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UNMIK Media Observer, Morning Edition, April 14, 2021

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• COVID-19: 544 new cases, 12 deaths (media)
• UN Security Council discusses situation in Kosovo (media)
• Russia tries to ban Kosovo flag at UN – unsuccessfully (AP)
• Government spokesperson: No date yet on reciprocity with Serbia (media)
• Osmani and Kurti in talks to appoint new intelligence chief (RTK)
• Anti-mafia law gets the green light (Koha Ditore)
• Varhelyi in letter to Kurti: Continuation of dialogue is crucial (media)
• EU no comment on reports of Jansha’s alleged letter on border changes (RFE)
• Should Kosovo’s ruling party play opposition politics in Albania? (BIRN)

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  • COVID-19: 544 new cases, 12 deaths (media)
  • UN Security Council discusses situation in Kosovo (media)
  • Russia tries to ban Kosovo flag at UN – unsuccessfully (AP)
  • Government spokesperson: No date yet on reciprocity with Serbia (media)
  • Osmani and Kurti in talks to appoint new intelligence chief (RTK)
  • Anti-mafia law gets the green light (Koha Ditore)
  • Varhelyi in letter to Kurti: Continuation of dialogue is crucial (media)
  • EU no comment on reports of Jansha’s alleged letter on border changes (RFE)
  • Should Kosovo’s ruling party play opposition politics in Albania? (BIRN)

COVID-19: 544 new cases, 12 deaths (media)

544 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths from the virus were recorded in the last 24 hours in Kosovo. 1,115 persons have recovered from the virus during this time. There are 14,114 active cases of COVID-19 in Kosovo.

UN Security Council discusses situation in Kosovo (media)

One of the leading stories in the media on Tuesday evening was the United Nations Security Council’s video conference session on the situation in Kosovo.

During his address to the Security Council, UNMIK head Tahir Zanin said that opening the door to the future requires transformation and that a strong desire for change was expressed in Kosovo’s recent elections. Commenting on the recent early legislative elections that saw a high turnout with the Vetëvendosje political party receiving more than half of all votes cast, the SRSG said: “The expectations expressed were for a shift in the responsiveness of a government to the real hopes and needs of its voters, for greater equality of opportunity, accountability, and the rule of law. Accordingly, expectations across Kosovo will remain as high as were the results.”

SRSG Tanin said Kosovo’s new government, led by Prime Minister Albin Kurti, faced “great opportunities, alongside great challenges”. “Opening the door to the future requires a transformation, and changing the priorities which are reflected in both words and in deeds. Reducing tension also requires that ruling and opposition parties alike prove their capacity to cohere on wider interests.”

With reference to the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue, following his meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Kurti and today’s conversation with President Vučić, SRSG Tanin noted that all political actors were aware of the central importance of their relations for progress along the European path. They underscored that only a meaningful and sincere dialogue, and forward-looking policies, would allow these relations to evolve and mutual interests to be met.

“Gains to public trust in this process are as fragile as they are essential,” SRSG Tanin said.

“With a strongly-mandated government now settled in Pristina, we should expect to see difficult subjects treated with seriousness and diligence.”

SRSG Tanin reiterated UNMIK’s unequivocal support of the process and its commitment at ground level to promote a conducive environment for progress along this pathway.

Read SRSG Tanin’s full statement here: https://unmik.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/srsg_tanin_security_council_briefing_13_april_2021.pdf

Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla said in her address that Kosovo is willing to resume the talks with Serbia even though the latter is responsible for massacres and genocide in Kosovo and beyond. “Our small but very special country is not afraid. On the contrary, we will continue talks even with those responsible for conflicts and genocides in Bosnia and Kosovo in the last decades. In the Republic of Kosovo you can find generous people with international experience who don’t hesitate to share horrible experiences they have gone through, in order to find a solution. We are open and proud, and we are not afraid of anyone.

The U.S. representative at the Security Council called on Kosovo and Serbia to resume the dialogue in Brussels and reach a comprehensive agreement on mutual recognition. “The United States strongly support the EU-facilitated dialogue, and with a new government in place in Kosovo, we welcome the plans of the EU special representative to resume the dialogue in the near future … The United States encourage both sides to implement the previous agreement and to resume the dialogue in pragmatic and productive fashion with the goal of reaching a comprehensive agreement on normalisation,” he said. The U.S. representative also said that UNMIK’s role in Kosovo has been implemented and that the time has come for the mission to end.

Several news websites reported that the session was interrupted for several minutes after Russian representative Dmitry Polyansky asked Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla to remove Kosovo’s flag from her background. He argued that Kosovo cannot be represented with a flag and that eight members of the Security Council don’t recognise Kosovo’s independence. The UK representative at the Security Council reacted to the Russian official’s remarks saying that this is not an official session of the Security Council where rules can be changed and that last time too Kosovo’s representative had a flag in the background.

