By Ali Hoxha*
In order to avoid the possibility of any ideological misconceptions, this article will mainly focus on the technical aspect of an era where a major conflict between the US and the Soviet Union was probable even if it never happened. If we quote Shakespeare with ‘much ado about nothing’, it is uncertain whether this fits to the political circumstances of that era. After all, the collision between the two blocks continued in the background while the Vietnamese and Koreans fought against each-other as their internal political directions where strongly shaped by communist and democratic ideals in times of liberation from colonialist structures.
However, these two ideologies had something in common, the means of warfare and the number of victims. In ‘realpolitics’ one would be considered naive if he would think that the sovereign integrity of small and weak countries is perpetually invulnerable. Great powers exercise power politics and expect from small actors to fully comply with their self established norms. When a small country intends to behave as a great power, in the meaning that it considers to prioritize national interest above everything else, surprisingly they start to leave a totalitarian impression. Certainly, there is realist logic behind that, since the rise of a particular nation that would factorize its role in regional affairs doesn’t suit the big players in the region.
Geopolitics has its price, but we will not focus on that. This article will treat the political mentality of small countries that are militarily weak and politically divided even if they function within the same ideology. In contrast to the cold war as a race between two distinct worldviews, political repulsion in this case happens within same poles. We will also disregard the proportionality of force that made the cold war so characteristic and take Kosovo as a case study; a country where values of freedom, development and equality are opposed by the ‘realpolitics’ of the victims rather than of the strategists.
A short overview of Kosovo’s current political landscape
Since Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government brought down by a motion of no confidence, it will continue for not very long to operate as an acting government in order to manage the pandemic crisis in the country. In times when pandemic politics in considered immoral, Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi does not hesitate to push forward the ‘normalization’ of relations with Serbia, while initiating meetings with LDK, the second political force in the country and other minor political parties in Kosovo to discuss the possibilities to bring to life a new government that would leave Kurti and his LVV (as the biggest party in the country) out of the political scene. The meetings took place without protective measures against corona virus, as if political immunity had prevailed over their health immunity.
Now that Thaçi has handed over the mandate to LDK, the formation of a new government is expected soon. There are many ambiguities, especially in the constitutional interpretation of whether Thaçi acted in accordance with the law to hand over the mandate to the second party while disregarding the fact that the first party has the right to propose another candidate for Prime Minister even if there seems to be no time limit under which the first party should do so. Based on this interpretation, the first party does not propose the candidate as it suggests going to new elections once the pandemic crisis is over. This suggestion is based on the grounds that new elections are the only legitimate way to clarify the political turmoil in the country.
Constitution as a tool for power
Denying the will of the majority can lead to hate expression, violence and even social conflicts. If we look back at the last elections in Kosovo, there appears to be a balance of power between the three major political parties in the country, but as the expectations of people is influenced by their leaders’ actions, it is certain that this also affects how they are going to vote in the future. As result, the political landscape of a few months ago is radically different from that of today.
According to opinion polls, LVV is currently on the rise following recent political developments. How legitimate it is for the largest party in the country to be left out of the important processes is not well explained and needs to be clarified by legal experts. It is also of utmost importance that the defenders of the constitution and legal scholars to restore peoples’ trust in the constitution because its interpretability as a school textbook for political gain is likely to severely damage the constitutional integrity of Kosovo. If the constitution prevents man from committing a crime or regulating the social order as a whole, it must also be able to define the next political steps with full consistency.
The Trump approach on Kosovo
Throughout the history of US support in Balkans, Kosovo could be freely considered a geopolitical base against Russian influence in the Balkans. But now American politics is led by a formation of politicians who do not recognize the Balkan crisis as a political issue with a potential for conflict and regional destabilization but turned it into an economic objective that could bring President Trump a foreign policy ‘triumph’ in the upcoming US presidential elections. If a quick agreement is reached between Kosovo and Serbia, Trump’s image would be strengthened in front of an audience that hardly understands the complexities in the Balkans. So, the Balkan issue became an electoral tool at the expense of Kosovo’s integrity.
There are talks about an agreement for territorial exchanges between Kosovo and Serbia. This agreement is said to be already endorsed by President Thaçi and President Vučić. The Special US Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations, Richard Grenell, denies that there is an agreement as far as he personally knows. The US Ambassador to Kosovo welcomed the formation of the parliamentary meeting for the motion to overthrow government Kurti because the latter had expressed his views in relation to the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.
