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UNMIK Media Observer, Morning Edition, January 20, 2022

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• Kosovo reports over 2,000 new daily COVID cases as Omicron surges (media)
• New anti-Covid-19 measures to be discussed today (media)
• Kurti: The government will increase support for consumers (media)
• Kosovo’s electric bills could increase two-fold (Euractiv)
• Hovenier: U.S. dedicated to strengthening the rule of law in Kosovo (media)
• Gervalla in Athens to meet Dendias (Ekonomia)
• EU millions for rule of law did not translate into substantive reforms (Koha)
• RTK Director sacked; board cites numerous violations (media)
• Serwer: Good on recognition but oversold on strategic impact (media)
• Macron: Clear accession perspective of Western Balkans and EU reform (EWB)
• Landscapes of industrial ruin (Kosovo 2.0)

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  • Kosovo reports over 2,000 new daily COVID cases as Omicron surges (media)
  • New anti-Covid-19 measures to be discussed today (media)
  • Kurti: The government will increase support for consumers (media)
  • Kosovo’s electric bills could increase two-fold (Euractiv)
  • Hovenier: U.S. dedicated to strengthening the rule of law in Kosovo (media)
  • Gervalla in Athens to meet Dendias (Ekonomia)
  • EU millions for rule of law did not translate into substantive reforms (Koha)
  • RTK Director sacked; board cites numerous violations (media)
  • Serwer: Good on recognition but oversold on strategic impact (media)
  • Macron: Clear accession perspective of Western Balkans and EU reform (EWB)
  • Landscapes of industrial ruin (Kosovo 2.0)

Kosovo reports over 2,000 new daily COVID cases as Omicron surges (media)

A total of 2,050 new coronavirus cases have been reported Wednesday in Kosovo, according to the National Institute of Public Health. as the Omicron variant of the virus continues to spread.

Despite the record number of cases in 2022, no new deaths have been reported, while authorities have announced that the number of hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 remains low comparing with the number of new infections. Health authorities say the omicron variant is dominating new cases. There are 7,266 active cases with COVID-19 in Kosovo.

Koha Ditore reports this morning that health experts are recommending for kindergartens to be closed as it is believed that the virus spreads mainly from these premises.

New anti-Covid-19 measures to be discussed today (media)

Kosovo’s inter-ministerial committee will meet today to consider new anti-COVID-19 measures, following the rise of new coronavirus cases. The meeting of the inter-ministerial committee is scheduled for 09:00. The spokesman of the Ministry of Health Faik Hoti told Koha that the possibility of imposing new measures will be discussed at the meeting.

Kurti: The government will increase support for consumers (media)

The press conference of Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti on the issue of the increase of the electricity bills on Wednesday was one of the main stories in all media. Kurti said his intends to take actions that will address the immediate effect of this crisis but also the long-term one. To ensure that Kosovo will be independent in terms of energy, Kurti said his government is planning to announce the first auctions for the construction of new clean facilities and as sole shareholders of KEK, the revitalization of existing units and diversification of the sources on which the production of energy in this enterprise depends.

“As a result of the global energy crisis that has caused the rise of energy prices to unprecedented levels and due to breakdowns in KEK power plants that have increased our need to import energy, ERO in accordance with its competencies and responsibilities deriving by the Law of the Energy Regulator, has started with the extraordinary review of tariffs.”

“Legally ERO and its board are independent and cannot be influenced by anyone in making their decisions, including our government,” Kurti said.

At the joint conference with the Minister of Economy Artane Rizvanolli, Kurti said that the government will increase support for consumers in need who cannot afford to pay. Those who will be most affected by this increase, will have a safety net that will guarantee consumption for their needs.

“Taking into account the extraordinary and unprecedented situation in the European electricity markets that has affected Kosovo, the government of the Republic of Kosovo has pledged to subsidize the citizens and businesses of Kosovo, with 75 million euros, thus protecting them from tariff increases.”

“The bill we are paying is that of inactivity for more than two decades in the sustainable development of electricity supply. At the same time, we are feeling the age and lack of investment in our generating units,” Kurti said.