Russia tries to ban Kosovo flag at UN – unsuccessfully (AP)

Russia tried for the first time Tuesday to prevent Kosovo’s representative from speaking at the U.N. Security Council with the country’s flag in the background, saying the majority of council members don’t recognize its independence from Serbia.

The request to ban the flag by Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky at the start of a scheduled open council meeting on Kosovo led to a 45-minute suspension of the virtual meeting while the council’s 15 members discussed the issue in private.

Polyansky said “eight of the 15 members of the Security Council do not recognize Kosovo as a country” and therefore the flag shouldn’t appear behind Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla. He said Russia did not object to her speaking.

The United Kingdom’s legal counselor Chanaka Wickremasinghe retorted that Security Council video meetings are not formal meetings and said Kosovo’s flag had appeared behind its representative during the last meeting.

After the COVID-19 pandemic halted most in-person meetings at U.N. headquarters, Russia insisted that any meeting not held in the Security Council chamber, including all those held virtually, would be considered informal.

When the meeting finally resumed, the council’s current president, Vietnam’s U.N. Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy, said the backgrounds of virtual meetings should not disrupt council sessions and the flag could stay.

Gervalla was one of three scheduled speakers and when she briefed the council, Kosovo’s blue flag with six white stars above a map in gold of the country was behind her.

Polyansky, began his presentation afterward noting “the lack of respect towards the U.N. Security Council’s decisions from somebody invited in a personal capacity as representative of Kosovo’s Albanians.”

“The Russian Federation and most of the other members of the Security Council do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and the demonstration of the flag of that non-recognized entity is not acceptable,” he said.

Polyansky noted that video meetings of the council are informal and temporary and the council’s rules of procedure don’t fully apply.

“Whatever background Ms. Gervalla has chosen for herself, whether these are photos or flags or other things … that does not have any impact whatsover on this,” he said.

U.N. special envoy for Kosovo, Zahir Tanin, told the council he met Kosovo’s new prime minister, Albin Kurti, on Monday “who assured me of his understanding of the strategic importance of advancing the dialogue with Belgrade.”

He said he spoke to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic Tuesday morning who highlighted “the importance of the dialogue for peace and stability, and reiterated his hope that this dialogue should be intensified, in order to produce results beyond those previously accomplished.”

Government spokesperson: No date yet on reciprocity with Serbia (media)

A spokesperson for the Kosovo Government said on Tuesday that there is no date yet on when reciprocity with Serbia could be introduced. He said Serbia should not feel uncomfortable in the event of reciprocity, because the Kosovo Government wants to guarantee equality for all its citizens.

“Reciprocity is not a new notion in international relations; it is a basic principle for states. No one can deny this. We are interested in equality between states and the Kosovo Government wants to guarantee that its citizens are treated equally. No one should feel uncomfortable from reciprocity,” he said.

Osmani and Kurti in talks to appoint new intelligence chief (RTK)

A spokesperson for the Kosovo Government said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Albin Kurti and President Vjosa Osmani have stepped up talks for the appointment of the new head of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency (AKI).

“The AKI Director is appointed through consultations between the Prime Minister and the President. We are well aware about the seriousness of the issue and we are working on concluding this issue as soon as possible. Kurti and Osmani have stepped up talks on this matter and I believe the new AKI Director will be appointed very soon,” the spokesperson said.

Anti-mafia law gets the green light (Koha Ditore)

The daily newspaper reports in its leading front-page story that the Kosovo Government has given a green light to the Ministry of Justice to start drafting the anti-mafia law which will enable the confiscation on unjustifiable property without a guilty verdict from the courts. Minister of Justice Albulena Haxhiu has suggested that the law should also apply for ordinary citizens, and for elected and appointed officials.

The daily published last week the content of the concept document for the draft law and it lists two categories of people whose assets could be confiscated. The first category includes leaders of main institutions: the Office of the President, the Assembly and Government. It also includes are general secretaries, chief executives, members of boards and directors of departments, judges and prosecutors, as heads of important institutions, such as Tax Administration of Kosovo (TKA), Kosovo Customs, Kosovo Police, Kosovo Intelligence Agency, and Kosovo Security Force. In this category are also ambassadors and heads of universities. The document also suggests that the law should also apply to politically appointed persons, including local or international persons appointed in important public functions.

Varhelyi in letter to Kurti: Continuation of dialogue is crucial (media)

European Commissioner for Enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi said in a congratulating letter to Kosovo’s new Prime Minister Albin Kurti that the resumption of the EU-facilitated talks between Kosovo and Serbia is crucial for their European path. “Turning Kosovo’s European perspective into a reality for its citizens also requires a swift continuation of the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and the comprehensive normalization of relations with Serbia,” Varhelyi wrote in his letter. “This is crucial for the respective European path of Kosovo and Serbia and for improving regional cooperation”.

