Soldier turned politician
Ramush Haradinaj was an important general in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The KLA fought for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia during the 1990s. Following the conclusion of the fighting, he pursued a political career. Many other fighters followed a similar path, including Kosovo’s current President Hashim Thaçi. Haradinaj utilised hispopularity in western Kosovo, which is where he operated during the war. This enabled him to launch his own party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK). He has served twice as Kosovo’s Prime Minister, from 2004 to 2005 and now from 2017 to 2019.
On both occasions, he resigned due to charges pertaining to war crimes. He was twiceacquitted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The ICTY concluded its work in 2017. Haradinaj’s acquittals have been dogged by accusations of witness intimidation.
The Specialist Chambers
The Specialist Chambers have also called Haradinaj for questioning. The Chambers’ main mission is to investigate crimes the KLA committed in 1998-2000. The prompt for the Specialist Chambers came from a report by the Council of Europe rapporteur, Dick Marty. Marty accused the KLA of committing crimes against both Serbs and Albanians, including organ harvesting.
Kosovo’s Assembly established the Specialist Chambers in 2015 at the second time of voting, under pressure from the USA and the EU. Although legally part of Kosovo’s judicial system, the chambers are located in the Netherlands and staffed by internationals. This is to protect the court and its witnesses from intimidation and violence. Such incidents have called previous investigations into the question, including Haradinaj’s two acquittals from the ICTY. Since then, there has been rampant speculation that some of Kosovo’s most important politicians could be charged. Haradinaj is the highest-profile figure who has been questioned by the new court.
Haradinaj has received support from other prominent political figures in Kosovo.Kosovo’s ambassador to Washington Vlora Çitaku questioned why he is being called for a third time to answer accusations of war crimes, referring to the situation as “persecution”. The Specialist Chambers have been regarded with suspicion in Kosovo since their establishment. Their focus on the crimes of the KLA, as opposed to crimes committed by Serbs, has been strongly criticised. The Kosovar Assembly has even tried to revoke the law that established the Chambers. President Thaçi has constantly changed his position, from supporting the chambers to vowing to block their work.
Haradinaj has called for fresh elections for Kosovo’s Assembly. Kosovo’s current government is a coalition between the Hashim Thaçi’s PDK, Haradinaj’s AAK and Fatmir Limaj’s NISMA. All three of these party leaders were prominent members of the KLA. As such, the Specialist Chambers could also potentially indict them.
Additionally, Haradinaj will hope that his summons will increase his popularity by highlighting his patriotic past as a guerilla fighter. He would like to repeat his feat of 2004 when he was named Prime Minister, despite having been recently questioned about war crimes. His personal popularity could lead to a stronger showing for his AAK party.
The left-wing Vetëvendosje party will likely be hoping to build on a strong showing. The last election saw them becoming the single largest party in the Assembly. Vetëvendosje has subscribed to a range of different policies that are unpopular with the USA and EU. It has regularly organised public protests and participated in the regular release of tear gasin the Assembly in 2015–2016 and 2018. Albin Kurti, one of its leaders, has called forunion with Albania and less American and European interference in Kosovo’s affairs.
Moreover, the other parties have consistently locked Vetëvendosje out of coalition-building in Kosovo. This had taken place despite the fact that the party’s popularity has continued to grow. The last election result saw them move from being a significant protest party to the main opposition. Vetëvendosje will likely be confident in building on their previous election showing to earn the right to form a government.
The Dialogue with Serbia
Haradinaj’s resignation could affect the EU-facilitated dialogue with Serbia. The dialogue intends to resolve issues relating to Serbia’s refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence. Haradinaj stalled the dialogue negotiations by imposing 100% tariffs on Serbian goods. This policy attracted widespread international criticism. Haradinaj publicly justified the tariffs as a reaction to Serbia’s refusal to implement actions agreed within the dialogue process and its uncooperative attitude towards Kosovo outside of the dialogue. This was exemplified by Serbia’s blocking of Kosovo’s membership of Interpol.
Haradinaj’s resignation itself, however, will not jump-start the dialogue again. President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić stated immediately after the resignation that the dialogue will not resume until the tariffs are lifted.
It is likely that Kosovo will hold new elections soon. Haradinaj and his party probably want to utilise any popularity he has gained by resigning. Most of the parties in the assembly, including Vetëvendosje, will also very likely support a new election. Some members of Haradinaj’s own government have even questioned its legality following his resignation.
Haradinaj’s tariffs have left the dialogue with Serbia completely deadlocked. New elections and a new government could be a way to reset relations with Serbia. This would involve abolishing the tariffs on Serbian goods. Haradinaj would pay a heavy price in political credibility if he did it himself. A new head of government could be in a better position to end the tariffs without it presenting like a diplomatic defeat to Serbia. This is not guaranteed, however, as opposition parties have expressed support for the tariffs in the past.