The political calmness marking the New Year’s celebrations will end this weekend as opposition activists and supporters take to the streets. Saturday’s protest in Prishtina is in opposition to two agreements signed in August 2015; one with Serbia to create an ‘Association of Serb Majority Municipalities’ and one with Montenegro on border demarcation. However the opposition is now not only demanding the withdrawal from those agreements but has further expanded its demands to include the resignation of the government.
In doing so, opposition partners — Vetevendosje, AAK and NISMA — have called for continuous peaceful protests until the government resigns, although according to the opposition the situation might escalate if the government does not change its position. The new political momentum has come after the Constitutional Court issued its verdict in late December on the constitutionality of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities.
In a less-than-clear ruling, it found that some of the points within the agreement would violate the principles of Kosovo’s Constitution but at the same time said that the Association should still be established. The ambiguity of the the ruling has led to inevitable conflicting interpretations from the government and opposition.
“The Constitution has been violated substantially and there has been an attempt to violate Kosovo’s unitary system with the agreement.” Vetevendosje presidency member Ylli Hoxha told Kosovo 2.0. “Therefore, either they [the government] should resign or they should arrest us all and transform this country like Venezuela, where political activity is prohibited.”
On the other hand, the government has said that it will not consider cancelling the agreement and has pledged to continue establishing the Association, promising that the relevant statute will be fully in accordance with the Constitution. “We will continue drafting the decree and the statute, acts that will undergo [further] constitutional checks before entering into force,” said Prime Minister Isa Mustafa in a statement.
However, for the opposition it is unacceptable to make what it perceives as merely cosmetic changes during the creation of the relevant laws, without fully revising the principles that any such laws are based upon. “You cannot intervene on the second floor of a building if the basement has failed,” AAK presidency member Muharrem Nitaj told Kosovo 2.0.
While Vetevendosje, AAK and NISMA have stayed shoulder to shoulder with each other against the agreement, differences in tone regarding demands have been noticeable amongst the opposition partners since the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
Vetevendosje have been clear that there should be no compromise on their demand for the “anti-constitutional” and “illegitimate” government to resign. According to Hoxha, Vetevendosje will continually protest and expand its activities to obstruct the functioning of the government until the government goes. “They [the government] can only stop our effort to halt the Serbian project in Kosovo if they make it physically impossible for us to be active, by killing or arresting us all” said Hoxha. “As long as one activist of Vetevendosje is free, he or she will protest and mobilise citizens to protect the interest of the country.”
In contrast to Vetevendosje’s uncompromising position, AAK’s Nitaj claims that there is still room for negotiation, although he is skeptical about whether this is likely in practice, suggesting that the government’s stubbornness is bringing about its own downfall. “I speak in the name of AAK: if Isa Mustafa would announce today that the two signed agreements, the Association and demarcation agreement, are annulled, and we enter into procedures for new agreements, there would not be new protests in January or demands for [the government’s] resignation,” said Nitaj.
However shortly after Nitaj made this statement to Kosovo 2.0, it appeared to be contradicted by party leader Ramush Haradinaj who, in an interview for Kosovo Press, implied that the government’s position was now untenable. “It is clear that they [Mustafa and Thaci] are dependent on these agreements, and agreements such as the Association agreement that have been announced to be against the principles of the Constitution have to go, as do these people,” said Haradinaj.
The leader of NISMA Fatmir Limaj has admitted that there are certain differences between members of the opposition block, but sees no problem on that as they are three different political parties. “The opposition did not unite on an ideological basis but the unification happened because of the significance of the themes for the country,” Limaj said in an interview for Kosova Press.
Where all three parties appear to agree completely, is the call for early elections as the only way out of the longstanding political gridlock in Kosovo, which has now seen the Assembly blocked for four months. Calls for early elections have intensified since the Constitutional Court’s decision last month.
However, it seems that this option remains some way off. As the political wrangling continues, the coalition government has reiterated its intention to fulfill the governing agreement. The outstanding point in the agreement is the nomination of PDK’s Hashim Thaci as Kosovo’s next president, a vote on which could happen as early as next month, but the government could choose to complete its full term, which runs until 2018.