According to him, the electricity subsidy by the government will help to have 0% increase of the tariff for business customers and the tariff for household consumers up to consumption of 600 kWh. He also said that the tariff proposed by ERO for household consumers for consumption over 600 kWh should be reduced, reflecting the import price for these consumers and promoting energy efficiency.

Kosovo’s electric bills could increase two-fold (Euractiv)

Households in Kosovo could see their electricity bills double if a proposal by the Energy Regulatory Office (ERO) is approved.

The ERO suggested doubling the price of energy for households that exceed more than 600 kW per hour. If accepted, the hike would hit some 200,000 homes.

Data from the ERO shows that almost a third of Kosovo’s households consume more than 600 kW per hour in the winter months. Over 20% have exceeded this during the summer as well. The proposal will only impact families that surpass the threshold and will not affect businesses.

Should the rate increase, the high-energy tariff will be 14 cents per kilowatt, and the low tariff will be 6 cents.

Kosovo has been in the grips of an energy crisis since late last year where the government announced a 60-day energy emergency and asked citizens to conserve electricity. As a result, scheduled blackouts have taken place across the country, and bitcoin mining has been prohibited.

Furthermore, neighbouring Albania loaned Kosovo electricity in December, asking them to lend it back in the summer months.

Hovenier: U.S. dedicated to strengthening the rule of law in Kosovo (media)

The Minister of Internal Affairs Xhelal Svecla received on Wednesday the U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier. They discussed the deepening of cooperation between the two countries.

Media report that Svecla expressed appreciation to Ambassador Hovenier for his continued support and noted that the United States is an irreplaceable strategic partner of Kosovo.

Ambassador Hovenier on the other hand stressed that he is committed to work closely with the aim of strengthening the capacity of the rule of law in Kosovo, especially the MIA agencies, to provide security for all citizens without distinction.

They also discussed the priorities of the government and the Ministry of Interior, the importance of the rule of law, as well as the need for reforms in the Kosovo Police and public administration, which have a direct impact on the security of Kosovo.

Gervalla in Athens to meet Dendias (Ekonomia)

Kosovo’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Donika Gervalla has traveled for an official visit to Greece. Media report that she will meet with the Greek Prime Minister Nikos Dendias.

The focus of this visit is the deepening of bilateral relations between Kosovo and Greece. Gervalla is also expected to meet with diplomats and the business community in order to encourage the advancement of economic relations and to promote the Kosovar offer to foreign investors.

She will also focus on strengthening inter-institutional cooperation in the field of education, culture, but also in other areas.

EU millions for rule of law did not translate into substantive reforms (Koha)

The daily reports on the front page this morning that European Union donations to advance substantive reforms in the rule of law area have not been properly used by countries of the Western Balkans. According to the European Court of Auditors (ECA), there is limited progress in the fight against organised crime and corruption, in freedom of speech and political influences on the judiciary have not been avoided. The report covers the period 2014-2020 and it includes Kosovo too.

RTK Director sacked; board cites numerous violations (media)

All media report that the Board of the Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK) sacked the general director of the public broadcaster, Ngadhnjim Kastrati, on Wednesday. Kastrati was dismissed with nine votes in favor and one against. “The decision for the dismissal is based on numerous violations of the Law for the RTK and other sub-legal acts in the RTK during Kastrati’s mandate. The RTK Board concluded that the general director neglected irregularities, abuses, lack of work, nepotism, degrading, and the continued biased reporting by the public broadcaster,” the board said in a statement.

Following the dismissal, Kastrati took to Facebook to say that ever since the appointment of the new board of the public broadcaster, he was under major pressure to fire staff.

Serwer: Good on recognition but oversold on strategic impact (media)

By Daniel Serwer, head of the Conflict Management Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and analyst on the Balkans.

My colleague at SAIS and its Foreign Policy Institute, Ed Joseph, has organized an unusual group to strategize about how to deal with growing instability in the Balkans. Regional stagnation due to EU hesitancy as well as Russian and Chinese meddling threatens more than two decades of progress. The group includes scholars with origins in both Serbia and Kosovo as well as EU non-recognizing states Romania, Slovakia, and Spain.

