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08 Dec 10

Albin Kurti, Guardian of Flame of Kosovo Nationalism

A born protester who has courted publicity with innovative stunts, Albin Kurti now looks set to enter parliament after the December 12 election.

By Petrit Collaku

Kurti, the controversial leader of the Vetevendosje, or Self-Determination movement, has been a leading, though sometimes outspoken, voice in Kosovo for many years.

For the first time his group is entering the world of politics and, according to published and unpublished party polls, Vetevendosje is likely to garner more than 10 per cent of the vote and could even emerge as Kosovo’s third largest party.

His conviction earlier this year for obstructing officials in the 2007 Pristina protests, during which two Vetevendosje demonstrators were killed, has, if anything, strengthened his popularity.

Following his failure to appear before the court on February 22, the EU rule of law mission, EULEX, issued a warrant for his arrest.

He remained ‘at large’, although he made no attempt to hide from police and went regularly to Vetevendosje’s headquarters in central Pristina, until June, when he was finally arrested, convicted, but then immediately released because of the time he had already spent under house arrest.

Almost 150,000 people had signed a petition calling for the EU mission to drop charges against him.
Albin Kurti was born in Pristina on March 24, 1975. He first became a “name” in Kosovo in 1997, when he became involved in the Independent Students Union at Pristina University, where he was studying electronics.

The union organised protests in Pristina, demanding the return of the university buildings. Ethnic Albanian students and professors had been forced out schools and other academic institutions in the early 1990s by the Serbian nationalist regime of Slobodan Milosevic. 

Kurti undertook various journeys outside Kosovo to inform the international community of the students’ demands, taking him to Washington, New York, Brussels and Copenhagen.

He met many senior foreign officials at this time, including Robin Cook, then Britain’s foreign minister, and Hubert Vedrine, French foreign minister.

In October 1997, at a demonstration in Pristina, Kurti was arrested for the first time. In August 1998 he began working in the office of Adem Demaci, chief political representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA. Serbian police arrested Kurti again in April 1999 during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

On June 10, 1999, when Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo, Kurti and thousands of other Kosovo Albanian prisoners were transferred to Serbia proper.

In March 2000, at a court in Nis, Serbia, Kurti was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for crimes against the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and terrorist activity.

Kurti refused to be defended at his trial, saying: “I can only be tried by a court of my own people. I do not recognise this court, just as I do not recognize Serbia or Yugoslavia.” Kurti was released from Pozarevac prison in Serbia in 2001.

Vetevendosje campaigned for the final status of Kosovo to be resolved by a popular referendum and opposed the UN being given a supervisory role in Kosovo’s affairs.

Since the declaration of independence in 2008, Vetevendosje has continued to oppose the idea that Kosovo, post-independence, needs to be “supervised”.

The movement is well known for its innovative slogans and protests. However, in August 2009 it was widely criticised after supporters overturned almost 30 EULEX vehicles in an action aimed at expressing anger over the EU mission’s plans to sign an agreement with Serbia’s Interior Ministry.

Vetevendosje’s strong polling in the run-up to December 12 has not convinced everyone that Kurti is ready for government. Christopher Dell, US Ambassador to Kosovo, has pointedly refused to meet the group, unlike other political parties.

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