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UNMIK Media Observer, Morning Edition, April 9

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• 14 new cases of COVID-19 in Kosovo (media)
• Health Minister: You will save lives by following the rules (media)
• Health minister to take decisions to prevent spread of COVID-19 (media)
• Kurti, Lajcak exchange views on pandemic, dialogue with Serbia (media)
• Veliu reacts to Osmani, calls her “Thaci’s translator” (Koha)
• “Kosovo battling two pandemics: COVID-19 and irresponsible politicians” (media)
• PDK’s Veseli on possible coalition with Vetevendosje (Indeksonline)
• Op-ed: Why Lajcak is wrong choice for EU envoy (EUObserver)

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  • 14 new cases of COVID-19 in Kosovo (media)
  • Health Minister: You will save lives by following the rules (media)
  • Health minister to take decisions to prevent spread of COVID-19 (media)
  • Kurti, Lajcak exchange views on pandemic, dialogue with Serbia (media)
  • Veliu reacts to Osmani, calls her “Thaci’s translator” (Koha)
  • “Kosovo battling two pandemics: COVID-19 and irresponsible politicians” (media)
  • PDK’s Veseli on possible coalition with Vetevendosje (Indeksonline)
  • Op-ed: Why Lajcak is wrong choice for EU envoy (EUObserver)

Kosovo Media Highlights

14 new cases of COVID-19 in Kosovo (media)

Kosovo’s National Institute for Public Health announced in its daily report yesterday that it has confirmed 14 new coronavirus cases in Kosovo. It also said that there have been 7 new cases of recoveries, raising the number to 37.

Koha points out that for the first time, the Institute for Public Health has included the number of COVID-19 cases in the north of Kosovo into the total number of cases.

Majority of the new cases confirmed are from the region of Malisheva.

At the same time, the Ministry of Health announced that one 66-year-old woman from Malisheva has died as a result of coronavirus infection. The Ministry said the woman in question also had underlying conditions.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Kosovo is at present 231.

Health Minister: You will save lives by following the rules (media)

Kosovo’s acting Minister of Health, Arben Vitia, sent his condolences on Wednesday to the families of two persons that succumbed to the coronavirus. Vitia wrote in a Facebook post: “Today, two of our fellow citizens lost their battle with COVID – 19. To our condolences to the families and friends of the deceased, we add messages for the people to be very very careful. For your sake, for your families and loved ones. We ask you like never before to give your help through high solidarity and discipline. You know that you should not go out unless you really must. When you go out keep your distance and keep your protective measures and implement hygiene rules. Lives are saved by following rules. Remember that each and every one of us has a mission to protect lives and public health”. 

Vitija in another statement later Wednesday said that another patient had succumbed to the virus, marking the sixth fatality so far. He said that medical staff were doing everything in their power to save lives but that another three patients were in critical condition. Vitija pleaded to the people not to leave their homes unless they absolutely must. “Protecting lives is the task above all tasks. We won’t be forgiven if we violate this. Stay at home, keep your distance,” Vitia said. 

Health minister to take decisions to prevent spread of COVID-19 (media)

The government of Kosovo has authorised the acting Minister of Health, Arben Vitia, to take decisions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. The decisions, said the government, will be in line with the provisions of the Law on Fighting and Preventing Contagious Diseases.

“The Minister of Health, based on recommendations from relevant professional units and in consultations with the respective Municipalities will determine the time or restriction of movement of citizens and vehicles, and make exclusions to the limitations schedule,” a press release issued by the government states.

Kurti, Lajcak exchange views on pandemic, dialogue with Serbia (media)

Acting Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti has sent a letter to the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, congratulating him on his appointment.

Kurti in the outset of the letter spoke about the measures the government of Kosovo has taken to fight the spread of the coronavirus infections saying that “our institutions have successfully curbed the spread, by taking the appropriate and necessary measures even before the first cases were registered. In order to contain the virus in a more effective manner, we have declared a state of medical emergency.”

Kurti further said Kosovo is committed to the dialogue with Serbia in order to reach a final, comprehensive, and legally binding agreement.

“The parties should ensure that under no circumstances or situations will the issue of mutual sovereignty, territorial integrity and internal affairs be discussed. We do not need neither a dialogue which involves maps on the table, nor a process that leads us to redrawing the borders. This is of essential importance,” Kurti said adding that the dialogue should be mediated by the European Union and the United States of America. “Following this, the final agreement should be accompanied by a guarantee by both the European Union and the United States, that obliges mutual and full implementation of the agreement.”

“As Prime Minister, I am charged by the Constitution to form and lead the negotiation team. Thus, my plan is to create an inclusive, gender-balanced team,” Kurti said. He said the team would include representatives of all parliamentary parties in Kosovo while the technical teams would be appointed as soon as the list of issues to be dealt with is compiled and mutually agreed upon at the political level.

