Nations in Transit 2021 - Kosovo

TRANSITIONAL OR HYBRID REGIME
36
/ 100
Democracy Percentage 35.71 / 100
Democracy Score 3.14 / 7
LAST YEAR'S DEMOCRACY PERCENTAGE & STATUS
36 / 100 Transitional or Hybrid Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.
 
 

Score changes in 2021

  • National Democratic Governance rating declined from 2.75 to 2.50 due to the unconstitutional installation of Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti’s government in June as well as dysfunction within the parliament, exemplified by lawmakers’ failure to consider COVID-19 emergency legislation in a timely manner.

As a result, Kosovo’s Democracy Score declined from 3.18 to 3.14.

Executive Summary

By Group for Legal and Political Studies

The year 2020 in Kosovo was one of hopelessness, ambiguity, and ongoing political and health crises. In a one-year period, the country experienced three governments, the resumption of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue and a contentious normalization agreement reached by the United States government, and the resignation of President Hashim Thaçi due to an indictment for alleged war crimes involving him and other leaders of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).1

The enduring political turmoil in Kosovo also triggered constitutional crises and clashes between Thaçi and Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who formed a government in February after his Vetevendosje (VV) party won a plurality of votes in the 2019 parliamentary elections. The COVID-19 crisis further exposed the poor state of the country’s healthcare system, leading to disarray. In March, amid the pandemic, Kosovo was the first country in Europe to topple a sitting government (after only 51 days in power), instilling deep uncertainties and disappointment among citizens. Tensions peaked when PM Kurti dismissed Internal Affairs Minister Agim Veliu (of the Democratic League of Kosovo-LDK) over a disagreement on the state of emergency declaration proposed by Thaçi, leading the parliament to take a no-confidence vote that felled the government.2 In the middle of all of this, Kurti sparred with U.S. Special Envoy Richard Grenell, who scolded him on Twitter for failing to unconditionally remove tariffs on goods from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia as part of an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia being brokered by the U.S. government. Grenell warned of a reduction in American assistance to Kosovo, while U.S. Senator David Perdue and Donald Trump Jr., son of U.S. President Donald Trump, raised the bar by declaring potential withdrawal of 700 U.S. troops stationed in Kosovo.3 In turn, Kurti accused Grenell of interfering in internal issues and of overthrowing his government.4 This feud escalated further in September, when Grenell accused Kurti of anti-Americanism, as the latter publicly declared that he did not support the eventual deal signed by his replacement, Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti (LDK), in Washington.5

The government formed around PM Hoti in June (with only the barest majority of 61 votes out of the 120-member Assembly) proved fragile and weak, and it had to contend with a dysfunctional parliament. At the beginning, the Hoti cabinet was mostly engaged in a gradual economic and social reopening of Kosovo after a two-month lockdown. These moves led to a spike in infection rates and an increase in the number of deaths, making Kosovo one of the deadliest countries in the world in August.6 Furthermore, the decision by the Ministry of Health to abrogate the Administrative Order that regulates the cost of medicine and medical supplies led to a complete deregulation of the pharmaceutical market, with prescription prices soaring through the roof amid the pandemic.7

As soon as the Hoti government was formed, members of parliament (MPs) from the now opposition VV party submitted a request to the Constitutional Court to review the vote cast for it by convicted MP Etem Arifi (Ashkali party).8 They pointed to a constitutional provision stating that an MP’s mandate becomes invalid if the MP receives a criminal conviction in the final instance and prison sentence of one or more years. Arifi’s conviction on fraud charges was confirmed by an appellate court and became final in August 2019, implying that his parliamentary mandate had been invalid well before his vote for the Hoti government.9 On December 21, 2020, the Constitutional Court upheld VV’s argument, invalidating the Hoti government’s election, and snap elections were declared by Thaçi’s replacement, Acting President Vjosa Osmani, to be held in February 2021.

