If the new Hague-based Special Court indicts senior politicians for war crimes and political killings, it could bring down Kosovo’s governing coalition and undermine the major parties, experts suggest.
|Isa Mustafa, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, and Kadri Veseli, leader of Democratic Party of Kosovo. Photo: Kallxo.|
The first indictments from the new Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague for crimes committed during and after the war in Kosovo, which are expected at the end of this year or early 2017, might not only spark calls for snap elections but could have a profound effect on the overall political scene in the country.
The primary targets of these indictments are expected to include a number of top officials from the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, who were part of the senior leadership of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, during the war.
In spite of scepticism regarding the efficiency of the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office and the Specialist Chambers – commonly known as the Special Court – local commentators believe that there is a possibility that Kosovo’s political scene will change, provided that justice is pursued independently and without political interference.
The indictments are likely to bring the governing coalition between the PDK and the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, to an end, since a number of cases may relate to political violence allegedly perpetrated during and after the war by the KLA against people who are now LDK officials.
“Indictments would destabilise the PDK,” Halil Matoshi, a political commentator from Pristina, told BIRN.
Widespread discontent within the LDK regarding its current marriage with PDK could also bring down the current LDK leadership in favour of those who opposed the coalition.
‘Campaign of persecution’
|David Schwendiman, the chief prosecutor at the new court. Photo: Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.|
According to a 2011 Council of Europe report, largely endorsed in 2014 by an investigation by the European Union Special Investigative Task Force, a number of unnamed KLA members were allegedly involved in a “campaign of persecution” against Serbs, Roma and Kosovo Albanians believed to be collaborators with the Belgrade regime.
The alleged crimes include killings, abductions, organ harvesting, illegal detentions, drug trafficking and sexual violence during and after the 1998-99 war between the KLA and Serbian forces.
The Council of Europe Report was mainly focused on the activities of the so-called ‘Drenica Group’, which allegedly consisted of the top KLA officials, including former prime minister and PDK leader and current president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, Kosovo Assembly chairman and current PDK leader, Kadri Veseli, and other senior PDK figures.
Both Thaci and Veseli have strongly denied the allegations.
Thaci has repeatedly said that both he and Kosovo have “nothing to hide”, while at the last Kosovo Assembly plenary session, Veseli called on “all witnesses to come forward”, saying that he and his party colleagues supported the establishment of the Specialist Chambers because it was in Kosovo’s interest.
The Law on the Specialist Chambers and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, mandated with the authority to prosecute and try cases “which relate to the  Council of Europe Assembly Report”, was enacted by the Kosovo Assembly in August 2015.
In addition, the law mandated the court to try cases of political violence targeting political opponents of the KLA leadership.
Various reports have claimed that there was an organized campaign of murders, abduction, illegal detention and torture targeting close associates of the former leader of the LDK and former president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, and KLA members loyal to him.
Implications for the PDK
|Kadri Veseli, the PDK leader, at a party rally in Pristina in April. Photo: Kallxo.|
A recent statement by Assembly chairman Veseli that early elections could be held if there is a consensus between Kosovo’s political parties was widely interpreted as a move linked to the expected indictments.
It is widely believed that a snap parliamentary vote before the first indictments are filed could serve as an insurance policy for the PDK, which according to opinion polls continues to hold the leading position on Kosovo’s political scene.
Local political commentators believe that the indictments would affect the PDK’s standing.
“[Indictments] would weaken the PDK, but would not eliminate it from the political scene,” Nexhmedin Spahiu, political commentator and director of Radio Mitrovica, told BIRN.
But if its officials are judged guilty by the new special court, it could threaten the party’s entire future.
“If the indictments are proven in the Specialist Chambers’ rulings, the PDK’s survival will be difficult, because no one will want to continue to identify with it,” Matoshi said.
Many in Kosovo believe that the recent plenary session of the Kosovo Assembly, which was called by the PDK to object to last week’s appeals court decision to upheld the verdict convicting ten former KLA fighters from Drenica of war crimes, showed cracks in the party ranks over the new special court.
“There will be huge disruption within the PDK, because an internal fight will begin, which was already seen in the recent debate… A fight about who belonged to who and who supported who will break out,” Matoshi argued.
“Ultimately, if the PDK leadership goes to The Hague, people will begin to abandon it, because it is in people’s nature to abandon what is being judged, especially if allegations against those indicted are upheld,” he added.
The legacy of political violence
|Monument to Ibrahim Rugova in Pristina. Photo: Drenice Spahija/Wikimedia.|
Apart from allegations about crimes against Serbs, Roma and Albanians alleged to be collaborators with Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, part of the scope of the special court’s jurisdiction is also politically-motivated murders committed from 1998 to 2001.
