Kosovo opposition parties react to government’s political reforms CC0 Public Domain

The main opposition parties Vetevendosje, AAK, and Nisma went into streets on November 28th in order to protest the Kosovo government’s latest agreements with Montenegro for the demarcation of its border and with Serbia for the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities. The date of the protest that amassed more than 35,000 people was symbolic, as November 28th is the Albanian National Independence Day. The protest turned ugly, with protesters clashing with the riot police in a day that Pristina, the country’s capital, resembled a fortified city.

The role of Kurti

The aftermath saw 87 protesters arrested by the police, with Vetvendosje’s ex-leader Albin Kurti being among them. Kurti’s arrest added fuel to fire that has been slowly burning for a while. The ex-leader of the main opposition party was arrested when police forces stormed Vetevendosje’s headquarters and apprehended him. Kosovo’s government response to the opposition protests has put into test the country’s pristine democratic institutions.

This was the climax for a situation that has been building up for quite a while. Kurti, the most profilic figure of the opposition was also arrested in October for throwing tear gas in Kosovo’s Assembly, in order to block the parliamentary proceedings. The opposition has been employing this tactic quite often over the last few months, in order to obstruct the voting for the ratification of the agreement for the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities, which will grant a de-facto autonomy to Serbians, thus fragmenting and federalising the country. This agreement was part of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue that has been launched since 2013, under the auspices of the EU.

EU’s reaction to protests

The arrest of opposition MPs, five of which were arrested for a brief period of time, has raised the alarm for the EU and the US, along with others. EU diplomats called the opposition to return to the parliament and to normalise of the situation. Ulrike Lunacek, the vice President of the European Parliament - and Kosovo Rapporteur - warned that the aggravated situation could damage the visa liberalisation process of the country.

The EU ought to intervene in order to broker a deal between the opposition and the governing coalition of the PDK-LDK. It would not be the first time they have done so. EU intervened again in late 2014 when it brokered a deal between the country’s two largest parties, PDK and LDK, in order to form a governing coalition to end the deadlock of negotiation between the parties. Understandably, the radical leftist Vetevendosje is not a partner of choice, yet a reapproach should be initiated in order to have all the parties at the negotiation table.

Solution in sight or deadlock?

If this institutional crisis is not solved through negotiations and dialogue between the parties, the country’s perspective will be grim. At this moment, Kosovo is in need of economic, political, and judicial reforms that will tackle its structural problems. Having the highest unemployment in Europe, limited sovereignty, and a system of parallel political structures in the North, financed by Belgrade, present a major challenge. These are the areas where Brussels should push for, both in Pristina and in Belgrade.