggs, blowing whistles, releasing tear gas and firing pepper spray.  In November, it erupted again with the gas and the spray, while more than 100 protesters outside hurled stones and paint in a show of intimidation.

Sandi Toksvig, the British-Danish comedian and presenter, said on the BBC’s The News Quiz that the former Yugoslavia was like a collection of matryoshka dolls: inside Yugoslavia is Serbia and inside Serbia is Kosovo and inside Kosovo is Serb-dominated Mitrovica.  Despite severe corruption (including the construction of a ruinously expensive ‘road to nowhere’, legislation for which was piloted via the ‘good offices’ of the then US ambassador, Christopher Dell, who subsequently took a consultancy role with the contractor), the political system is gradually becoming more responsive with the general election in June 2014 deemed relatively free and fair though Freedom House, the political and civil rights promoter, still rates it as only Partly Free for 2015.

To aid Kosovo’s development, the European Union brokered talks with Serbia, to which Kosovo was formerly attached until 1999, in an aim to normalise relations between the two.  On both sides, much suspicion still remains after the war 16 years ago which began with the authoritarian Slobodan Milošević ethnically cleansing the non-Serb population. This drew NATO in with a bombing from the air war and descended into full-scale genocide by the Serb forces, although ethnically Albanian Kosovars also committed war crimes.  After the ceasefire, the EU ran Kosovo as a protectorate until the latter unilaterally declared independence in 2008, another red line crossed for Serbia which has deep historical connections leading to Kosovo.  Thus on both sides immense political capital has to be spent by the governing parties to formalise their borders in the hope of joining the EU later.

In Kosovo, Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination Party) leads all those who oppose the creation of an ‘association of municipalities’ which would impart greater autonomy to Serb-majority areas and the right to some financial links to Serbia.  Vetëvendosje developed from a grassroots youth movement into a political party, claiming to affirm and defend Kosovo’s national sovereignty.  Their nationalist cause opposed the negotiations from the outset, throwing eggs at the Prime Minister, Isa Mustafa, in September and stepping up the pressure to stop legislation on the outcome of the talks, which the EU hailed as ‘landmark’.  ‘Only the withdrawal from these agreements will bring back social and institutional normality in Kosovo’, read a joint declaration issues by the parties of the opposition bloc.

Ironically, given the stance of Vetëvendosje (which polled third in 2014, the two main parties forming a grand coalition), the municipality association agreement would reinforce the country’s sovereignty.  At the moment in Mitrovica District, a parallel administration operates which does not recognise the authority of the government in the capital Pristina.  The new association would replace this, binding Mitrovica to Kosovo with the glue of significant autonomy.  Already, preliminary implementation is being met with passive resistance by the ethnic Serbs.  Only 17 per cent voted in the June 2014 elections.

However, the idea of official (as opposed to unofficial) Serb-run municipalities is anathema to the strident members of Vetëvendosje , who see compromise as a sell-out of principles.  Even the promise by Mustafa that the municipalities would have no executive powers is not enough.  One of the nationalists’ leading lights, Glauk Konjufca, said, ‘The opposition has enough gas to block any session’.  He made this statement after two MPs fainted and had to be taken to hospital.  As occurred in Thailand, some protests are inimical to both the letter and spirit of democracy.