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A Sculpture in Kosovo That Tracks a Country’s Struggle

The “Newborn” monument in Pristina, Kosovo, was unveiled on Feb. 17, 2008, the day that the country declared independence from Serbia. The “B” has been changed to a 1 to mark the 10th anniversary.CreditCreditValerie Plesch for The New York Times

PRISTINA, Kosovo — A decade ago, Fisnik Ismaili designed a sculpture to celebrate Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia: It was a word, “Newborn,” in 10-foot letters, painted a garish yellow. He did not have the cash to pay the metalworkers who built it, so he left his car and house keys as a deposit.

On the evening that the sculpture was unveiled in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, more than 150,000 people signed it. “That moment felt larger than life,” Mr. Ismaili said recently, in a cafe just yards from the sculpture. “People kept coming, climbing it, writing on it. It went on for hours and hours.”

Mr. Ismaili, now 45, signed it for more than 30 friends who could not make the independence celebrations. He wrote a message to his girlfriend, too. Then he added, “Thank God it’s over” to the “B” — referring to both Kosovo’s long road to independence and to the sleepless nights Mr. Ismaili had endured while preparing the sculpture.

Fisnik Ismaili in the offices of the advertising agency in Pristina where he is the creative director.CreditValerie Plesch for The New York Times

“At that moment, we were extremely hopeful — everyone was,” Mr. Ismaili said. “You should have seen the faces of everyone: 99 percent were crying.”

But, Mr. Ismaili added, “The feeling didn’t last long.”

After the unveiling on Feb. 17, 2008, “Newborn” quickly became a symbol of Kosovo. It appeared on the front page of The New York Times the day after; in 2012, Rita Ora, the Kosovar-British pop star, danced on it in a music video.

But since the sculpture’s inauguration and Kosovo’s declaration of independence, economic and political progress has frustrated many in the country. Corruption is a major problem, and a border with Serbia still has not been agreed on.

Mr. Ismaili’s sculpture has tracked that history, good and bad.

In 2016, for instance, he covered it with clouds, but also painted barbed wire around the letters — a statement about the difficulty Kosovars had getting visas to enter most of the rest of Europe (Mr. Ismaili promised politicians he would paint scissors cutting the wires if the visa rules were relaxed. They weren’t).

Crowds celebrated Kosovo’s declaration of independence around the “Newborn” sculpture in February 2008.CreditVisar Kryeziu/Associated Press

 

The following year, he painted bricks on the letters, knocked the “N” and “W” over, then wrote the words “No walls” between them in a response to efforts to build a wall through Mitrovica, an ethnically divided town in the north of the country.

“Every time I paint it, I want to give it a message,” he said.

In its current form, that message is optimistic: The letter “B” has been replaced by the number “1,” making a 10 to celebrate the years since Kosovo’s declaration of independence. But Mr. Ismaili initially wanted even this to have a political message. “I wanted to make it a mirror — ‘Time to reflect’ — but I couldn’t find a single company here who paints chrome,” he said.

Mr. Ismaili is the creative director of an advertising agency and an opposition member of Kosovo’s Parliament. He does not seem to be afraid of expressing his views — his Twitter bio starts with the word “arrogant.” He grew up “slightly privileged” in Pristina when it was part of Yugoslavia, he said: His father ran Kosovo’s central bank and was president of Pristina’s soccer club.

In 1991, he left for London to avoid being recruited into the Yugoslav Army as the country split apart (there was fighting in Croatia after that country declared independence that year, and the war in Bosnia was on the horizon). “Police would stop you in the street and you’d find yourself on the front line. I had a friend who lost his life like that,” Mr. Ismaili said.

Volunteers painting the flags of countries that recognized Kosovo’s independence on the monument in 2013.CreditVisar Kryeziu/Associated Press

In London, he studied multimedia computing, then worked for some major advertising agencies, but when the war started in Kosovo in the late 1990s, he looked to join the rebels. Eventually, he went to Kosovo and served three months in the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Mr. Ismaili’s initial plan for “Newborn” was to preserve it with the graffiti from the night it was unveiled. But people kept on signing, so he decided to repaint it every year on the anniversary of the declaration of independence, starting by painting the flags of countries that had recognized Kosovo as a sovereign nation.