Kurti’s views on foreign policy are radically different from those of his predecessors. According to Kurti, quick deals do more harm than good. He also strongly opposes the idea of territorial exchange with Serbia. Also, the gradual replacement of the 100% tariff with reciprocity with Serbia was not welcomed by US representatives who clearly emphasize that reciprocity measures harm Kosovo’s economic health in relation to Serbia. But the word ‘reciprocity’ as a term in itself indicates that a measure is being applied as a reflection of a similar measure to the subject applying reciprocity, but US pressure was this time more focused on Kosovo. It became almost clear that Kurti had somehow become a barrier to Trump’s short term foreign policy objectives. It is unclear how achieving temporary goals with actions that can have permanent consequences could bring productive outcomes in implementing peaceful relations between countries in Balkans.
What is interesting to note is the sudden change of the dynamics of Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. The Haradinaj government at the time insisted that the United States mediate the dialogue after the EU failed to deliver results due to its own challenges and dynamics with immigration. At first, the impression was that the United States had no intention of treating this issue with priority, but now Kosovo-Serbia dialogue is being treated with full interest on its part.
That governments do not fall apart just for their bad performance became apparent with the fall of the Kurti government. Governments can collapse even if they perform well. Many analysts in Kosovo praised the joint work of LVV and LDK. But it seemed that Kurti’s stance on the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue did not match with the approach of Special Envoy Grenell who aimed immediate action on the dialogue. Kosovo media were concerned that the United States could even abandon Kosovo as it seemed not to comply with US foreign policy strategy. This situation put Kurti’s coalition partner LDK under pressure.
With LDK as a political tool, President Thaçi’s interests in pushing further his political existence coincided with those of the Trump administration for electoral triumph. As Thaçi’s interests were to regain his weakened political power by reaffirming pro-American sympathy, and while Trump’s interests were to strengthen his election campaign, it is important to ask the question what Kosovo’s interests are and who represents them as the Kurti government was brought down? It is just normal for countries not have always same views on things. Differences can be easily discussed on diplomatic levels. But, this time the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue issue seemed to be timely pressured. Some analysts in Kosovo prefer a leader who knows best how to meet US demands regardless of the content of those demands. If such a leader is important, then perhaps it should be reconsidered if Kosovo does not need a leader at all. The LDK in this respect fluctuates within non-existence at its core that is why it is well fitted in the current political circumstances.
The main interest of a country is national security which goes beyond political parties’ agenda, while for the ruling parties it is ethically important to fulfill the promises made to their voters. Political parties in Kosovo should consider new elections as the only way to gain legitimacy through the vote. But the elections are not seen as the best solution for the opposition. Many public debate practitioners ignore the fact that prioritizing the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue does not bring about any change in the miserable lives of people in Kosovo, just as it has not in recent years. Citizens in Kosovo are demanding a better life, improved welfare, jobs for young people and a more prominent role of the state in their lives. If these demands are ignored by political leaders, then politics as a notion loses substance.
What remains uncertain is whether the new government’s mandate or temporary mission will be to undermine Kosovo’s integrity or is it just an ordinary sequence of ‘realpolitics’ of the victim relying on pro-Western sympathy, where each political actor wants a piece of power; as a continuation of the old political spirit that in the first place has fueled the anger of Kosovo’s citizens. The current political situation in Kosovo is testing the patience of its already exhausted citizens living in the same depressing pace that could very easily turn into a spark that could jeopardize security in the country and beyond. The architects, who initiated the overthrow of Kurti government, if not today, may find themselves in a situation where they have to justify their actions.
If in the worst case scenario, territorial exchange with Serbia will take place despite numerous denials, the possibility of social conflicts erupting is not so impossible. Every experienced negotiator in Kosovo knows that even after territorial exchange, Serbia will claim further. It is not that this solution will satisfy any party and will bring a permanent solution to the status of Kosovo. Therefore, the leaders of Kosovo, regardless of party affiliation, when it comes to the state and its integrity, must act with persistence and not with full concession to the other party. Kosovo’s status must be looked beyond the Serbian perspective.
Realpolitics reminds us that countries always prioritize their national interest. This justifies the stance of the United States and Serbia, but does not rationalize political development in Kosovo and the actions of its leaders. Foreign policy remains the Achilles’ heel that prevents development of Kosovo. The centripetal policy-making effect damages a country’s sovereign integrity. The political action of the right wing in Kosovo towards foreign policy remains still undefined. It seems that the conceptual adoption of victim psychology combines the survival of political rivalries and the lust for power that transcends the natural hunger of a country to be economically more developed and militarily stronger. The Cold War within Kosovo is a struggle between its own values, between fear and courage, between contradiction and identity. The interest of a weakened Albanian factor also weakens the US geopolitical role in the Balkans. While Kosovo is waging a cold war within its own existence, the neighbor across its territory is continuing to arm and develop further.
*Ali Hoxha has studied IR and Diplomacy at Iliria College in Pristina. He specialized in International Security. His areas of interest include the balance of power, conflict transformation, and weak states in IR.