This political turmoil created a serious challenge for the Assembly, which suffered from a constant lack of quorum and could not fully implement its legislative agenda and oversight role. No important initiatives were put forward, risking the progress of key reform processes, especially those related to European Union (EU) integration. Due to the lack of quorum, the draft law on Economic Recovery COVID-19,10 which aims to provide relief for businesses affected by the pandemic, passed the first reading only after six failed attempts.11 Both VV and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), the third-largest party in the parliament after VV and LDK, refused to vote on the draftlaw, arguing that it did not accurately reflect the actual needs of businesses.12 The draftlaw was finally approved on December 4 with 72 votes, including those of PDK.13 Similarly, implementation of an emergency package was delayed,14 preventing the provision of assistance to some groups of citizens until October. At the end of the month, the public was shocked by news that €2.1 million had been diverted from the state treasury to the accounts of a private firm.15 Money transfers were allegedly made by treasury employee Labinot Gruda to the Ministry of Infrastructure and from there to various economic operators. Investigative authorities later confirmed that several government officials were involved, and a certain amount of money had already been transferred abroad. Days later, a safe was stolen from the Food and Veterinary Agency.16

Kosovo’s poor track record of convictions in high-profile corruption cases, the lackluster fight against organized crime, and limited confiscation of illicit assets continued to harm the country’s rule of law efforts and undermined its credibility abroad in 2020. The Hoti government dismantled a number of initiatives aimed at bolstering the independence of Kosovo’s judiciary and tackling corruption. Similarly, the government dismissed the head of the police, the head of the tax administration, and the acting head of customs on the grounds of poor performance.17 This recurring practice of sitting governments dismissing heads of key institutions only to be replaced with politically or personally beneficial individuals has severely damaged Kosovo’s institutional stability over the years.

Delayed by the pandemic, local elections were finally announced and held in Podujeva and North Mitrovica on November 29, 2020. While the results did not bring any novelty in North Mitrovica—as Srpska Lista, representing Kosovo’s ethnic Serb population and closely tied to the Serbian government, won more than 89 percent of votes—in Podujeva, the situation changed dramatically. After 20 years of living under the administration of LDK, voters this time decided for the VV candidate, Shpejtim Bulliqi, for mayor. On a related note, Kosovo’s electoral reform process completely halted during the year.

In absolute alignment with the U.S. administration, Kosovo eventually undertook a decision to unconditionally withdraw reciprocity measures against goods from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. This paved the way to resume the talks with Serbia that were halted for nearly two years. On September 4, a postponed Washington meeting between Kosovo and Serbia finally took place, resulting in an agreement that was claimed to be historic but delivered no major breakthroughs.18 Rather, it was essentially a set of commitments to the U.S., not a bilateral agreement between the parties. Both countries signed separate agreements in the form of pledges to the U.S., which were in no way tied to a final, legally binding settlement. Among other things, Kosovo agreed to a one-year moratorium on membership in international mechanisms, and Serbia pledged to stop its ongoing diplomatic efforts to block Kosovo’s goal of statehood recognition.19

