A Tale of Two Cities: the Criminals and Citizens of Kosovo
Nestled between Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia, Kosovo is the poorest and most isolated country in Europe; with more than fifty percent of its workforce unemployed – and corruption widespread. Youth unemployment, which includes those aged 25 and under, stands at two in three, and nearly half of the estimated one point eight million citizens of Kosovo are considered to be in poverty. From December 2014 until February 2015 about five per-cent of the population was forced to leave the country in an effort to find a better life, whether via studies or more dignified jobs, through the uncertain pathways toward the wealthier countries of the EU.
Eight years after its declaration of independence, Kosovo still fails as an independent Republic; and European Union influence has been underscored by complicity in the very same organised criminality its arrogantly named Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo is mandated to prevent through collaboration with local authorities.
To make matters worse, with the formation of the present government in December 2014 Prime Minister Isa Mustafa promised the citizens of Kosovo that he would fight corruption, yet several months later he was himself implicated in a variety of allegations reported by the local media.
During the past six months the opposition has disrupted the work of Parliament with whistles, tear gas, pepper spray and water bottles whilst demanding the government renounce its deal with Serbia to grant additional powers to ethnic-Serb communities, as well as in protest over a border agreement with Montenegro, and because of these disruptive actions members of the opposition are being forcibly removed from parliament prior to being detained.
In late February of 2016 Molotov cocktails were thrown at Parliament, with clashes erupting as it was set to elect a new president, Hashim Thaçi [a separatist leader who fought against Yugoslav-Serb forces in the late nineties]. Thaçi was victorious only in the third round of voting, twice failing to satisfy a quorum [of 71 out of 120 Members of Parliament] after pressure was applied by foreign embassies – led by the United States.
Kosovo’s constitution requires snap elections to be announced if Parliament fails to elect a new president within the allotted time, so the handover ceremony was set for April 8th, the day after the expiration of President Jahjaga’s mandate. So as the police clashed once more with protesters during the inauguration ceremony, guests were faced with tear gas deployed by the opposition – at least twelve people were arrested.
The opposition accuse Thaçi of being instrumental to the success of an EU brokered deal which saw the ethnic Serb minority of Kosovo empowered with greater decision making capabilities at the level of local government, as well as opening the door to finance directly from Belgrade: the inauguration went ahead despite the tear gas and Thaçi expressed a desire for dialogue with both Serbia, and his domestic critics.
So who is Hashim Thaçi – President of Kosovo?
Accused by the European Council of criminality and corruption on the scale of war crimes, in addition to allegations of organ harvesting during the late nineties Yugoslavian war – Thaçi is a former Deputy PM, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister and leader of the PDK (or Democratic Party of Kosovo) which emerged from the Kosovo Liberation Army after the war.
Thaçi is accused along with deputy speaker Haliti and Member of Kosovan Parliament Azem Syla of ordering the killing of political rivals within the KLA. People are said to have been killed shortly after receiving death threats from Thaçi or his aids.
In a German intelligence analysis of Kosovo, Thaçi – along his party comrade Xhavit Haliti, Ramush Haradinaj [leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo — AAK], and Rexhep Selimi [chairing council member of Self-Determination aka Vetevendosje] – are accused of involvement in warlord-esque organised crime, and according to diplomatic cables leaked through WikiLeaks, in addition to unverified intelligence files from NATO in 2011, the geographical spread of criminal gangs in Kosovo follows the lines of familial links and business ties across the landscape of the country; and these connections include most members of the ruling party of the PDK as well as Thaçi himself; whilst other parties in opposition such as the AAK of Ramush Haradinaj and the LVV [Self-Determination] of Albin Kurti – along with several smaller groups – are said to act as fronts for what are essentially crime syndicates run on a clan basis via a ‘Kanun’ system.
Organised crime has forged new traditions of repression in Kosovo, with human rights and media freedoms first in line; in 1997 an incident took place involving a journalist found dead in and apartment in Tirana with multiple screwdriver stab wounds to the face, as well as clear indications that he was violated with a broken bottle. Ali Uka, the journalist, was supportive of the rebel movement yet sufficiently independent to criticize it: at the time of his death he was sharing an apartment with none other than Hashim Thaçi [as reported by the Guardian].