Kurti also said that the government of Kosovo is firm in the belief that European Union integration is the only way forward and that the integration of the Western Balkans region to the bloc ‘at once’ would be of benefit to all parties, including the EU itself.

In the response letter, the EU Special Representative Lajcak said he was encouraged to read that Kosovo is committed to the normalization of relations and the Dialogue process and ready to work towards a comprehensive and legally binding agreement.

“My appointment signals the EU’s renewed engagement in the Dialogue. I intend to work tirelessly and dynamically to advance the Dialogue process and I expect both Pristina and Belgrade to renew their commitment with the same determination. As you yourself note, this is important for the good of the people on both sides. I am convinced that with genuine political will by the two parties and through dialogue, we can achieve the results we all aim for, for the benefit of the people in Kosovo and in Serbia. I see in your decision to lift the tariffs a first concrete sign of your willingness to engage in the EU Facilitated Dialogue,” he said.

Lajcak commended the government of Kosovo’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and pledged EU’s support. “Our immediate financial assistance of 5 M euros to meet the most urgent needs in fighting corona virus is only the beginning of our support to Kosovo in that.”

Lajcak said that due to the coronavirus crisis, he will not be able to meet Kurti in person but that this will not prevent him from engaging. “I will be reaching out to you and the political leadership in Kosovo in order to start what I hope will be a good and fruitful exchange and cooperation between us. I would encourage you in the meantime to use this period of coronavirus restrictions in order to continue reflecting and preparing for the resumption of the process,” he concluded.

Veliu reacts to Osmani, calls her “Thaci’s translator” (Koha)

Agim Veliu, deputy leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), reacted to the statement that his party colleague and Assembly Speaker Vjosa Osmani gave to KTV where she accused Veliu of causing the breakup of the government coalition with the Vetevendosje Movement (LVV).

In a Facebook post, Veliu said Osmani never had the courage to run for local elections either in Mitrovica or in Pristina.

“Thaci’s translator, who never had the courage to run in local elections in her own municipality or her branch, is questioning the citizen legitimacy to a winner of 15 sets of consecutive elections,” Veliu wrote. “When she ran for prime minister, the LDK in all polls, including those conducted by political opponents, was the first with a difference of 7 percent, but came in second. Instead of taking responsibility for the defeat, she behaved like a winner. Perhaps she was right because she considered the victory of VV as her own.”

In the interview, Osmani said that although he did not run in October elections at all, Veliu became a leading voice for LDK, deciding the future of the coalition.

“Kosovo battling two pandemics: COVID-19 and irresponsible politicians” (media)

 Kosovo Assembly President Vjosa Osmani said on Wednesday that Kosovo is battling two pandemics, the COVID – 19 and the irresponsible politicians, several news websites report. 

“This is why these days in addition to physical hygiene it is very important that we keep a mental hygiene from different attempts for contamination by slanderers and blackmailers. We will emerge triumphant from both these battles,” Osmani wrote in a Facebook post. 

PDK’s Veseli on possible coalition with Vetevendosje (Indeksonline)

Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) leader Kadri Veseli said on Wednesday that his party does not have red lines for any Albanian political party but that they do have certain criteria for cooperation. 

Veseli was asked about a possible coalition with the Vetevendosje Movement after a senior member of the latter, Glauk Konjufca, did not rule out such a coalition. 

“Where I come from, we don’t have red lines for Albanians. I don’t see cooperation with every party. The fight against corruption and the fight for order and sovereignty cannot be led with words. We can form a coalition with parties that safeguard this nation and this state. It is a matter of an agreement on principled basis,” he said.

Op-ed: Why Lajcak is wrong choice for EU envoy (EUObserver)

Several news websites carry an op-ed by Toby Vogel and Bodo Weber, senior associates of the Democratization Policy Council, listing their arguments why Miroslav Lajcak is the wrong choice as EU envoy for the Kosovo – Serbia talks. The op-ed was first published on 21 February when Lajcak was not yet formally appointed to the post. 

Those ill-designed negotiations were less aspirational than grounded in an anti-policy of “any deal is a good deal” ‘transactionalism’, defying core European values and the one lesson learned from the Balkan wars – that any talks focused on maps, ethno-territorial demarcations, and leadership interests are everything but a solution. 

Mogherini’s successor, Josep Borrell, seems to have understood that in order to resume the negotiations under credible EU leadership, he needs to delegate the lead negotiator role to an envoy – as this tough and demanding task is a full-time job. 

On the surface, Lajčák may seem to have the requisite qualifications for that job.

