January 4, 2012
The Serbian President has criticised plans by hardline Serbs in Kosovo’s tense north to hold a referendum on whether to accept ethnic Albanian rule.
Pristina, KOSOVO – Wednesday, January 4, 2011 / The independent NewsweeK
Boris Tadic said yesterday that the referendum – planned for February – would deepen the crisis and “provoke international reaction”. He added that “the whole world knows they [the Serbs] don’t accept Kosovo rule”, and the referendum was not necessary.
Serbia and Kosovo Serbs reject Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. Serbia insists Kosovo is part of Serbia, although the new country has been recognised by Washington and most EU nations. Kosovo Serbs have blocked roads to prevent the Pristina government from asserting authority. This has caused incidents with NATO peacekeepers and blocked Serbia’s EU bid.
Kosovo’s nationalist opposition have announced that they may erect some road blockades of their own in the first weeks of 2012. In northern, Serb-run Kosovo roads have been blocked for several months now by local Serbs protesting over the presence of Kosovo government police and customs on the contested border with Serbia.
The opposition party known as “Vetevendosje” [Self-Determination] now says it may start blocking vehicles coming from Serbia at the northeast Merdare border crossing and on the southeast Dheu i Bardhe border.
The potential blockades will be aimed at upholding a recent parliamentary motion advocating a trade ban with Serbia.
Kosovo’s parliament adopted a motion in December calling on the government to re-introduce a trade ban with Serbia. The Vetevendosje-sponsored motion urged the government to “undertake full political, economical and trade measures” against Serbia.
But Hashim Thaci’s government has since downplayed the motion and called it an opinion of parliament rather than an order.
In fact Thaci’s government did impose trade sanctions on Serbia on July 20 but then removed them on September 2 once the two sides had reached an agreement on Kosovo custom stamps.
In theory the deal allows Kosovo to export goods to Serbia for the first time since it declared independence in February 2008. Northern Serbs, meanwhile, have erected dozens of barricades since July 25, blocking roads in reaction to a government police operation aimed at seizing border crossings in the north with Serbia.
Problems in the north are not the only issue facing the government in 2012. The country enters the year with an approved budget that is 7.7% per cent larger than that of 2011, costed at €1.5 billion with revenues estimated at €1.36 billion. The deficit is equivalent to about 3 per cent of GDP.
Limited progress on fighting organized crime, corruption, drug trafficking, and money laundering are other major challenges in the months to come.
Kosovo’s anti-corruption agency says the authorities continue to remain largely unaccountable for the taxpayers’ money that they spend, as there is still little transparency in the field of public procurement.
The Anti-Corruption Agency director, Hasan Preteni, says many public officials fail to set a good example when it comes to transparency.
“Every fifth of the 1,860 forms that we have processed concerning the origin of politicians’ wealth, compared to the revenues they have declared, do not match,” he noted.
He noted also the continuing lack of tough anti-corruption legislation empowering police to confiscate property and assets whose origins cannot be verified. The state of the courts in general continues to be troubling. There are around 150,000 unresolved or pending cases before Kosovo’s Courts.
The European Union is expected to help address the weak state of the rule of law in the country and has proposed a structured dialogue with the authorities concerning support for the judiciary.
This weakness, according to Hasan Preteni, is reflected in slow progress in the fight against corruption. “We need to press further the issue and do the homework as there’s no more time to lose,” he said.
“Look at our neighbours, all of whom have now achieved visa liberalization with the EU. Our judiciary needs to wake up and match the anti-corruption fight with concrete results.”
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999, when NATO bombed for 78 days to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war under then-President Slobodan Milosevic.
More than 80 countries, including the United States and 22 of the EU’s 27 members, have recognised the state, the last to emerge from the remains of old federal Yugoslavia.