I was not involved in preparation of their report and did not know about it until published. I’ll offer an arms-length critique of some of its more salient points.

Convergence on recognition is right

The report is right to put the emphasis on convincing non-recognizers to recognize Kosovo, with due respect to the difficulties of the process. This is the centerpiece of what they call a “convergence” strategy. They are also correct to point toward Greece as the most likely of the non-recognizers to do the right thing. So it is regrettable that the report does not include a Greek author. That said, surely the encouraging approach they suggest is preferable to a punitive one.

Irredentism is a real threat…

One of the reasons for urgency about recognition is the growing threat of irredentism. Belgrade is dreaming of a “Serbian home” that includes Serb-populated parts of Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. That idea is indistguishable from Greater Serbia. That was Slobodan Milosevic’s goal in going to war in Croatia and Bosnia. (Kosovo and Montenegro were already under Serbian rule at the time.) Some in Tirana and Pristina, including the current prime ministers, like the idea of Greater Albania, which is ruled out in the Kosovo constitution.

…but legal sanctions are not an appropriate response to talk

These ethnically-motivated territorial ambitions are, as the report suggests, a prime cause of Balkan instability. But the authors make the mistake of suggesting the US legally sanction their paladins. That proposal is attracting a lot of press attention in the region, but it isn’t going to happen. Washington does not levy legal sanctions for opinions but rather for actions. US officials may limit access and even visas for foreign officials who say things Washington regards as destabilizing. But the miscreants will have to introduce legislation, organize and arm paramilitaries, or take some other tangible action to incur frozen assets or other legal sanctions.

The bigger error

That is not however the report’s biggest error. It argues that recognition and eventual NATO membership for Kosovo will change Belgrade’s “strategic calculus,” incentivize Serbia to accept the Western order for the Balkans and deter Russia.

I doubt these propositions. Belgrade claims it is “neutral” but in fact is re-arming beyond any need to confront real military threats. Serbia is also moving towards domestic autocracy. Its politics have shifted definitively toward virulent ethnic nationalism. Its democratic opposition is moribund. Its media are not free. Even the constitutional amendments approved last weekend are but a first step towards an independent judiciary, if implemented in good faith.

Recognition of Kosovo and its progress toward NATO will likely prevent any Serbian military intervention. But it will also incentivize Serbia further in the wrong directions. Ethnic nationalist politicians will benefit. Moscow will be ready and willing to arm Belgrade against NATO. Russia can even be relied upon to block Kosovo UN membership if Serbia were to somehow agree to it. President Putin will have a price in mind–in Georgia, Moldova, or Ukraine–before surrendering his trump card.

Whole and free is a dead letter for now

Let me be clear: I like the idea of working hard for recognition by the EU non-recognizers, especially the four who are members of NATO. The Alliance needs to prepare for Kosovo accession no later than completion of its army, scheduled for 2027. But the notion that recognition or NATO membership will somehow undo Serbia’s domestic and international drift in the wrong directions is fanciful. Europe “whole and free” is a dead letter for now. So too is the Balkans “whole and free.” The region will divide because that’s the way Moscow and Belgrade want it. The only question is where the lines will be drawn.

So what do I think of the report? Good on its central thesis concerning recognition, but oversold on the strategic impact. There is no magic wand. The West needs to gird for a long struggle in the Balkans.

Macron: Clear accession perspective of Western Balkans and EU reform (EWB)

President of France Emmanuel Macron focused, among other priorities, on the European perspective of the Western Balkans in his speech at the European Parliament, in which he presented the goals of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In his speech, the President of France stressed that Europe cannot turn its back to the Western Balkans. “The Western Balkans are geographically and historically, for their tragic past and a greater future, at the heart of the European continent. They have wounds that show us how fragile peace can be and how strong our Union can be. That is why today we want to think about our relations with Western Balkan countries and give them a clear perspective of accession to the European Union”, Macron said.

He said that this process was not directed against anybody or trying to destabilize anybody else. “It is a positive accession, which should be carried out in a reasonable timeframe. We have modernized the procedure for negotiations over the last few months”, Macron emphasized, referring to the new accession methodology adopted on the initiative of France.