Mr. Ismaili’s plan did not initially succeed. The government refused to let him touch the sculpture, he said, claiming that it would destroy the authenticity of the artwork.

The sculpture went unchanged for five years, until it became so dirty that the city authorities had to repaint it. Mr. Ismaili was unimpressed. “Even the yellow they used was different,” he said. That night he went on Facebook and asked for volunteers to help paint the flags. Two days later, 150 people turned up to help. “At times, I thought they were going to arrest me for doing this without asking anyone, but when they saw how beautiful it was looking, no one bothered us,” he said.

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In 2016, “Newborn” was painted with clouds and barbed wire around the letters — a statement about the difficulty Kosovars had getting visas to enter most of the rest of Europe.Creditvia Karrota

With the help of volunteers, he has repainted it every year since. “There’s been times in the last few years — many times — that I just wanted to paint it black. Just to send a message that this situation is so bad,” he said. He once even bought the paint and loaded it into his car. “What stopped me was the fact it’s not mine. I don’t own this.”

The grievances that test the patience of Mr. Ismaili show no sign of letting up. In 2015, Kosovo reached a deal to give around 20,000 acres of land to neighbouring Montenegro to end a border dispute. Mr. Ismaili reacted by setting off tear gas in Parliament. He was jailed for 16 days, then held for two months under house arrest. A potential land swap with Serbia, which would be much bigger, has been discussed this year, much to Mr. Ismaili’s disgust.

Not everyone in Kosovo is happy about Mr. Ismaili’s control of the sculpture. “He should leave it to the public or street artists to do what they want with, to say what they need,” Dardan Zhegrova, a local artist, said.

Street artists once turned the “B” into a “P” so the sculpture read “Newporn,” Mr. Zhegrova pointed out. “It’s good to let things like that happen,” he said. “Don’t institutionalize it.”

Mr. Ismaili says he loves that people add graffiti to the sculpture — even if the messages can be rude: “I’m surprised there aren’t more,” he said, adding that he wanted to create a system to allow ordinary Kosovars to suggest ideas for repainting it.

But, for now, he said, he would do what he always does: sit down about five days before the independence anniversary, and hope an idea comes.

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Kosovo turns to US after World Bank dumps coal plant

Prime minister Haradinaj met with US officials to discuss backing for project the World Bank recently said was uncompetitive with renewables

The offices of Kosovo’s economic development ministry in Prishtina (Photo: Karl Mathiesen)

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Kosovo has turned to the Trump administration for help to build a coal-fired power plant after losing the backing of the World Bank.

This month, the World Bank withdrew a loan guarantee offer for the Kosovo e Re lignite burner – the last new coal plant it was considering support for – on the grounds that it was uncompetitive with renewable energy.

But after waiting more than a decade, the Kosovan government is intent on finding a new partner.

On 28 September the government took that search to Washington DC. Kosovo’s prime minister Ramush Haradinaj and economic development minister Valdrin Lluka met with top officials from the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic).

An agenda for Haradinaj’s trip, posted on the Ekonomia Online news site, listed the meeting and its subject: financing for the planned Kosovo e Re plant, its “positive environmental impact” and plans for the nearby lignite mine.

World Bank broke own rules as coal mine left Kosovo village “in limbo”

Neither Opic nor the Kosovan government disputed the description posted online. Both refused to comment on the outcome of the meeting.

Opic spokesperson Andrea Orr said the agency “meets regularly with government officials in the countries where we work and these meetings can cover a range of subjects. We do not disclose specific details of these discussions”. The Kosovan government declined to answer questions.

In July, James Jay Carafano, a foreign policy vice-president at the Heritage Foundation, travelled to Kosovo and met with Lluka. He also hosted prime minister Haradinaj and Lluka at the foundation headquarters in Washington on the same day they met with Opic.

“They are banking on [Opic] for some of the funding for the power plant,” Carafano told Climate Home News.

