News 08 Sep 17

Prospect of Haradinaj Running Kosovo Divides Serbia

The decision of the main Serb party in Kosovo to support the election of a new speaker - which will probably lead to former guerrilla leader Ramush Haradinaj becoming Kosovo's new prime minister - has shocked some in Serbia.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Belgrade

Ramush Haradinaj. Photo: Beta/AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu.

The decision by Kosovo Serb party Srpska Lista(Serbian List) to back the election of Kadri Veseli, from the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, as the new parliamentary speaker on Thursday has drawn fiercely divided reactions in Serbia, where rightists accused it - and Belgrade - of surrendering to a war criminal.

Veseli's election as speaker will allow his party's PAN coalition ally, the former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla leader Ramush Haradinaj, to form a government.

In Serbia, the opposition Movement of Free Citizens said it was ironic that a party linked so closely to Belgrade had effectively paved the way for Haradinaj to become leader of Kosovo.

It recalled than when President Aleksandar Vucic was prime minister, both he and the director of the Serbian government's Office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, "called Haradinaj a killer, a gangster and a rapist who killed children".

"Today, [Vucic's ruling] Serbian Progressive Party, in the form of Srpska Lista, will be entering the government of that same Haradinaj,” it added.

Serbian authorities accuse Haradinaj of having murdered, raped and tortured Serb civilians during Kosovo's bloody war of independence from Serbia in the late 1990s. He denies committing war crimes.

Serbia has long sought Haradinaj's arrest under an international arrest warrant. After the French authorities detained him - but then decided not to extradite the former Kosovo guerrilla to Belgrade on April 27, Vucic condemened the decision.

The French ruling was “disgraceful, scandalous, unlawful, and above all else, political”, Vucic said.

Despite that, the pro-Belgrade party in Kosovo, Srpska Lista, with its nine MPs, voted on Thursday for Haradinaj's ally, Veseli, to become speaker of the Kosovo parliament.

Veseli's election took place one day after leaders of the new PAN government coalition – Veseli of the PDK, Haradinaj of the AAK, Fatmir Limaj of NISMA and Behgjet Pacolli of the AKR – reached an agreement with Lista Srpska to give them a narrow majority in the 120-seat assembly.

The parties have struggled to form a government since an inconclusive general election result in June.

Late on Wednesday, according to media reports, Srpska Lista agreed with PAN to get a third ministerial post, the Agriculture Ministry, which had earlier been allocated to Pacolli's AKR. Lista Srpska will also hold the Local Government and Returnee ministries.

The head of the Serbian parliament's Committee for Kosovo, Milorad Drecun, insisted on Thursday that the participation of Srpska Lista in the new Kosovo government did not mean it also supported Haradinaj, calling the decision of Lista Srpska “a good move”.

However, right-wing nationalists in Serbia are not impressed. The rightist Dveri party accused Srpska Lista – and Vucic– of having effectively acknowledged Kosovo as an independent state.

“Vucic, who recently took over full responsibility for negotiations on the status of Kosovo, has enabled the war criminal Haradinaj to create a quasi-government of the quasi-state of Kosovo,” Dveri said on Thursday.

Serbia has vowed never to recognise the independence of its former province.

Serbian liberals have given a more nuanced reaction. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Cedomir Jovanovic, said Serbs in Kosovo have to be part of whatever ruling coalition is in place there.

He noted also that Haradinaj is seen internationally as a figure who is keen to reach a lasting agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.

On a more humourous note, the Serbian satirical website NewsNet [NjuzNet] published "news" on Thursday saying Serbia had decided to break off diplomatic relations with itself over the decision of the Kosovo Serbs to support Haradinaj.

The ironic reference was to the decision of Serbian government to withdraw its ambassador from France after the French courts refused to extradite Haradinaj to Belgrade for trial.

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