He, however, repeated his position that the present Europe with its rules which can become Europe of 31, 32, 33 Member States. “We would be kidding ourselves if we thought that. So, in the framework of the Conference (on the Future of Europe) and the results expected in May, we need to think about our rules again and make them clearer, make them easier so we can decide more quickly and more easily and also be honest about Europe where the Western Balkans have a place”, President of France said.

He concluded with a call to reevaluate the way Europe works. “That is why the Conference on the Future of Europe should be followed by a conference on the Western Balkans, dealing with these crucial topics”, Macron said.

Western Balkan region is a part of one of the three priorities of the French Presidency: A more sovereign Europe, which also includes strengthening the Schengen area, protecting European borders, controlling migration and improving the asylum policy.

Other two priorities are a new European model for growth in which economic development is aligned with climate goals, and A humane Europe, with a focus on safeguarding rule of law and European values.

Landscapes of industrial ruin (Kosovo 2.0)

From the late ’60s to the early ’80s, factories rose across Kosovo’s cities and towns. These factories, monoliths of industrial might, employed tens of thousands of people and exported their goods throughout Yugoslavia, Europe and beyond and conveyed promises of modern progress in what was then the poorest region of Yugoslavia. They were economic pillars in their communities, and by developing Kosovo’s industrial capacity, helped nourish in the collective imagination of many Kosovar Albanians the dream of an independent republic.

For the men who labored in Kosovo’s heavy industry — and it was largely men — the factories were a source of pride and dignified work.

Today few of these factories remain. Many have been abandoned, emptied, gutted, transformed into landscapes of industrial ruin, or in some cases, into supermarkets, warehouses or other uses. Though a decade of Belgrade’s oppressive and deindustrializing policy in Kosovo that culminated with the ’98-’99 war caused significant damage, many managed to make it through that period. What the factories couldn’t survive was the post-war privatization.

When privatization began in Kosovo in 2002, it was presented as an unavoidable necessity in the international state building process. International actors, primarily the U.N. Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the World Bank, promoted privatization as the key that would unlock economic growth and entry into the pantheon of Western free market liberal democracies.

Since then, it is estimated that over 75,000 people lost their jobs as a direct result of privatization. Critics have long argued that citizens were excluded from the process and that there was never any substantive discussion about alternative strategies to privatization that may have offered a chance to revive the industrial economy. Moreover, the process has been clouded in allegations of corruption; and many of Kosovo’s 600 or so socially-owned enterprises were sold to a small group of business people at artificially deflated prices.

Among the most affected from privatization have been former factory workers who found themselves struggling to find their way in the new postsocialist economy. The nostalgia many of these workers feel for the era of socialist industrial labor may come across as a tale of a romanticized and mythic lost past, but the sense of security, purpose and agency they felt working for socially-owned enterprises with robust social welfare provisions was far from a myth. This nostalgia is perhaps heightened by the mass unemployment and social dispossession that has followed.

Kosovo’s current government has announced they aim to break with the two-decade long legacy of privatization by establishing a sovereign fund to manage state assets. In this moment of political shift, some of Kosovo’s former industrial laborers reflect on what was lost to the era of privatization.

It was a good life for the time

When Ruhan Kadriu decided to put himself forward for a new job after he had spent nearly 16 years as a finance officer at the “Fabrika e Armaturave të Ndërtimtarisë – FAN” (“Construction Rebar Factory”) in his hometown Podujeva, deep down he hoped he wouldn’t get hired.

Located around 200 meters from his house, the factory had been his second home since 1985, when he began working there as an intern two years after the factory opened. As one of its long-serving workers, Kadriu was fortunate enough to live what would later be remembered as the factory’s golden era. Those were the days in the mid to late ’80s when trucks from all over Yugoslavia would line up in front of the factory’s gates to receive their loads of rebar and welded steel mesh panels.

The factory was a branch of Zenica’s metallurgical combine, one of the largest in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Podujeva branch’s 50,000 tons of refined steel products were shipped across Yugoslavia and exported to Greece and Italy.

Kadriu was often tasked with financial duties that required him to travel all over Yugoslavia to meet with the factory’s business partners. “I was almost always on the road,” he recalled.

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