BALKANS & EASTERN EUROPE – June 2020


 

Hashim Thaci indicted on war crimes charges

On the 24th of June, the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office for Kosovo (SPO), the Hague-based international body investigating on crimes that were commenced or committed in Kosovo between 1 January 1998 and 31 December 2000 by or against citizens of Kosovo or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made public an indictment charging the Kosovar President, Hashim Thaci, with a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Alongside Thaci, the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA-UCK) during the conflict, other nine persons once belonging to the guerrilla were indicted, Kadri Veseli included. He is the former President of Kosovo’s Parliament and former deputy leader of the Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK), Thaci’s party; during the war he was the chief of the UCK intelligence.

The SPO and the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC), a pool of international judges who integrate the international court investigating on war crimes in Kosovo, are recognized by Kosovo’s Constitution that was amended to provide a proper legal basis for the court. “The crimes alleged in the Indictment involve hundreds of known victims of Kosovo Albanian, Serb, Roma, and other ethnicities and include political opponents”, the SPO’s press office told. A judge must still review the indictment to confirm charges that Thaci and Veseli firmly rejected. If confirmed, Thaci will resign, he stated.

The indictment, originally filed in April, was made public because of Thaci and Veseli’s “repeated efforts to obstruct and undermine” the work of the SPO and the KSC, according to the SPO press statement.

The publication of the indictment came just ahead of scheduled talks between Thaci and Vucic in Washington, under the patronage of Donald Trump. He is looking for a fast deal between Serbia and Kosovo to boost chances of re-election in November by presenting himself as a world peace broker, several media think. According to rumours spread in the last months, Trump would support a land swap between Serbia and Kosovo, through which Serbia would annex Serb-majority areas in northern Kosovo, while Kosovo would get Albanian-majority lands in southern Serbia.

The timing of the indictment seems strictly related to the land swap option. To Lisen Bashkurti, a university professor in Tirana, the Kosovar leader agreed to exchange the dissolution of the court with territorial concessions in favour of Serbia, with the US backing this option. Realizing this, the court decided to shield itself by making the indictment public, Bashkurti wrote in a comment for Eurasia Review.

Once he got the news of the indictment, Thaci cancelled his trip to Washington. No talks anymore and a blow to Donald Trump and Richard Grenell, the US envoy to the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue. The failure of their approach (just momentary or definitive?) gives the UE the chance to retake the initiative. Yet Brussels should look for instruments and incentives other than accession to the EU for Serbia and a faster lane to get admission to international organizations for Kosovo because both are not enough anymore. A new scheme and a new method are required.

Meanwhile, former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army have vowed to protest against Thaci’s indictment made by the international court, that is considered biased in Kosovo, as well as oriented to “rewrite history”, to quote Thaci’s words. The majority of Kosovo’s citizens share veterans’ view: a just war was fought in 1998-1999. Yet, many of them were children during the conflict or were even born after it. Around 40% of the population is under 25, making Kosovo the youngest nation in Europe. Young people in Kosovo are mainly interested in visas, jobs and good education. While respecting those who resisted to Milosevic’s Serbia, they do not want to feel trapped in the past and in corruption. It is hard to think that they will answer a call to take streets to support Thaci and Veseli. However, if there will be large-scale demonstrations throughout the country, security issues could emerge and KFOR (approx. 4.000 troops) is taking into account also this possibility.

 

Matteo TacconiJournalist and analyst, he covers the Balkans for a wide range of media networks. He worked as electoral observer for the OSCE/ODIHR in Albania, Macedonia, Russia, Georgia and Ukraine.