Crime and punishment in Kosovo

Seven years after the declaration of independence Kosovo is not an independent republic with full rights. The EU’s attempt to positively influence Kosovo has been significantly weakened [if it...

Kosovo accused the European Union on Tuesday for inciting extremism in the impoverished Balkan countries, by refusing to ease visa rules for Kosovars in 2016.

Kosovo remains the only country in the Balkans whose citizens need visas to travel to most EU countries. The political leadership has been speaking of visa liberalisation every year since 2008, and recently told citizens that they expected a favourable decision this month and possible late requests for next year, regarding the visa process.

“These delays are absurd and deliberate, which not only encourage extremism in the country, but also will increase frustration among the citizens of Kosovo,” read a statement from Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hashim Thaçi.

Kosovo is the poorest and most isolated country in Europe, with millionaire politicians steeped in crime. A third of the workforce is unemployed, and corruption is widespread. Youth unemployment [those aged 25 and under] stands at 2 in 3, and nearly half of the 1.8 million citizens of Kosovo are considered to be in poverty. From December 2014 until February 2015, about 5% of the population were forced to leave the country in an effort to find a better life, studies and more dignified jobs, on their uncertain path towards wealthier countries in the EU.

The decision came at a time when Kosovo is facing the most serious political crisis since the declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008. In the past three months the opposition has disrupted the work of Parliament using tear gas and pepper spray, whistles and water bottles, apparently demanding that the government renounce a deal with Serbia giving more powers to ethnic-Serb communities and another with Montenegro on border demarcation. 13 members of the opposition in the country so far are being held in custody on suspicion of ‘endangering the general safety’.

Seven years after the declaration of independence, Kosovo is not an independent republic with full rights. The EU’s attempt to positively influence Kosovo has been significantly weakened [if it hasn’t entirely failed] by the fact that some of its high officials within the ‘EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo’ [EULEX], have had involvement in the very same organized crime and corruption they have been mandated to combat in joint efforts with local institutions.

One of the main challenges of the visa liberalization process in Kosovo is to do with the functioning of the legal system and the independence of the judicial system along with the fight against corruption and the establishment of a special court to try the alleged war crimes in the country.

Prime Minister Isa Mustafa had promised the citizens of the country that he would fight corruption upon the foundation of country’s government, in December 2014, but several months later he was found complicit among many alleged cases, as local media has reported. His deputy Hashim Thaçi, is heavily accused by the European Council, for crime and corruption involvement including being suspected for war crimes and crimes against humanity, for example alleged organ harvesting during the Yugoslav war against Serb forces in 1999.

»However, when it comes to defending a narrow political interest the news is not really about the crime and corruption, as the Kosovo authorities seem to act without hesitation when arresting their political rivals « Vedat Xhymshiti

»However, when it comes to defending a narrow political interest the news is not really about the crime and corruption, as the Kosovo authorities seem to act without hesitation when arresting their political rivals « Vedat Xhymshiti

The opposition has blocked the Assembly, ever since the country’s parliament approved the establishment of a special court, from trying alleged war crimes. However, all may not be as it appears. The headlines about the disruptive opposition concentrate on the agreements of Pristina with Belgrade and Podgorica, the former legitimizing the factual separation of Kosovo’s northern troubled territory and the latter recognizing the legitimacy of an agreement between Belgrade, Podgorica and Skopje to the border triangle of Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia. In reality these agreements were not protested by the opposition at the time of their signing. Pristina and Belgrade have made some other arrangements which have almost never been in the interest of the detached territory from Yugoslavia, but the opposition in Pristina hasn’t shown any serious interest to counter them. Nevertheless some members of the political parties founded by warlords are believed to be target of the special court for war crimes.

Seemingly the broader political leadership in the country is heavily involved in organized crime, political corruption, so it is almost impossible to think that the country will be able to be granted the right to the freedom of movement.

Hashim Thaçi, along with deputy assembly speaker Xhavit Haliti and member of parliament Azem Syla, are accused of having ordered the murder of their political rivals within the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army], said a detailed report by the British newspaper The Guardian. The report further shows that while none of the KLA officials have seen Thaçi or his aides execute anybody, witnesses indicated that Thaçi’s rivals were killed shortly after he or his aides had made death threats.