 
National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 2.50 / 7.00
  • The year 2020 was an extremely difficult and challenging year for Kosovo due to unprecedented political, constitutional, and health crises. Although the 2019 parliamentary elections reflected citizens’ demand for change in the political scene, with the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and Vetevendosje (VV) parties picking up the most support,20 the will of the voters was soon distorted in 2020.21
  • The latest Assembly—Kosovo’s unicameral, 120-seat parliament—was constituted in December 2019.22 However, the new government, led by Prime Minister Albin Kurti (VV), took office only in February 2020 due to extended consultations with coalition partner LDK.23 PM Kurti formed the smallest cabinet in Kosovo’s history, with only 15 ministries (compared to the previous 21), and 5 led by women, a record.24 This was one of the first governments whose formation did not depended on votes from the Srpska Lista. Kurti started his mandate with a commitment to pursue major reforms in rule of law, economic development, and reestablishing state separation of powers, among others.25 Some of the government’s first decisions included the dismissal of Publicly Owned Enterprise (POE) boards due to mismanagement and corrupt behavior (see “Corruption”), the establishment of a taskforce in charge of delivering a vetting proposal for judicial candidates (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”), and a decrease in public spending.26
  • However, PM Kurti’s government was the shortest-lived in Kosovo’s history, dismissed after only 51days in power.27 The coalition’s split began with a disagreement over imposing reciprocity measures against Serbia after dropping tariffs on Bosnian and Serbian goods in anticipation of a normalization deal.28 VV supported the move, but LDK opposed it despite its electoral promise.29 Against this backdrop, President Hashim Thaçi urged the parliament to declare a state of emergency on the COVID-19 pandemic despite only 19 confirmed cases in the country. Strongly opposed by Kurti (who feared handing his rival, Thaçi, enhanced powers under a state of emergency), the proposal was surprisingly supported by Internal Affairs Minister Agim Veliu,30 whom Kurti dismissed the next morning,31 leading to the no-confidence vote that brought down the government.32
  • A constitutional crisis followed as VV refused to suggest a new candidate for prime minister, arguing that a new government could be legitimately formed only after new elections, wherefore Thaçi started government-building consultations with other political parties.
  • In the meantime, Kurti continued to govern as a “caretaker prime minister.” In this capacity, he dropped tariffs on Bosnian and Serbian goods but imposed a series of reciprocity measures.33 He also continued to tighten COVID-19 restrictions while resisting the declaration of a state of emergency, despite the Constitutional Court’s undermining his ability to do so.34
  • Thaçi eventually offered a governing mandate to LDK, with Avdullah Hoti selected as the new PM candidate.35 VV challenged the president’s decree before the Constitutional Court, which later confirmed its constitutionality.36As a result, the new Hoti-led government was voted in on June 3by a tight majority of 61 MPs in the 120-member Assembly.37 VV then contested the votes of MPs Etem Arifi and Haxhi Shala38 before the Constitutional Court, given the former’s earlier criminal conviction and effective imprisonment rendering his vote invalid,39 and the latter’s claim that he was pressured to vote by a midnight visit from Thaçi and former PM Ramush Haradinaj, leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), whose party backed Hoti.40
  • Hoti’s cabinet was the second largest in the past 12 years, with 16 ministers and 46 deputy ministers.41 One of his first decisions was the unconditional withdrawal of the reciprocity measures against goods from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia,42 paving the way for the EU-facilitated dialogue with Serbia to resume once again after a pause of more than 20 months. This work, hosted in Brussels, continued across two levels, namely, the technical and the political. However, the dialogue was characterized by a complete lack of transparency and internal consensus as well as a poorly unified platform.43 The resumption of the bilateral dialogue was also accompanied by small episodes of a parallel dialogue facilitated by the United States.44
  • The U.S.-facilitated dialogue, which was to culminate in talks in Washington, was postponed due to a 10-count indictment filed against Thaçi and others for wartime-era alleged crimes against humanity at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in April, which was unsealed in June (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”).45 In November, Thaçi resigned in order to stand trial. As foreseen by Kosovo’s constitution, Vjosa Osmani, the Speaker of the Assembly, became acting president for a maximum of six months.46 This triggered a debate among political parties regarding the selection of the new president by the Assembly. The coalition parties spoke out in favor of selecting a new president in order to avoid elections.47AAK announced Haradinaj as their candidate for president and claimed it would only back his candidacy.48 VV, on the other hand, demanded elections, claiming that only a new parliament and a legitimate government should select the next president.49
  • In September, the U.S. government finally convened a summit between Hoti and Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić. The two leaders signed separate documents pledging to normalize economic relations but made no hard commitments to one another.50