Opic is a public agency that provides finance and other support to US businesses seeking to invest in emerging markets. The company building the Kosovo plant is a London-listed energy company ContourGlobal, which is mostly owned by US investment fund Reservoir Capital Group. CountourGlobal has received financing from Opic for previous projects.

Present at last month’s meeting were Opic’s vice-president overseeing structured finance and insurance Tracey Webb, managing director of Middle East, North Africa and Turkey operations Danielle Montgomery, a director in charge of new financings, Maria Goravanchi, and J. Deaver Alexander, an advisor who recently joined Opic from the oil and gas industry.

The US intervention in Kosovo’s war is celebrated in statues and street names in Prishtina. But a decade after independence the country remains an economic struggler (Photo: Karl Mathiesen)

Among several consortia bidding for contracts on the Kosovo plant is US company General Electric. Other bidders include Chinese, Korean and Japanese companies, indicating other public finances could support the plant.

“We expect the financing package to come from a mix of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and export credit agencies,” ContourGlobal CEO Joe Brandt told Reuters this month. The company says construction will begin in early 2019, although no financial backer has so far been confirmed.

World Bank dumps Kosovo plant, ending support for coal worldwide

Kosovo’s energy sector is bedevilled by geography and two decades lost to war and stuttering reconstruction. Coal, burned in two Tito-era plants, is the source of 98% of the country’s electricity. The country has enormous reserves of lignite, the most polluting form of coal.

The new Kosovo e Re plant has been central to the tiny country’s planning since before its independence in 2008. Leaked US diplomatic cables describe a 2006 meeting at which a World Bank official and government minister celebrated the bank’s willingness to help build the plant with champagne.

In the decade since, the World Bank has soured on coal. But its commitment to underwrite Kosovo e Re remained steadfast until this year. In June, bank officials flew to Kosovo, apparently to inform the government that an expert review had concluded that replacing the nearly 50-year-old Kosovo A plant with renewable energy had become a cheaper option.

Karl Mathiesen

@KarlMathiesen

5/ The corridors in the administrative building behind the boiler room

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Karl Mathiesen

@KarlMathiesen

6/ On the floor of one of the biggest point sources of toxic pollution in Europe pic.twitter.com/P5ncfK28a6

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Orr said Opic also develops projects “that address the country’s energy needs in a cost-efficient manner”.

“Opic will consider the full spectrum of energy projects, including coal-fired power plants, and evaluate those against its long-standing environmental and social policies to determine if the project makes sense for Opic support,” she said.

Heritage’s Carafano has advocated for the Trump administration to support the plant in Kosovo, which he views as a strategically-located security partner. The Western Balkans were an area of Europe Russia could “destabilise”, he said.

“I think that US policy in general has been to use Opic more as a geostrategic instrument,” he said. “Rather than opening up Starbucks in Brazil, they are projects where it’s going to have strategically relevant impacts to the US.”

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is the environmental story of 2018.

No-one is better positioned than CHN’s Fabiano Maisonnave to cover the impact of his near-certain presidency on the world’s most important forest. We are the only international news site with a correspondent living in the heart of the Amazon. You can read some of the great reporting Fabiano has already done for us here.

We know we need to keep on this story, but after a huge 2018 and with the biggest UNFCCC talks in years approaching, our resources are really stretched. Please help us to keep Fabiano writing by making a small donation through our Patreon account.

Kosovo is potentially a candidate to join Nato and, following Haradinaj’s meetings in Washington, the country voted to establish a national army.

The country is also seeking EU membership. Green groups have raised concerns a new coal plant would make it difficult for Kosovo to meet EU emissions requirements if it did join the bloc. Kosovo is already a contracting party to the pan-European Energy Community, which has raised concerns that ContourGlobal’s contracts with the Kosovo government breach state aid rules.

Last week, president Donald Trump signed off on a major restructure of US overseas aid that will see Opic subsumed into a larger organisation – the International Development Finance Corporation. Orr said that project assessments would not change during the transition period.

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Argentinian Busking His Way Around the World

Matias spent a week in Prishtina as part as his world travels, before heading to Montenegro, then Albania and across to Italy.