In another analysis of Kosovo written by the German intelligence service, the BND, and a confidential report contracted by the German army, the Bundeswehr, both Hashim Thaçi and Ramush Haradinaj, the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo [AAK], as well as Xhavit Haliti, a member of the ruling party PDK and Rexhep Selimi member of chairing council of leading opposition Vetevendosje, are accused of involvement in extended organized crime, including warlord-like behaviour.

“The key players [including politicians Haliti, Haradinaj, Thaçi and Selimi] are closely involved in the interconnections between politics, business and organized crime structures in Kosovo,” reported the German newspaper Die Welt, citing BND.

AAK Chairman Ramush Haradinaj, during a press conference in Pristina, Kosovo's capital city. [Picture by Vedat Xhymshiti]

AAK Chairman Ramush Haradinaj, during a press conference in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital city. [Picture by Vedat Xhymshiti]

According to diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks and Intelligence NATO files derived in 2011, the geographical spread of criminal gangs in Kosovo is located along with alleged familial links and business ties, including most members of the ruling party PDK, of Hashim Thaçi, as well as other political parties in opposition such as the AAK of Ramush Haradinaj and Self-Determination [LVV] led by Albin Kurti, among several other small groups that act as fronts for crime clans through order of ‘Kanun’.

So, the revelation of NATO intelligence files and allegations of German intelligence, indicates that the United States and some other Western European powers that support the government of Kosovo have had extensive knowledge for several years of criminal ties to former rebels and also the head of the PDK leader Hashim Thaçi, including the whole structure of political parties in the country, without exception. Foreign political, military, police and justice powers in Kosovo, have scandalously kept silence for over 16 years in a row granting crime a lawless and consequence-free paradise. Those findings, suggests that the foreigners would continue to turn a blind eye to crime gangs on their doorstep, if there would be no insiders to reveal the evidence of involvement, which seemingly Western powers would continue to cover up.

Organised crime has built a tradition of repression of human rights and media freedoms in the country. Violence against media freedom has surfaced earlier below the ‘feet’ of PDK leader Hashim Thaçi, whose warfare nickname is ‘the snake’. In June 1997, in an incident that many individuals in the guerrilla movement identified as ‘sinister’, a Kosovo-Albanian journalist who had close ties with the movement was found dead in his apartment in Tirana, and whose “face was marred by repeated stabbings with a screwdriver and at the end of buttocks was found a broken bottle” as told by the New York Times.

Reporter Ali Uka was supportive to the rebel movement, but he was also sufficiently independent to criticize the uprising. At the time of his death, he was living in an apartment with Hashim Thaçi, said The Guardian.

It is obvious that the leadership of the country is involved in political crime and corruption, and to fight this, it seems that chairing committees from across the political spectrum should be put behind bars; but in fact it seems impossible, as none of the political forces in the country will ever be willing to prosecute their chairing members involved in crime. The political will does not exist to tackle the problem. In reality there will be no visa liberalization for citizens of the country, unless there is to be a political class free from corruption, but nevertheless evidence suggests that foreign powers may step up against any such effort, as the establishment of an uncorrupted political leadership in the country would jeopardize their political influence through the possibility of blackmail.

However, when it comes to defending a narrow political interest the news is not really about the crime and corruption, as the Kosovo authorities seem to act without hesitation when arresting their political rivals. The authorities have arrested politicians, but illegally, such as arresting a third of the parliamentary opposition and its main leader, an action unprecedented in the post-1945 democratic countries of Europe, whilst the Western embassy establishment in capital Pristina remained silent to the complaints of the opposition and some media.

Politicians are equipped with diplomatic passports, and for them the freedom of movement is not a concern. They are also rich, especially judging their criminal CV. The question is, why the EU is banning citizens freedom of movement, but not criminals – a question best answered by the EU themselves – but this attitude has been seeding, empowering and granting a corrupt paradise for those in charge to act with impunity at the heart of the European continent.

Vedat Xhymshiti; is an independent journalist and war correspondent. He has reported on a number of Middle Eastern conflicts from the Arab Spring in 2010 to the current Syrian civil war. He has been published in various media including Der Spiegel, NY Times, TIME, Paris Match, Le Monde ect. He is specialized in International Relations and Diplomacy. Xhymshiti is also a print media critic, a columnist for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, and founder of THEFrontliner.net

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