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Interview 29 Aug 17

Albin Kurti: Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue is ‘Dead’

The opposition Vetevendosje candidate for Kosovo prime minister, Albin Kurti, told BIRN that EU-sponsored talks between Pristina and Belgrade have ‘failed’ and should not continue.

Taulant Osmani
BIRN
Pristina
Albin Kurti, leader of Vetevendosje. Photo: Kallxo.

As his Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party eyes the possibility of helming the Kosovo government, Albin Kurti told BIRN in an interview that he is not interested in reviving the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue in Brussels because he thinks the process is “dead”.

“The dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia has been interrupted for more than six months. Why should we restart a dialogue that is already dead?” Kurti said in his written response to BIRN’s questions.

“Objective journalists and analysts have shown through their analysis that this dialogue has not brought any improvement in relations between the two countries, nor the integration of the majority and minority communities. Why then we should continue a failed process, a failed model?” he asked.

Instead of the Pristina-Belgrade talks, Kurti said that if he comes to office, he will “immediately engage” with Brussels, Berlin and Washington to start a dialogue with them on the issue of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

“So [we will have] dialogue with our partners on solving a problem with our opposing side, not dialogue with our opposing side in which our partners are impartial arbiters,” he explained.

As one of the most vocal critics of the EU-mediated process aimed at normalising relations, which started in early 2011, Kurti maintained that the dialogue has been “asymmetrical” and was undertaken without an internal consensus in Kosovo.

“Worse than that, due to this dialogue without any principles, the international community is not asking Serbia to recognise Kosovo anymore,” he said.

“We need both recognition and an apology for war crimes, and it should be followed by economic reparations, the return of [official] documents and stolen wealth,” he argued.

‘We will cooperate with Serbs’

As a prominent student activist, Kurti led protests in 1997 and then served as an adviser to the Kosovo Liberation Army’s political office in Pristina the following year.

In spring 1999, during the NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia aimed at forcing Belgrade’s forces to withdraw from Kosovo, Kurti was arrested by Serbian police and sent to Pozarevac prison, where he was held until December 2001.

Only 18 months ago, Kurti said he was not keen on meeting Aleksandar Vucic, who at the time was Serbia’s premier and is now the country’s president.

Now, as he considers the possibility of becoming Kosovo prime minister, Kurti refers to the idea of meeting Vucic as a “basic” requirement for the country’s premier.

“You are posing this question to me like we are talking about something impossible,” he said, noting that prime ministers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia had to meet as part of the EU-run ‘Berlin Process’ regional cooperation initiative.

“In fact, meeting with the prime minister or president of Serbia is the most basic thing that Kosovo prime minister or president has done so far,” he added.

However - in a move likely to be met with disapproval in Belgrade - Kurti said that as prime minister, he will implement “protocol in international relations when the two sides are present”.

“However, I will articulate Kosovo and the Albanian nation’s interests at the highest levels, within the rules of diplomacy,” he added.

Kurti has been very critical of the main Kosovo Serb party, Srpska Lista, and its dependence on Belgrade.

How would he work with Srpska Lista, which has now nine of the ten seats allocated for the Serb community in Kosovo’s parliament, if he became prime minister?

“We will cooperate with the Serb community. There are politicians, even MPs from the Serb minority, who have complained and have opposed Belgrade’s diktats which come through Srpska Lista. So we will ask for and find their cooperation,” he responded.

“It is true that Belgrade is trying to impose a political monopoly over the Kosovo Serbs, but it does not mean that we will recognise this monopoly. Kosovo Serbs are our compatriots so we don’t need filters or interferences from outside to cooperate with them,” he insisted.

He promised to “immediately start a dialogue with Kosovo Serbs” based upon common interests.

“Kosovo citizens’ preoccupations, no matter what their ethnic background, are employment and justice,” he said.

‘We need a change’

Vetevendosje began as a movement and only relatively recently turned into political party, and has come a long way from street activism to potentially becoming a key political actor, raising questions about whether it will now change its tactics as it gets closer to power.

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/vetevendosje-from-troublemaker-to-key-player-in-kosovo-04-10-2017

The results of the June 11 elections gave the party an astonishing 32 seats in parliament, compared to the 16 it won in 2013.

On Monday, Vetevendosje and the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, resumed talks in a bid to reach a coalition agreement and finally establish a government.

However, there are still many questions about whether the two rivals can clear away all the animosities of the past.

In late 2015 and early 2016, Vetevendosje challenged LDK Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s government using the most confrontational of methods, including letting off tear gas in parliament, throwing Molotov cocktails in the streets and even staging protests in front of the premier’s home.

However, Kurti is optimistic that two parties can reach an agreement which would see Kadri Veseli’s Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK going into opposition after nine years in office.

“We need a change and the eradication of [state] capture. This pushes us to ask for unification with all forces that are resistant to the PDK and SHIK leaders,” he said, referring the covert Kosovo’s intelligence service known as SHIK, which was led by Veseli and operated until 2008.

With local elections scheduled for October 22, Kurti now expects his party to increase its share of the vote in the municipalities too.

“The June 11 vote showed that we can face a run-off in 10 to 15 municipalities,” he said.

“But there could be surprises. There are big municipalities where, if voters help us a little bit, we can win without a run-off,” he added.

Currently, Vetevendosje controls only one municipality - the capital, Pristina - but Kurti believes that the party’s rise is set to continue.

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