JLC/FOK

US-backed Kosovo land-swap border plan under fire from all sides

It may ease their way into the EU, but ethnically homogeneous states are a recipe for disaster. I know from my family history

Agron Bajrami

The Balkans are boiling again. This time it’s because speculation is rife that Kosovo and Serbia may finally end their dispute and normalise their relations. Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi, and his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vučić, are said to be close to an agreement that would help stabilise the Balkans and open the doors for both countries to join the European Union. Negotiations are happening under the mediation of the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Ten years after Kosovo declared its independence, the last chapter of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia would be closed.

It sounds like a fairytale. Two leaders who were on opposing sides in the 1998-1999 war that left thousands of Kosovar civilians killed, tens of thousands of homes burned and destroyed, more than a million people expelled and displaced – and which ended only after Nato intervened – would have suddenly conquered their hatreds and enmities for the sake of a better future for their people. A breakthrough at last?

On the contrary, it could turn into a nightmare. The deal under consideration is sometimes called a “border correction”, or an “exchange of territories”. Neither Thaçi nor Vučić have given much detail, but it seems that the agreement would see part of Kosovo’s northern territory, with a majority Serb population, joining Serbia; meanwhile part of southern Serbia, a region commonly known as Preshevo Valley, whose population is majority Albanian, would join Kosovo.

This land swap would result in fewer Serbs living in Kosovo and fewer Albanians in Serbia. Both countries would become more “ethnically pure”. Many people would have to leave their family homes and birthplaces. In short, there would be an exchange of populations, not just territories.

Why would Brussels even entertain the notion of supporting a plan that so deeply contradicts European values?

Charles Kupchan, former adviser to Barack Obama and now a professor at Georgetown University, has described the tentative plan as “peaceful ethnic cleansing”. Supportive of the land-swap idea, he believes “pragmatism needs to trump principle”. I beg to differ.

Creating ethnically homogenous territories and states (in short, getting rid of minorities) is hardly a new idea. In Kosovo, throughout history, it’s happened many times. And it has always left deep wounds that simply won’t heal. Almost every Kosovar has family stories to vouch for this. Here are mine.

The first goes back to the dying years of Ottoman rule in the Balkans. In 1877-8, my mother’s family was among tens of thousands of Albanians expelled from their homes in the village of Berjan i Poshtëm (Donje Brijanje in Serbian), located in today’s southern Serbia. Even now, during family gatherings, elder cousins recall the stories their grandfathers told – of houses, fields and graves they had to leave behind. Their expulsion was ethnic cleansing, made irreversible by the 1878 Congress of Berlin.

Another family story is from my late paternal grandfather. As a child, I would watch his tearful eyes and hear his deep voice trembling while he recalled a night in 1927 when he, his father and his elder brother had to leave their house and pastry shop in the town of Pravishte – now Eleftheroupoli, in eastern Greece. It happened as a consequence of a Greco-Turkish Lausanne agreement on population exchange. This was not their homeland, but it was all they had to provide for the family back in Kosovo. They were given only a few minutes to pack, there was no violence, everything was peaceful, as my grandfather would describe, years later. But it was ethnic cleansing, nonetheless.

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Supporters of the Kosovo Self-Determination Party hold a banner reading ‘no bargaining on national lands’ during a protest against Thaçi’s proposal. Photograph: Petrit Prenaj/EPA

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Just a few minutes to leave was also what many Kosovar Albanians were given by Serb military and security forces, in March 1999, when Slobodan Milošević’s campaign of ethnic cleansing was in full swing. It was repressive, violent, bloody and criminal. Many were killed, most were expelled. Over a million people were turned into refugees, including almost all my mother’s family, descendants of those expelled from southern Serbia, 120 years earlier – as were many relatives on my father’s side, descendants of those who’d had to abandon the pastry shop in eastern Greece. I ended up as a refugee myself, in Macedonia. We were all victims of ethnic cleansing, and it took Nato’s intervention to reverse that.

I don’t think those supporting the Kosovo-Serbia land-swap idea aren’t aware of the risks. They just ignore the obvious. Ethnic cleansing is a crime, peaceful or not. Apart from being morally unacceptable and ultimately anti-European, the plan would also cause huge, long-term political and security instability across the entire region. If Kosovo and Serbia are allowed to swap territories and people, how could that be denied elsewhere? Many communities in the region dislike the state they live in: Serbs and Croats in Bosnia, Muslims in Serbia, Albanians in Macedonia, or even Hungarians in Slovakia and Turks in Cyprus.