  • The Assembly of Kosovo remained weak in exercising its oversight role, and its legislative agenda stood largely unfulfilled. As a function of the Hoti government’s minimal majority and constant lack of quorum, the Assembly failed to vote on important legislative initiatives that are considered crucial for economic recovery after the pandemic.51
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 3.50 / 7.00
  • The postponement of local elections due to COVID-19, combined with ongoing legislative changes to political party financing and an otherwise stalled reform effort, did little to address outstanding issues with Kosovo’s electoral framework in 2020.52
  • In terms of political party transparency and accountability, the Hoti government pushed forward a new draft law on the financing of political parties. The draftlaw addresses the views of the Venice Commission as well as civil society, particularly on abuse and clientelism, capping cash contributions, and enhancing oversight, all through new transparency standards. In October, the draftlaw was approved by the majority of MPs in the first reading in the Assembly.53 However, there is still opportunity for political parties to push for amendments that could undermine the bill’s goal of enshrining international best practices.
  • The practice of auditing political parties, for instance, has experienced significant stagnation. Parties incur much higher expenditures than the funds allocated to them each year from the state budget, which amount to around €4 million and are based on party representation in the Assembly for one term.54 Funding often comes from undeclared private donations, which may be linked to political favors. Given the many irregularities identified in the past, the auditing of political party financing remains a critical precondition for increasing transparency and accountability in Kosovan governance.
  • The overdue, pandemic-delayed extraordinary elections in Podujeva and North Mitrovica were finally held on November 29, 2020, following several postponements issued by President Thaçi.55The argument that elections in these municipalities would endanger the health of citizens was questionable, especially considering that elections were held in the neighboring countries of North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia despite similar situations with the pandemic. Residents in North Mitrovica were likewise allowed to vote in the Serbian elections during the same time.56 Shpejtim Bulliqi (VV) won in Podujeva with nearly 52 percent of votes, marking a historic win over LDK, which had governed this municipality for the whole of the postwar period.57As expected, the Srpska Lista candidate, Milan Radojevic, won the elections in North Mitrovica with 89.5 percent of votes.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 4.50 / 7.00
  • Civil society continues to play a fundamental role in key reform processes in Kosovo,58 acting independently and without institutional pressure. During the lockdown, civil society organizations (CSOs) positioned themselves at the service of institutions to support the response to COVID-19. During the pandemic, CSOs were extraordinarily active, rapidly resuming work via online means59 and implementing campaigns to raise awareness on critical issues, such as the unfortunate increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.60
  • In the early days of the pandemic, CSOs called for political unity in the country.61 They organized a series of symbolic actions with thousands of people banging pots and pans on their balconies to push their leaders to set aside narrow political interests and ensure citizens’ safety during the outbreak.62
  • CSOs also led the charge for an immediate institutional response to the impending economic crisis caused by the shutdown.63Among the solutions proposed were a solidarity fund, agreements to postpone loan payments, and measures to empower the private sector. Early on, PM Kurti posted a video on Facebook inviting the national Diaspora to support Kosovo in managing the pandemic by providing emergency funds.64 The response was dramatic and swift: in just two months, the appeal raised more than €720,000.65
  • Growing civic activism was evident during the year. In early January, a Facebook group gathered 27,000 citizens aiming to prevent construction of residences near Badovci Lake,66 the reservoir serving the capital Prishtina, claiming that this would violate the Law on Protection of the Environment. As a result, a criminal charge from a group of CSOs was submitted to the state prosecution.67A month after, then Minister of Infrastructure and Environment Lumir Abdixhiku announced that the planned development had been canceled, thus obviating the need for authorities to take up the charge.68
  • In late September, the government approved amendments to the draftlaw on religious freedoms in Kosovo, which acknowledges the Tariqat community as the sixth recognized religious group in the country.69 However, the law had not been adopted by year’s end.70
  • Amid the pandemic, under the slogan “I Do,” the LGBT+ community’s Pride Parade took place in Prishtina.71In order to prevent the spread of the virus, the parade was organized as a motorcade.72The legislative framework in Kosovo provides direct legal protection to LGBT+ people, however it continues to lack implementation in practice, with the community still marginalized to a large extent.
  • The continued top concern in the civic sector is its shrinking donor base, although there has been a slight increase in public funding for CSOs in recent years. Government institutions have stepped up their attempts to enhance cooperation with the sector, but further improvement is needed, specifically, in the transparency of CSO funding and cooperation at the local level.73