Varhelyi also said that the European Commission is also committed to continue advocating for a positive EU decision on visa liberalization for Kosovo citizens.

EU no comment on reports of Jansha’s alleged letter on border changes (RFE)

Peter Stano, a spokesman for the European Commission and the EU’s foreign service, said on Tuesday that Brussels is not aware of any document sent by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansha suggesting border changes in the Balkans, as reported by some media in the Balkans. According to some media, Jansha sent an unofficial letter to the President of the European Council Charles Michel, suggesting that the breakup of the former Yugoslavia must be concluded with border changes. Stano said: “We are not aware of any such document and we cannot comment on speculations about issues raised in the media.”

“We can say that in terms of borders, the EU position is clear and there is nothing to change on the issue of borders. We must work towards regional co-operation, reconciliation and the resolution of all open issues in the region, without entering dangerous areas, while respecting international law and EU principles,” Stano also said.

Should Kosovo’s ruling party play opposition politics in Albania? (BIRN)

Opinion piece by Agron Demi, a senior researcher at Prishtina-based GAP Institute and a regular columnist for Prishtina Insight.

The involvement of Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Vetevendosje in backing opposition candidates in Albania’s elections risks creating divisions between the two countries when they should be working together to tackle the pandemic.

Members of Kosovo’s government and MPs from the ruling Vetevendosje party headed to neighbouring Albania over the weekend, a couple of weeks ahead of the Albanian parliamentary elections on April 25.

Almost all of them have posted on social media their support for three candidates running for parliament in Albania. Although officially independent, the three candidates in different municipalities enjoy the open endorsement of Vetevendosje.

Immediately after the February 14 parliamentary elections in Kosovo, Kurti went to Tirana and called on Albanian citizens to vote for the three candidates. His Facebook page has also been full of endorsements for the three candidates in the neighbouring state’s elections.

His intervention is not something new, as Kurti has on many occasions taken a stance on Albania’s internal issues. He came out in support of protests against the controversial demolition of the National Theatre in Tirana last year, and several days ago he called for the protection of the River Vjosa in Albania, which environmentalists claim is threatened by the building of hydropower plants.

Vetevendosje MPs have also joined protests in Lezha in Albania against the construction of hydropower plants.

Kurti and his colleague’s visit to Albania came three weeks after his government came to power, and before he has even laid out his domestic programme for governing.

Their visit also happened at a critical time when their own country was facing a rise in coronavirus infections and the lowest rate of vaccination against COVID-19 in the Balkans.

So far, via the COVAX programme, Kosovo has managed to secure just 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, which will only be enough for healthcare staff, some elderly citizens and people with chronic diseases.

Albania has helped Kosovo by vaccinating more than 500 of its medical staff and the government in Tirana has expressed readiness to vaccinate Kosovo’s teachers. However, Kurti’s administration refused the offer as Albania only offered Chinese vaccines.

As well as being a refusal of much-needed vaccines, this was seen as a rejection of Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama, amid Vetevendosje’s support for election candidates who oppose Rama’s ruling Socialist Party.

Albania’s vaccination campaign has been successful so far, with more than 257,000 citizens jabbed, or nine per cent of the population. On the other hand, Kosovo has vaccinated fewer than 10,000 of its citizens and apart from the COVAX supply, has not managed to purchase a single dose.

While finding time to get involved in the election issues of another country, Kosovo’s prime minister has not made public any plan or long-term strategy for coping with the pandemics or securing more vaccines.

Kosovo and Albania are natural partners and I am one of those people who have advocated for more integration and cooperation between the two countries. However, the method that Kurti has chosen in his relations with Albania will only deepen divisions and will not result in more cooperation.

Kosovo’s prime minister should not consider his Albanian as a political opponent. Getting involved in Albania’s elections to endorse three candidates will rightly irritate many Albanians, just as Kosovo Albanians have been irritated when Albania’s prime minister has spoken in their name.

Kosovo’s ruling party getting involved with the opposition in Albania puts in jeopardy the relations between the two countries. From 2000 onwards, Kosovo and Albania have reached 66 agreements, and although many of them have not been implemented, a state of affairs in which Kosovo’s prime minister and his Albanian counterpart become rivals risks unnecessary reverses.

Kurti and Vetevendosje should focus on managing both deadly pandemic and its economic consequences – securing more vaccines, planning an economic recovery and drafting a governing programme – instead of meddling in the domestic affairs of another country in these difficult times.

After the Albanian elections on April 25, the governments of the two countries must meet in order to coordinate the vaccination of both states’ citizens instead of wasting time on political rivalry.

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