That’s why many oppose the “solution” that is seemingly under consideration. In Kosovo, the land swap has been rejected by a majority of parliamentary parties as well as by the governing coalition. Kosovo’s status and borders derive from its independence in 2008, based on a plan proposed by the former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari. That solution was found by the international court of justice to be in accordance with the law.

The border deal is also unacceptable for many western countries – notably Germany and the UK. Angela Merkel has made clear she rejects any border changes in the Balkans. “This has to be said again and again, because again and again there are attempts to perhaps talk about borders, and we can’t do that,” she warned in August.

So the real question for the EU is this: why would Brussels even entertain the notion of supporting a plan that so deeply contradicts European values, that is rejected by European capitals, and unwanted by most people on the ground? Federica Mogherini can and should provide some answers.

 Agron Bajrami is editor in chief of Koha Ditore, Kosovo’s leading newspaper

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Four Islamists arrested in Kosovo planning an attack in Belgium

Three men and a woman are suspected in the Kosovar capital Pristina of planning Islamist attacks. Not only would they have targeted a Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo, but according to the indictment they also had plans for attacks in Belgium and France. Two of the four also have a Belgian passport.

The arrest of two people was already announced at the beginning of June. Since then, two more people have been arrested, and the whole group is now under suspicion. The French press agency AFP was able to inspect the deed of indictment.

The attack on a church in the Kosovar city of Mitrovica was the most concrete plan. That attack was thwarted by the arrest, as is stated in the indictment. In addition, there would also have been plans for attacks in two discotheques in the Serbian enclave of Gracanica and an attack against the NATO force in Kosovo (KFOR). There are also plans for attacks in France and Belgium, but without further specification.

The 26-year-old Bujar B. was arrested in September. He is considered the leader. He would have stated during the investigation that the intention was to “attack groups of people who came together for religious festivals”.

Bujar B. also has Belgian nationality. The same applies to the 26-year-old Gramos S., who was arrested in June. The 25-year-old Edona H. and the 26-year-old Resim K. were arrested that month.

According to the indictment, Bujar B. would also be one of the organizers of a thwarted attack against the Israeli national football team during a match in Albania in November 2016. In the meantime, eight other Islamists were convicted. They received cell sentences of up to ten years.

By mtm

Protesters decry high number of workplace deaths in Kosovo

Protesters marching through Mother Teresa Boulevard. | Photo: Plator Gashi

With 93 yellow hard hats, each representing a lost life, protesters in Prishtina demanded a halt to workplace deaths in Kosovo and better conditions for workers overall.

Bearing numbered safety helmets, a few dozen protesters marched through Mother Teresa Boulevard to the government building in Prishtina, demanding improved working conditions on construction sites, and accountability for the 93 recorded cases of workplace deaths in the country in the past five years.

Called “The buildings are yours, the lives are ours,” the protest concluded with participants placing all the helmets on the guard rails that surround the government building.

“And if the government, or somebody else, decides to remove the helmets without our permission, they can be considered collaborators with the people responsible for these cases,” said Kushtrim Mehmeti, organizer of the protest, who emphasized that helmets will be added to for every future case.

Mehmeti, who is part of Beyond the Wall, an NGO based in Skenderaj that focuses on civic activism, said that the protest aims to convey the miserable conditions that workers deal with in Kosovo, and voice that there has been no progress towards solving the problem.

“As long as there is no result, something is going wrong. I request all people that are responsible for these deaths that they do something,” he said. “We’re in October, and 18 individuals have died [this year], and by December we may have [a statistic of] two deaths per month. I do not know how 2019 will be.”

He said that one of the most noteworthy shortcomings is the low number of inspectors who evaluate whether workplace conditions are up to par. According to Mehmeti, inspectors also often fall prey to bribery, which hinders improvement.