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.25 / 7.00
  • Kosovo has a diverse media environment consisting of 19 TV stations, 89 radio stations, 97 media service providers, and a growing digital sector. Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK) is the public broadcaster. In terms of language diversity, there are 14 TV stations broadcasting in Albanian and 5 in Serbian, while some also broadcast in other minority languages. Similarly, there are 59 radio stations in the Albanian language, 22 in Serbian, and 8 in the remaining minority languages. Only a few of the Albanian- and Serbian-language radio stations provide content in other minority languages, Turkish and Roma being the most common.74 In 2020, two new private TV outlets, Kanal 10 and ATV, joined the country’s media mix.
  • No progress was made on amendments to the Law on Public Broadcasting, currently stuck in the Assembly, which would clear the way for the sustainable financing of RTK. In 2020, the public broadcaster, in the spotlight for its political vulnerability75 and budgetary cuts,76saw the Assembly appoint five new board members for three-year mandates.77
  • One concern was the Assembly’s appointment of a new member to the Independent Media Commission, responsible for licensing broadcast media, who reportedly was recently active in the PDK. The law stipulates that candidates under consideration to serve on the commission should not be actively engaged in politics in the previous two years.78
  • Journalists in Kosovo continue to risk their safety in the exercise of their professional duties, as individuals face threats and assaults. In April, Tatjana Lazarević, a journalist from the KosSev news portal, was arrested while covering the medical center in the town of Zvečan under the justification that movement about town was prohibited, even though journalists could apply for an exemption from these lockdown restrictions.79 Two weeks later, the journalist and owner of Television Plus, Nenad Milenković, was physically attacked and injured by unknown assailants in the nearby town of North Mitrovica.80 Compared to 19 reported cases in 2019, there were 24 reported cases of physical and verbal attacks on journalists in 2020.81 Moreover, instances of party officials and businesspeople using insulting language and sparking physical violence through social media are not uncommon.82
  • Considering RTK’s dependence on the state budget and the general reliance on advertisements for funding, the work of independent media outlets in Kosovo is oftentimes susceptible to political leverage and potentially hampered by censorship. External donor support for independent media in the form of grants, often channeled through media-oriented CSO activity, has seen a welcome increase over the past years. This is aimed towards developing journalists’ online skills, advancing media literacy, and countering fake news.83 Since the eruption of COVID-19, disinformation has become an even larger issue of concern for the media sector in Kosovo.84
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 3.50 / 7.00
  • There was evident improvement in local-level performance and service delivery in 2020, although limited financial capacities persist in Kosovo.85The autonomy of municipalities is guaranteed by the constitution and the Law on Self Governance. In accordance with this legal framework, each municipality is managed by its elected mayor, and a municipal assembly decides on its regulatory issues. Municipalities’ administrative borders and functions are also set by this framework. Municipalities continue to be heavily dependent on disbursements from the central government. Another issue that undermines the local level is the complete lack of women in leadership, as none of the current 38 municipalities had a female mayor in 2020.86
  • Out of the total increase of state expenditures, about €57 million in additional funds were dedicated to budget increases at the municipal level. In total, the planned expenditures for funding of the municipal budget amounted to €569.9 million, providing significant support to the provision of better-quality municipal services.87At the same time, some public money earmarked for municipalities was redirected towards responding to the pandemic, and capital investments have been severely reduced. For example, €10 million from various ministries planned as new investment in infrastructure and urbanization was terminated due to COVID-19.88
  • In regard to the pandemic, 33 out of 38 municipalities allocated funds to fight the health crisis, with the capital Prishtina allocating the most funds.89Yet, small municipalities face big problems with the lack of transparency in procurement procedures and tenders, including those related to COVID-19.90
  • At the beginning of the pandemic, none of the municipalities were able to provide proper healthcare, and all services regarding COVID-19 were focused on the central level. With the severe increase in cases, the government decentralized healthcare and extended capacities and services at the regional level. As a result, all major regions were fully equipped to provide all necessary COVID-related services for their citizens. This considerably decreased the influx of patients and the demand for healthcare in Prishtina.91 Regional hospitals proved successful in managing their patient load, and only those with severe symptoms were transferred to the capital.
  • Despite being foreseen in the Law on the Capital City of the Republic of Kosovo, the creation of a special police unit for Prishtina has yet to occur.92Although the police unit of the Municipality of Prishtina was planned for 2019, administrative instructions related to its establishment had still not been promulgated by year’s end.