A number of LDK leader Ibrahim Rugova’s close associates were murdered or wounded in attacks during that period.
These included the attempted murder of LDK presidency member Sabri Hamiti in 1998 and the killing of Rugova’s close friend and ally, the LDK’s head of public information Enver Maloku, in 1999.
A number of senior LDK officials who were members of Kosovo’s parallel parliament under Serbian rule, including former president Fatmir Sejdiu, were held in detention in the KLA-controlled Drenica valley for a few days when they visited in spring 1998.
One of them, Gjergj Dedaj, head of the miniscule Liberal Party of Kosovo, said in a TV interview in 2011 that the detainees were personally interrogated by Hashim Thaci and that they were tortured while being questioned.
His allegations were made after being fired by Thaci from the post of deputy transport minister in 2010 two days after being appointed because of an alleged abuse of funds while he was minister of labour and social welfare.
Ahmet Krasniqi, defence minister in Rugova’s government in exile, was also shot dead in Tirana in 1998.
After the war, several senior KLA members loyal to Rugova and some of his closest allies were then killed or attempts were made on their lives.
They included Ekrem Rexha, alias Commander Drini, Tahir Zemaj, former MP Smajl Hajdaraj, Shaban Manaj, and Rugova’s closest friend and adviser, Xhemajl Mustafa.
Fetah Rudi, the former head of the LDK’s branch in Malisheva/Malisevo, was also shot immediately after the 2000 local elections and has remained paralysed as a consequence of his injury since then.
According to allegations made in a televised documentary called ‘Target LDK’, broadcast this week on Zona Express, around 100 LDK activists, officials and prominent supporters were abducted, murdered or wounded between 1998 and 2001.
Survivors and relatives of some of the victims said they believe the murders were carried out by KLA members.
Although none of these cases has seen indictments or trials so far, the LDK has continuously accused KLA political structures of being behind the murders – but in spite of this, its leadership has been in coalition with the PDK three times, mainly owing to Kosovo’s electoral system which does not allow any party to come close to a majority in the assembly.
In the case of an indictment related to politically-motivated murders, the LDK could also find itself in a similar position to the PDK, leading to internal conflict and the eventual break-up of the party.
“The leadership of the LDK and [opposition party] Vetevendosje will be affected by the Special Court even if none of its activists is indicted, because the position of a number of people in these parties depends on the power of the PDK,” Spahiu claimed.
“The PDK’s long standing in a position of power has given the PDK leverage and it has managed to create clientele-style relations with the leaders of rival parties,” he added.
Matoshi said that he believes that the ruling coalition could be threatened by any indictment, which would be followed by an internal squabble in the LDK.
“The ruling coalition will fall apart with the first indictments. Questions will be raised within the LDK, with the membership asking their leaders, ‘who got into bed with another party, whose main officials are accused of war crimes?’” he said.
Implications for the political scene
|Isa Mustafa and Hashim Thaci. Photo: Kallxo.|
Changes in Kosovo’s political scene are not easily achieved because the ruling parties have managed to establish strong clientele-style control over almost every sector in the country.
Corruption, nepotism and lack of proper governance have also stalled Kosovo’s economic and social development, while the lack of impact made by external justice missions, including those of the UN and the EU, have made many sceptical that the latest legal efforts can make much difference.
Many also believe that the ‘internationals’ in Kosovo have exploited the wrongdoings of top politicians to achieve their own ends, such as extracting concessions to Serbia.
On the other hand, the current political leaders are believed to have learned to use the language of democracy and human rights spoken by the internationals, making it seem to both that they are having their wishes accomplished.
“The extent to which the Special Court will influence Kosovo’s political scene depends on the scope of its activities. The wider the scope, the larger its influence will be,” argued Spahiu.
“If this court truly becomes functional and if it is guided by evidence and not by politics, and if it has sympathy for the victims and the will to do justice, then it would profoundly influence in Kosovo’s political scene, emphasising new values instead of the old ones – arrogance, aggression, ethnic cleansing and other people’s suffering as patriotic and heroic aims,” Matoshi said.
However, some still hold out hope that if some of Kosovo’s leaders are now indicted and tried, it will transform the political spectrum.
Berianё Mustafa, the daughter of former President Rugova’s murdered friend, Xhemajl Mustafa, said in the ‘Target LDK’ documentary that it could be the last chance for justice.
“The Special Court is our last hope,” she said. “Our only hope.”