Kosovo’s long arm on Macedonian crisis

In 2015, Kosovo lived its most important political crisis after it declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. The agreement with the Serbian Government for the creation of a Community of Serb Municipalities (Zajednica Srpskih Opština, ZSO) and for the modification of its borders with Montenegro set it off. Political oppositions fostered nationalistic feelings and the discontent due to the economic stagnation. The main opposition parties, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (Aleanca për Ardhmërinë e Kosovës, AAK), led by former Prime Minister Haradinaj, and Vetëvendosje! (LVV), indefinitely blocked the work of the Parliament and released teargas canisters inside the Parliament. In February 2016, Ramush Haradinaj, the former Prime Minister of Kosovo between 2004 and 2005 during the UN Administration, resigned his seat in the Parliament in dispute with the decisions of the Government and with its stonewalling methods.   

One month before, in January 2016, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, in office since 2006, had resigned after that a political crisis had overcome him and he had been alleged to have used the taps ordered by his cousin Sašo Mijalkov, the former head of the Macedonian intelligence agencies, for political purposes. The European Union mediated an agreement that should have brought to snap elections, but the situation is still chaotic and uncertain and Emil Ditriev has been interim Prime Minister for one year now.   

How the Kosovan ruling class was educated

A backwards step is necessary to understand political rivalries in Kosovo and the long arm on the crisis of the Macedonian institutions. First, our analysis should focus on the education that the Kosovan young ruling class, moulded by the independence war, received. The liberation movement grew around some paramilitary groups, such as the Kosovan Liberation Army, KLA, (Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës, UÇK) and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo (Forcat e Armatosura të Republikës së Kosovës, FARK) led by President Rugova who was dubbed “Gandhi of the Balkans”. Since the negotiations on the war in Kosovo, held in Rambouillet in 1999, young Hashim Thaçi had emerged as the charismatic leader of KLA and in 1999, he appointed himself as Prime Minister of Kosovo with the USA giving their support. After that, Thaçi became President several times until the last elections of February 2016.

Meanwhile, the Special Court has started investigating the crimes KLA committed between 1998 and 2001. The Court, construed according to the Kosovan legal system, has its seat in The Hague and is based on the brief by Swiss senator Dick Marty to the Council of Europe and on the European investigations on the so-called “Drenica’s group”, KLA’s faction led by Thaçi and charged for war crimes and crimes against humanity. And maybe the President himself was involved: the Marty brief defines Thaçi as one of the Kosovan key criminals and makes reference to some documents by the Italian, German, English and Greek intelligence agencies to support its theory.  

Most of Thaçi’s electors live in central-eastern Kosovo. During the war, Isa Mustafa, the current Prime Minister of Kosovo, and Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo (Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës, LDK) had connections with Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party, which controlled north-eastern Albania. Both Kosovo and northern Albania belong to the linguistic and tribal group of Ghegs, as opposed to southern Tosks, while Haradinaj’s supporters had connections with the Albanian Socialist Party led by Fatos Nano. The political rivalries resulted into clan feuds.

The Haradinaj family is headquartered in Glodjane, in that western part of Kosovo called Dukagjini or Metochia. On 6th May 1997, Ramush Haradinaj’s group fell into a Serbian ambush while carrying weapons from Albania to Kosovo and Ramush’s brother Luan was murdered. On 19th April 1999, another of Ramush’ brothers, Shkëlzen, was killed in a battle near Dečani.

On 24th June 1999, Daut Haradinaj, one of Ramush’s brothers, captured five fighters from KLA, the armed enemy faction, among whom there was a member of Musaj’s clan. The prisoners died and in 2002 an international Court sentenced Daut to five-year imprisonment. Meanwhile a feud between the two clans had exploded and in July 2000 Ramush was wounded in his face while with his men he was attacking Musaj’s house in Strellc, in western Kosovo. In 2004, Ramush was elected Prime Minister of Kosovo but after three months he resigned as he was charged for war crimes at The Hague. However, the ten prosecution witnesses died of a mysterious death and he was acquitted. The feud with Musajs climaxed in 2005 when some hired assassins murdered Enver Haradinaj, another of Ramush’s brothers.  

The relationship between Kosovan and Macedonian politics

Kosovan and Macedonian political situations have been mixing since the independence war. In the winter of 1998, KLA undertook with the USA not to spread the conflict to Macedonia and in exchange, it gained weapons from the US, German and Croatian intelligence agencies. However, in 2001, the ethnic conflict exploded in Albanian-speaking Macedonia and caused hundreds of dead in Tetovo and Kumanovo. The Ohrid Agreement of August 2001 put an end to the fights, but they resumed in 2015.

On 21st April 2015, at night, about forty veterans from KLA entered Macedonia from Kosovo and attacked the police station of Gošince. They pinioned the police agents at the borders and took rifles, machine-guns and other materials from the armoury. On 9th May, the Macedonian police responded with an operation in Kumanovo to find the weapons stolen in Gošince: the clashes lasted two days and eight men of the Macedonian Special Operations Forces and ten rebels were killed. Twenty-eight survivors were arrested: eighteen of them were Kosovan citizens, while the other ten were ethnic Albanian citizens of Macedonia. The ten dead were all Kosovan.

Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the Albanian-speaking party in Macedonia, admitted that during the terrible fights one of the rebels had phoned him to ask for a safe corridor to Kosovo. In addition, he said that some months before he had sent some members of his team to Kosovo to dissuade certain people from starting a new conflict.

The fragile prospects

Many clues are pointing to Ramush Haradinaj, despite his absolute denials. The dead rebels of Kumanovo included Xhafer Zymberi, the former candidate for the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo at 2014 elections, Mirsad Ndrecaj, dubbed “NATO commander”, who is with his friend Ramush on several pictures, and Beg Rizaj, dubbed “Begu”, his former bodyguard. Among the survivors, some historical men of Kosovan KLA, such as Muhamed Krasniqi, Sami Ukshini and Deme Shehu, who were all from western Kosovo and who were in the army with Daut Haradinaj.

Therefore, it is difficult to believe that Prime Minister Gruevski hatched a plot to take people’s mind off the political crisis, as some argue. Veterans, who would have hardly sold themselves, formed the group of Kumanovo and they were possibly deceived with the prospect that the separatist movement could take advantage of the chaos in Macedonia. Skopje is the seat of the trial for terrorism brought against the survivors. Prosecutors must find out who are the instigators of the failed riot and must clarify who is responsible for jeopardising Macedonian weak balance.   

Kosovan political class has unclear connections with crime and subversive groups. The trial for war crimes could overcome President Thaçi himself: special prosecutor David Schwendiman in March maintained that the President of Kosovo is not immune from prosecution for violations of International Humanitarian Law. Therefore, the nationalistic opposition and its tough behaviour against Serbia could prevail in Kosovo. However, if Ramush Haradinaj seized power again, he could be investigated for the clashes in Kumanovo and further instability could strike Skopje and Pristina, with consequences all over western Balkans.