  • The issue of establishing the Association of Serb Municipalities (ASM)—which Kosovan authorities envision as a kind of advocacy vehicle but which the Serbian government views as a political body with its own competencies—has been brought up in the EU-led negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia. However, the question remained largely unanswered in 2020, with Serbia pushing forward to implement the association, and Kosovo considering it a closed topic.93
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 2.50 / 7.00
  • Kosovo’s efforts to ensure rule of law, judicial independence, and accountability fall short, with persistent political influence in the justice system. In 2020, the Kurti government undertook several initiatives towards ensuring rule of law, judicial independence, and fighting state capture. His Ministry of Justice (MoJ), supported by the international partners, established a vetting group of experts composed of civil society, academia, and both judicial and prosecutorial councils. The aim of this group was to design a proposal with concrete scenarios on how a vetting reform should be conducted.94
  • With the change of government, the concept of the vetting process was revised. The new justice minister decided to enlarge the group of experts, involving new actors such as international partners, as well as some judges and prosecutors who are expected to be subject to vetting.95As a result, most of the initial group members resigned claiming that the initiative had deviated from its original concept and aim. With this new approach, the vetting has been reframed as part of the overall justice-sector reform. In the past, such reforms have been envisaged but have never brought any tangible or fruitful results.
  • On the other hand, the Kosovo Judicial Council (KJC) launched the online Court Fee Calculator for determining fees and fines,96 and the Judicial Performance Dashboard aimed at increasing transparency in the judicial system.97 Meanwhile, in order to increase the efficiency of the Special Prosecution of the Republic of Kosovo (SPRK), the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council (KPC) has established three new offices in the SPRK: Department for Organized Crime, Department for Terrorism, and Department for Corruption and Financial Crime.98
  • From March 13 to June 1, the KJC reduced the activity of the judiciary overall due to the spread of COVID-19.99 Given the KJC decision and the preventive measures against COVID-19, no hearings on organized crime cases were held (see “Corruption”).100
  • In October, the U.S. Embassy101 and the EU Office102 withdrew from monitoring the appointments of new chief prosecutors (and KPC members) due to KPC’s refusal to acknowledge the applicability of the Law on Conflict of Interest on its own institution. Instead of guaranteeing minimum standards of transparency and accountability, and preventing conflicts of interest, the KPC has instead supported the resignation of three of its members three months before their mandates end (contrary to law), all three individuals now aiming to apply for the position of Special Prosecutor. This has harmed Kosovo’s standing and the legitimacy of the process.103
  • One recommendation emerging from the Functional Review of the Justice Sector104called for the establishment of a Commercial Court to properly address economic disputes in the country.105Thus far, such matters have been handled by the Basic Court in Prishtina, but both the Kurti and Hoti governments pushed for the creation of a Commercial Court. As a result, a draft law was prepared by the Hoti government that was still in parliamentary consultations at year’s end.
  • Three years after the establishment of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC), its registrar adopted Legal Aid Regulations in 2020 to set standards for defendants, which ensure compliance with fair trial principles as well as sound financial management of the legal aid scheme’s resources.106
  • In April, a 10-count indictment was filed by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) against President Thaçi, PDK leader Kadri Veseli, and other leaders of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).107Moreover, in September, the War Veterans Organization (OVL) received three packages of KSC files marked “confidential.”108 These materials have been sequestrated by the SPO and, on September 25, the OVL offices were raided and its leaders were arrested on suspicion of obstruction of justice.109 That same month, Salih Mustafa, a former insurgent commander, appeared before the KSC pursuant to an arrest warrant, transfer order, and confirmed indictment issued by a pretrial judge of the KSC.110
  • The indictments against Hashim Thaçi and others were confirmed on November 5, leading to the president’s resignation.111
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 2.25 / 7.00
  • Corruption remains widespread in Kosovo, and no concrete institutional efforts have been forthcoming to combat it.112 Although the legislation in force provides enough means to address corruption, the country’s institutions have failed to ensure proper implementation. The Kurti government made attempts at several concrete initiatives to combat corruption and political influence, but due to its short time in office, it failed to institutionalize them.113
  • By the end of October, two scandals had shaken the country.114 First, a total of €2.1 million was stolen from the Kosovo treasury. Four transactions were allegedly made by the treasury employee Labinot Gruda, who is suspected of having transferred the money from the treasury to the Ministry of Infrastructure, and from there to a number of alleged shell companies.115 Police authorities later confirmed that several officials were involved, and that a certain amount had already been transferred abroad.116Just days after, a300-kilogram safe was stolen from the offices of the Food and Veterinary Agency.117