“One of the most concerning things is that the number of inspectors is 42. With 42 inspectors, they aim to cover the whole of Kosovo. We demand that there are more inspectors before 2019, and have more security for inspectors when they go and do their job, they shouldn’t be bought with a lunch, or a hamburger,” Mehmeti said.

Helmets near the Kosovo government building. | Photo: Kallxo

Jusuf Azemi, head of Independent Syndicate of the Private Sector of Kosovo, said that country has had the highest number of workplace deaths in the region in the past years.

“Every year we have a tremendously high growth [in workplace deaths]. Most of them didn’t even have work contracts, and as such they have no institutional support,” he said.

Azemi said that, despite the presence of the Law on Labor in Kosovo, it is oftentimes not respected, and that institutions fail to open their ears to the advice and suggestions of the syndicates.

“We have said it before, our workers are being treated like slaves. I am convinced that in other countries in the region or elsewhere, if they had this figure, the minister [of labor] and maybe even the prime minister would recognize that these are human lives and we are losing them because we are not careful,” he said.

He said that change is only possibly through direct actions from responsible institutions, and that there are few positive signs of change at the moment.

“We receive the cases, we talk about it for a few days and we forget them. The worst is that many of them are breadwinners, and when their life ends, their families in a way also lose the right for social assistance, cases happen and we do nothing about them,” he said.

“We have followed these cases, and if they are won in court, they only got a symbolic sum of support and everything ends with that.”

Mehmeti invited protestors to join future gatherings in support of workers in Kosovo, saying that they will be more assertive.

“I say that this is a war situation, 18 people die in 10 months, something is not going well, I do not know why they consider this normal, and it is an extraordinary situation,” he said. I do not think that our future actions will be as peaceful as the one today, they will become rougher, and we ask that our lives are protected.”

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Gallery: Kosovars celebrate country’s second pride parade

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In photos: Music, dance and rainbow flags accompany citizens in Prishtina’s centre as they march for the country’s second ever pride parade on Wednesday.

Hundreds of citizens from Kosovo and the region gathered in the centre of Prishtina for the country’s second pride parade on Wednesday, marking the end of Pride week’s events organised by the Centre of Equality and Liberty for LGBT in Kosovo, CEL.

Waving scores of rainbow flags, activists and allies of the LGBTQ+ community convened at Skenderbeu Square, making their way down Nene Tereza Boulevard, chanting the slogan of this year’s parade, “in the name of freedom,” as they reached Zahir Pajaziti Square.

Lendi Mustafa, activist from the LGBTQ+ community in Kosovo, said that the aim of the parade is to increase the visibility of this community’s members, and appealed for institutions to recognise the issues that this community deals with.

“Today, in the name of freedom, we invite all state institutions to not deny our identity, to offer equal opportunities and fulfil their responsibilities regarding human rights in order to work towards a diverse society,” he said.

He said that another goal of the parade is to represent individuals who cannot enjoy a decent life because of the pressure they face in relation with their sexual identity.

“We came together to show that we are becoming empowered, and we have hope that we will enjoy demands, we will remain united until the end. We will be your voice,” Mustafa said.

According to Blert Morina, director of CEL, the title of this year’s parade was chosen because “being a member of the LGBTI community in Kosovo means that you’re going to face double discrimination, social pressure, most of the time institutional discrimination so it’s important to talk and see what could be done better.”

This is the second parade that has been held in the capital for LGBTQ+ pride, but it is not the second time that LGBTQ+ activists have marched in Kosovo. Before 2017, activists organised a number of marches marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, IDAHOT.

Among the participants this year were Mayor of Prishtina Shpend Ahmeti, Minister of European Integration Dhurata Hoxha, several members of the Kosovo assembly and representatives from foreign embassies.

After a public invitation, Adelina Ismajli, a famous pop star who has been prominent in Kosovo’s mainstream music scene since the 1990s, joined the parade just minutes after one of her songs was played through the speakers, wearing the rainbow flag and greeting enthusiastic fans.

