Fragile Kosovo prepares for crucial vote
PRISTINANine years after proclaiming independence, fragile Kosovo votes on June 11 at a time of high tension with Serbia, rampant unemployment and some of its leaders threatened with prosecution for war crimes.
The parliamentary election - Kosovo’s third since 2008 - is the most important since the independence declaration, according to Slovenian think-tank IFIMES, which specializes in the Balkan region.
While Kosovo’s sovereignty is now recognised by more than 110 countries, tensions between Belgrade and its former province - which is predominantly ethnic Albanian - have risen to their highest level since talks to “normalize” relations began in 2011.
The process, crucial to both sides’ progress towards European Union membership, has ground to a halt. The delicate question of granting more autonomy to Kosovo’s Serb minority through an “association of municipalities” is still unresolved.
The impasse comes years after the late 1990s Kosovo war, which saw the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) battle Serbian forces for independence and left 13,000 people dead, including 10,000 ethnic Albanians.
Controversial former guerrilla leader Ramush Haradinaj could now end up prime minister - for a second time - after the polls.
Although his Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) is small, he has formed a bloc dubbed the “war wing coalition” with the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) founded by powerful President Hashim Thaci, another leading ex-rebel.
Hard-talking Haradinaj is considered a war criminal by Belgrade and is critical of the dialogue with Serbia, which he still considers an “enemy”.
But French Balkan specialist Loic Tregoures points out that neither Belgrade nor Pristina “has an interest in being designated as the one that formally breaks off the dialogue, even if that dialogue is in bad shape.”
Though key to international observers, the issue appears increasingly incidental in the eyes of the approximately 1.8 million citizens of Kosovo, who are faced with poverty and an unemployment rate touching around a third of the working age population.
For young people who wish to join the exodus to the EU, the issue of visa liberalization is crucial.