Matthew Davenport is a Spring 2016 intern at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. He is currently a Master’s student at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. In his post below, he discusses Kosovo and EU membership and the challenges faced from political opposition groups.
On January 21st 2016, Kosovo-EU integration took a giant leap forward. The European Parliament gave its consent to ratify the EU-Kosovo Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first step in the process putting Kosovo on the path to eventual EU membership. However positive this news may be for Kosovo, it has been overshadowed by weekly violent protests staged by the political opposition, led by the Self-Determination Party, to oppose a bill giving more autonomy to the Serbian ethnic minority living in the north of the country. The latest tactic by the opposition has begun grabbing international headlines: opening a tear gas canister on the floor of Parliament.
In fact, this has become the main strategy, as well as a powerful political symbol, of the opposition. Since last October, the Kosovo Parliament was interrupted and evacuated because of tear gas on the floor of Parliament six times. The first episode of gassing happened on October 8th of last year, where opposition lawmakers released teargas, as well as blew whistles and yelled insults to halt debate on the proposed bill. Two members of Parliament fainted and were escorted out in wheelchairs. Only a week later, the Parliament was gassed again, this time lawmakers were forced to evacuate the floor to face opposition protesters gathered outside in support of the Self-Determination Party.
Since then, Parliament gassings have continued, making debate on the EU-brokered deal between Kosovo and Serbia to normalize relations between the two countries in return for increased autonomy for the Kosovo Serb minority and EU membership for Kosovo virtually impossible. On November 28th, the leader of the Self-Determination Party, Albin Kurti, along with 86 others were arrested at the party headquarters after the party organized a peaceful protest attended by tens of thousands of supporters. The arrests only emboldened the opposition to continue their tactics, a gassing two days later broke up Parliament once again.
Since the arrests, protests and demonstrations have become more violent and gassings have continued. Most recently, on January 9th, thousands of opposition protestors gathered outside the Parliament. Before being dispersed by tear gas and water cannons the protestors set fire to a portion of the building. 14 people were injured in the protest, 10 of whom were police. The protestors are now calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa.
Kosovo seceded from Yugoslavia after the end of the bloody Kosovo Conflict (1998-1999) which saw the attempted total expulsion of the Albanian population at the hands of Serbian military and irregular forces. After NATO intervention against the Yugoslav government put an end to the fighting, Albanian refugees were able to return, many Serbs living in Kosovo fled, and the country came under UN administration. In 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, but is only recognized internationally by roughly half of UN member states.
Despite both parties being pro-EU, the opposition Self-Determination Party feels that giving special treatment to the Serb minority in Kosovo will create a fractured state, while the government in power sees normalization of relations with Serbia as an essential step to EU integration. Last Thursday, EU-brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo continued, prompting an EU MEP to comment “[the association agreement is] … overshadowed by serial acts of violence inside and outside the Kosovo Assembly in recent months. It appeals to all players to act for the good of Kosovo in a responsible way, supporting a non-violent solution to, and exit from, this crisis.”