Eight journalists were killed or died in suspicious circumstances in the first sixteen years after the conflict with Yugoslavia. The perpetrators are yet to be found. Due to the failure of policy on multiple fronts, what might be called a systemic or catastrophic breakdown in press freedoms has taken place throughout Kosovo; such that, in tandem with the Kosovan Journalists Association, the European Organisation for Security and Cooperation (O.S.C.E.) has launched a free telephone line to act as a safeguard for journalists faced with violence or intimidation: the last reporter to die in suspicious circumstances was killed in the fall of 2015; whilst I was personally subject to an assassination attempt on January 14th in 2012. My case went to the courts in a vain search for accountability and the trial drags on endlessly – I was forced to leave the country in order to survive, as corroborated by a 2012 US Department for Human Rights and Freedom report.
NATO identifies Thaçi as the ‘Big Fish’ in Kosovan organised crime. Formerly Prime Minister, loosing his premiership to campaigns of protest from the Islamic community, he managed to resift to the top of the barrel much as a persistent though nonetheless unwelcome morsel of grime lingers and festers in a poorly kept distillery; it was in this fashion he rose through Foreign Affairs Minister to seize the reins of this ill fated nation as President.
In 1999 the BBC published a story that wrote of a Kosovo ‘gripped by racketeers’ yet in 2016 the silence of the British Broadcasting Corporation is absolutely deafening. United States intrigue is backed as ever by the British establishment, and criminals reign over Kosovo.
While the Constitution of Kosovo and its legal framework assures and guarantees freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, the media environment in Kosovo is threatened by financial pressures in addition to political corruption at both the local and international level: Kosovo was once ranked eightieth out of 180 countries in the prestigious Reporters Without Borders index of press freedoms – yet each year it sustains a dive in position reaching down to 90 this year amidst fundamental violations of press freedom and freedom of speech – supposedly rights guaranteed by Article 40 of the Kosovan Constitution.
That the leadership of the country is involved in crime and corruption is obvious to any with eyes to see, and intrigue plays no small role in this distortion of the public good; as is attested to by the lingering presence of United States officials in the facilities of the Kosovan government – one such Ambassador bayed his disgust at the protests set against the election of President Thaçi.
Kosovo free from undue influence and interference in the press is yet but a dream. At least until a political class unbound by the shackles of corruption emerges from the present morass. Though sadly this seems unlikely as foreign powers are as keen as ever to foster political puppets in return for the easily wielded governmental power they represent. For instance US Ambassador Greg Delawie runs an office that shelters politicians who are subject to allegations of serious crime, and this fact inspired an online petition calling upon Barack Obama to recall his Kosovan ambassador forthwith – a small act of democratic potential which nevertheless received an imminent threat from Prime Minister Isa Mustafa who ridiculously labelled it terrorism. A Kosovan citizen in another country destroyed his passport following the election of Thaçi, so perhaps this will also be denounced as terrorism? [Sadly this may not be too far from the truth.]
Meanwhile countless Kosovan youth participate in various armed conflicts throughout the Middle East, as the mainstream media curates a state of fear in the people and serves as a mouthpiece for propagandist establishment rhetoric with endless deranged howls of War on Terror! Apparently without any sense of irony; despite this lie being well understood in thinking circles. In this war of terror evidence mounts in a considerable body of literature which indicates foreign and national security services are encouraging and even recruiting Kosovans to enlist amongst the ranks of armed mercenaries that constitute the substance of ISIS or Jabhat Al-Nusra. There is a reason that we find all this linked to organ harvesting and trafficking: war-zones are full of dead, vulnerable or dying people, and there is no better market as far as these people are concerned; not to mention the sheer profit stood to be gained by organisations and individuals so inclined.
Even worse, this degree of organised criminality and corruption appears to be systemic; installed and supported by powerful foreign states and interests, supported by the dominant forces of the Kosovan political-judicial-and-military-police establishment. Mafia is a fit term for this kind of system, and so goes the fate of the most recent Republic to emerge from the once strong and now decimated state of Yugoslavia.
It is not without good reason that the verb ‘to Balkanise’ is used in geopolitics; and ever since the reported death of Serb strongman Milosevic who was to be tried for crimes against humanity in the Hague, things remain in as sorry a state as ever.
Politicians are equipped with diplomatic passports, and for them freedom of movement is not a concern; they are also rich.
Why are there more stringent regulations for citizens whilst criminals are granted additional rights? A bastion of impunity arises at the heart of the European continent, Kosovo.
The freedom is still crushed by the weight of oppression in Kosovo’s warlord rule of crime. Kosovars may possess talents of the highest order, yet for them, it seems like there is no path of fame or distinction opened. Apparently for now, they cannot hope to attain those privileges while their daily life brethren remain chained.