Serbian president arrives in Moscow after Kosovo border crisis

Serbian president arrives in Moscow after Kosovo border crisis

Days after placing the Serbian military on high alert over a border incident with Kosovo, President Aleksandar Vucic is visiting Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

While Vucic said the situation with the incursion of Kosovan commandos would be part of the discussion with Putin, the Kremlin stressed that the visit had been planned months ahead and was not directly linked to tension in the Balkans. Vucic last visited Russia in May during Victory Day celebrations and, before that, in December last year.

Last Saturday, dozens of Kosovan troops entered a predominantly Serb enclave in the north of the self-proclaimed republic, seizing several industrial sites. The incursion, which violated agreements between Belgrade and Pristina, was justified by security concerns during a visit by Kosovan leader Hashim Thaci. Serbia protested against the move and put its troops on high alert in response.

The conflict over the incursion may have since calmed down, but the potential for any such incident to escalate into outright violence should not be underestimated, according to RT political analyst Aleksandar Pavic. This is especially the case since it happened amid attempts by Vucic to negotiate a deal with Kosovo, which is not recognized as a sovereign nation by Serbia and Russia. His willingness to change that has little support at home, and Russia clearly said that it will only back a decision that is approved by the Serbian people.

If a deal emerges, “Serbia will be crippled and divided within, because most of the Serbian public is against the partition,”said Pavic. “It is a very delicate issue for both the Serbian president and the Russian president.”

Also, he added that if the status of Kosovo as a sovereign nation is consolidated by Serbia’s recognition, the likely result would be Kosovo becoming part of Albania, a NATO member, and Moscow sees NATO as hostile to Russia.

Pavel Kandel, an expert on ethnic conflict with the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences said the saber-rattling is little more than PR exercise by both parties.

“Thaci, whose position in Kosovo has been weakened, really needed to demonstrate how tough he is, how he is in control of the situation and can even travel to the north of Kosovo and take troops with him. The same goes for the Vucic and his army-rallying. He had to demonstrate he is a tough guy too,” he told RT.

He said the Serbia-Kosovo deal was pretty much derailed by the Kosovan side’s lack of flexibility.

“I believe Vucic would be prepared to recognize Kosovo’s independence in exchange for Serbian membership in the EU, but he needed it to be a sort of a compromise. But the Albanians [in Kosovo] are not willing to concede anything to save Vucic’s face.”

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Serbia puts military on high alert over incident involving ‘Kosovo special forces’

Serbia puts military on high alert over incident involving ‘Kosovo special forces’

Serbian armed forces were put on the highest combat readiness after Kosovo’s Special Forces made their way into a Serbian enclave in the self-proclaimed state on Saturday.

Some 60 ROSU troops arrived on the territory of a Serbian autonomous region in the northwestern part of the area claimed by Kosovo, in violation of the agreements between Belgrade and Pristina.

The Kosovar special forces positioned itself around the dam on Gazivoda Lake and took control of the local hydroelectric power station, detaining several Serbian citizens. They also entered the Center for Ecology and Sport Development in Zubin Potok, Marco Duric, director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija in the Serbian government, said.

The Kosovar troops were sent to the Serb-populated area in order to provide security during a boat trip to northern Kosovo by the self-proclaimed state’s leader, Hashim Thaci, he added.

Thaci, who is facing protests in Pristina over the possible land swap with Belgrade, made a visit to Gazivoda on Saturday that was labeled a “PR-stunt” by Boris Malagurski, a film director and political commentator.

“The reason why he went there on Saturday was because the movement, called Self-Determination, had huge protest in Pristina and he tried to drag away attention from that and show that he is very powerful and can go wherever he wants,” he said.

Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic, has ordered the country’s armed forces to be on the highest combat alert in response to the incursion, with the measure still being in place. Serbian Interior Minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, described the incident as an “Albanian attack” in the country’s Kosovo and Metohija.

Pristina dismissed the claims of occupying the area and said there were no arrests carried out, according to the local deputy police commander, Besim Hoti. The troops were at Gazivoda for a “single visit,” he told RTS.

ROSU servicemen withdrew from the dam at around 16:10 local time (14:10 GMT) as soon as Thaci’s visit concluded, Duric confirmed.

The official said the situation was “very dangerous” and compared to state of things to the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The ROSU troops “were armed to teeth and looked more like terrorists that security forces,” he added.