  • In the early days of the Kurti government, several Publicly Owned Enterprise (POE) boards were dismissed on grounds of poor performance and mismanagement, including the Post Telecom and the Trepça mines, among others.118Temporary boards were immediately established, yet some of the members appointed were directly affiliated with the governing VV. Out of the 27 newly appointed professionals, four of them were also members of the VV party.119 Once the Hoti government took office, four temporary boards were dismissed.120
  • Another initiative undertaken by the Kurti government was a concept document on the confiscation of unjustifiable property as a key tool in the fight against organized crime and corruption.121However, this draft law did not make it into the Hoti government’s legislative program. Additionally, the Kurti government had annulled the recruitment process for the Notary Service, considering it illegal and unconstitutional122due to irregularities, lack of transparency, and credibility. Recent candidates who passed the notary exam were reported to have close family and political ties to particular parties.123
  • To further weaken joint institutional efforts in the fight against corruption, the Hoti government undertook a decision to abolish the Special Anti-Corruption Taskforce that operated under the Kosovo Police for more than ten years, a mechanism that played a crucial role in fight against corruption and whose efforts were recognized by international reports.124 The government disbanded the Taskforce arguing it was unconstitutional, only to later declare that a similar taskforce will be soon introduced but with a different set-up. This decision was highly criticized by civil society and international actors.125
  • The long-running saga of the “war veterans” scandal—involving high-level officials allegedly inflating the number of war veterans, including listing fake veterans—continued through 2020. The corruption case is far from being concluded and, as a result, the state continues to disburse financial resources to more than 20,000 allegedly unqualified veterans, overburdening the budget.126
  • Although high-profile convictions are rare in Kosovo, the Basic Court in Prishtina issued a conviction for the second time (since the Supreme Court ordered a retrial) in the corruption case involving former Lipjan mayor Shukri Buja.127 In May, the Special Prosecutor filed an indictment against 19 individuals for abuse of official position or authority, including former ministers and current MPs. The case concerns allegations of selling hydropower plants for far less than their worth during the privatization of the Kosovo Energy Corporation, with suspected damage estimated at €12 million. The case’s initial hearing had not yet been held by year’s end.128
  • The Supreme Court of Kosovo ordered a retrial of a case in which the Serious Crimes Department of the Basic Court in Prishtina confiscated €946,821 in an instance of large-scale money-laundering. This case represented one of the boldest court decisions in Kosovo, given the country’s weak track record of confiscating illegal assets. Unfortunately, the court found that the first and second instance judgments in the case were undertaken with essential violations of the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and violations of criminal law to the detriment of the accused.129
  • In other high-profile cases, such as the corruption trial of former mayor of Gjilan Qemajl Mustafa,130 there have been no court hearings scheduled at all, risking the statutory limitation of the case. The statute of limitations was reached for one indictment in the “Stenta 3” case131and two indictments in the “Fondi 3%” case.132
  • Corruption trials against judges Rafet Ismaili,133 Sali Berisha,134 and Kole Puka135 are being held in the Basic Court in Prishtina. However, a criminal case involving money laundering charges levied against Puka was dismissed from the Basic Court when the Appellate Court ordered a retrial.136
  • On October 9, Haki Rugova, mayor of Istog and a deputy chair of LDK, was arrested alongside another municipal official at the behest of the prosecution on suspicions of abuse of power, conflicts of interest, and document forgery.137

Author: Group for Legal and Political Studies (GLPS). The Group for Legal and Political Studies is an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit public policy organization based in Pristina, whose mission is to conduct credible policy research in the fields of politics, law, and economics, and to push forward policy solutions that address the failures and/or tackle the problems in these policy fields.

Lead GLPS contributors:

Dr. Arbëresha Loxha Stublla, Executive Director and Senior Research Fellow at GLPS. She holds both MA and PhD degrees in Economics from the University of Staffordshire, UK. Dr. Loxha has led dozens of research projects in Kosovo and abroad, and has taken part as a lead expert in testimonies for numerous institutions, government bodies, and international organizations based in Kosovo.

Njomza Arifi, Programme Manager at GLPS. Her work focuses on planning and deciding suitable strategies and objectives for the organization, research quality, seeking funding, and risk and resource management, among others. With more than 12 years of experience, Njomza was directly engaged in the strategic management and implementation of different major projects and initiatives for Kosovo institutions, international organizations, regional initiatives and civil society. Njomza has a BA in Business Administration and Management from the South East European (SEE) University in North Macedonia.

Footnotes

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