He speaks Serbian and served twice in the Balkans: first, as EU envoy to supervise Montenegro’s referendum on independence from the state union with Serbia, in 2006, and then as the EU’s special representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 2007-09, simultaneously serving as the international community’s high representative. 

Moreover, he knows how to navigate the Brussels bureaucracy, having served as managing director for Europe and central Asia in the European External Action Service in 2010-12, just as the EEAS was being built up as an institution. 

In addition, he is likely to be available for the job: polls in Slovakia predict that the social democrats with which he’s affiliated will be booted from power in elections at the end of this month. 

Despite these apparent qualifications, however, Lajčák is the wrong man for a number of reasons. 

First, Slovakia is one of just five EU member states that do not recognise Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, for entirely domestic reasons.

Spain, whose former foreign minister, Josep Borrell, became EU foreign policy chief in December, is another. 

Non-recognition duo 

Should Lajčák indeed be appointed, the two senior EU diplomats dealing with Kosovo would both come from the small minority of member states that do not recognise Kosovo – and oversee talks whose declared end point should be Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence. 

This would send a strong signal that the EU is taking sides. It would also prop up Serbia’s increasingly authoritarian president, Aleksandar Vučić, ahead of early elections in April. 

Second, Lajčák carries serious political baggage: a history of political failure in the Balkans.

As the EU’s special representative (and the international community’s high representative) in BiH, he got embroiled in a serious political confrontation with Bosnian Serb strongman Milorad Dodik. 

Demonstrating serious miscalculations and limited political skills, the conflict ended in Lajčák’s humiliating retreat. 

The episode earned him a reputation as being weak on Dodik and having a pro-Serb bias. Lajčák’s tenure deepened the EU’s de facto policy of letting illiberal actors in BiH determine the EU’s own agenda. 

Third, Lajčák has a track record of putting personal and professional ambitions above the mission. 

He abruptly abandoned his post in Sarajevo after a year and a half in the job – explaining that he could not decline an offer made by Robert Fico, then Slovakia’s prime minister, to head his country’s diplomacy – only to undercut his successor in Sarajevo in subsequent years.

According to multiple sources, Lajčák himself requested a much broader portfolio than just the Kosovo-Serbia negotiations, despite knowing very well that this in itself is a full-time job. 

This self-seeking approach to the job is exactly what drove Mogherini and her team. 

Finally, the illiberalism of the governments which Lajčák served in Bratislava should be anything but a selling point. He remained in post as prime minister Fico had to resign in the fallout from the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. 

In a region struggling with attacks on the media by powerful officials, not least in Serbia, Lajčák’s appointment would send exactly the wrong message, providing another illustration of what Balkan citizens see as a pattern of EU officials ‘failing up.’ 

His being on the job market at all is a result of a presumed electoral manifestation of the civic backlash against corruption under the government he served – twice. 

Western Balkan citizens deserve better than discredited leftovers, no matter how much elites have become accustomed to this pattern. 

Appointing Lajčák to lead the Kosovo-Serbia talks – in any capacity – would signal the EU’s deepening lack of seriousness to leaders and citizens in Serbia, Kosovo and the wider region and alienate Pristina, thus dooming the reset of negotiations to failure. It would also seriously hamper the Union’s recently announced revitalisation of its enlargement policy. 

EU member states thus need to prevent this appointment. 

Other candidates 

Rather than choosing Lajčák to give the appearance of commitment to the issue, the EU should instead first define the parameters of a future envoy’s mission and profile, and define the political terms of the reset of negotiations. 

Only then should it even consider a list of potential candidates. A number of conditions should apply. 

First, a future envoy, unlike Borrell, must come from a member state which recognises Kosovo. 

Second, they must be tasked only with the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations. Any portfolio that included the wider Western Balkans, and especially Bosnia and Herzegovina, would not only be an overstretch. It would imply linkage between a Kosovo-Serbia agreement and Bosnia, which is precisely was secessionist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has been promoting.

 This is a particularly dangerous signal as Dodik again is openly mooting a secession referendum, which carries with it the spectre of renewed violence. 

The EU’s weak posture in Bosnia since before Lajčák’s tenure (but further reduced by him) has empowered Dodik to behave without restraint.

Third, she or he must be a political heavyweight and experienced negotiator. The selected individual would not necessarily need to have Balkan experience – indeed, given the fact that most European politicians with deep Balkan experience come with baggage, be it an ethnic bias or a history of political failure, not having a Balkan background might even be an asset. 

But the future envoy must have demonstrated sound judgment and fortitude, a clear mandate, and be supported by a broad team that includes experts both on the Balkans and on relevant topics that will be part of a future comprehensive agreement (international and constitutional law, minority rights, local self-governance, economic and property issues).


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