Malagurski believes that the repeat of such provocative incidents between Kosovo and Serbia is unlikely. “They’ve finished their PR stunt and, I think, this is where it ends,” especially, after Belgrade sent a strong message to Pristina by putting its military on high alert, he explained.

The control over the Gazivoda and its facilities has been a matter of dispute between Belgrade and Pristina for years. The lake is the major drinking water supplier for several municipalities of the region and a local power station also uses the water from it.

READ MORE: Kosovo offers Israel an embassy in Jerusalem in exchange for recognition

“Gazivoda is a very disputed and a very important lake,” which is essential for Kosovo, Malagurski said. “The local power plant gets its water from it. If Gazivode is taken away from Pristina, Kosovo would essentially lose electricity.”

Self-proclaimed Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and the recognition of the region is matter of a major international dispute. Kosovo has been recognized by the US and a number of its allies, yet, a number of countries, including Spain, China and Russia opposed the controversial move. In fact, over half of the UN states did not support Kosovo’s independence.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that “Kosovo is not a state” for the international organization.

source

Tension flares in Kosovo over possible land swap with Serbia


Thousands of supporters of Kosovo’s opposition Self-Determination shouting slogans and waving flags of the world countries march through toward Skanderbeg Square on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in Kosovo capital Pristina. Thousands of people in Kosovo are protesting their president’s willingness to include a possible territory swap with Serbia in the ongoing negotiations to normalize relations between the two countries. (Visar Kryeziu/Associated Press)

September 29 at 12:42 PM

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Tension flared in a familiar section of the Balkans as thousands of people marched Saturday in Kosovo’s capital against a possible territory swap with former war foe Serbia, while the Serbian government put its troops on alert after special police were deployed to Kosovo’s Serb-dominated north.

Serbia reacted after Kosovo’s special police moved into an area around the Kosovo side of the strategic Gazivode Lake, Marko Djuric, director of Serbia’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija, said.

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci visited the area near Serbia’s border Saturday, a move that temporarily redirected attention away from the large opposition protest in Pristina. A security unit was dispatched to the area for the president’s stop, Kosovo police said.

Serbia’s Djuric said special troops must not be deployed unannounced to northern Kosovo, where the country’s ethnic Serbian minority population is concentrated. Serbian media said Belgrade has complained to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, but their governments have been in European Union-mediated negotiations for seven years. The two sides have been told they must normalize relations as a precondition to EU membership.

Image may contain: one or more people, crowd and outdoor

Thaci has said a “border correction” could be part of the discussions. Some Serbian officials have suggested an exchange of territories could help end the dispute.

One idea that has been floated by politicians in both countries involves exchanging predominantly ethnic Albanian Presevo Valley in southern Serbia with Kosovo’s Serb-populated north.

However, the idea has faced opposition from Germany and other EU nations, which have said they fear a Kosovo-Serbia trade could trigger demands for territory revisions in other parts of the volatile Balkans.

Thousands of supporters of Kosovo’s opposition Self-Determination Party marched peacefully through the capital of Pristina on Saturday to protest any potential change of borders. The protesters held national Albanian flags.

Opposition leader Albin Kurti said he considered Thaci a collaborator with Serbia and called for fresh elections.

“Such a grandiose protest is our response to the deals from Thaci and Vucic,” Kurti said.

Thaci has rejected both border revisions based on ethnicity and a possible land trade.

But he has not clarified how Serbia could be persuaded to give away the Presevo Valley without something in exchange.

Three weeks ago, Serbian leader Vucic visited the lake in northern Kosovo that Thaci traveled to Saturday.

NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo, a force known as KFOR, called for calm and restraint. They said they would continue monitoring the situation along the Serbia-Kosovo border with ground patrols and helicopters.

Thaci’s office issued a statement acknowledging his visit to a border crossing and the lake.

“During the weekends the head of state usually goes to Kosovo’s beauties,” the statement said.

The governments in both Pristina and Belgrade have said they hope the EU-mediated talks will result in a legally binding agreement.

“Talks (with Serbia) that continue will be on peace and stability,” Thaci said Saturday.

source

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