The role of the bridge on the Ibar and the struggle for political survival

Aljbin Kurti, Vjosa Osmani, Donika Gervala, Besnik Bisljimi
Source: Gaxeta express

"Fiasco in the Council of Europe exposes rift in positions of Kosovo’s leading representatives and their future plans"

Prepared by: Milos Garic

Since 2020, when Vjosa Osmani decided to pursue an independent political career outside the Democratic League of Kosovo, forming a pact with Albin Kurti and his Self-Determination Movement, there have been recurring rumors in Pristina’s political circles about the not-so-good and even less sincere relations between the two offices, the Prime Minister's and the President's.

Old connections and support that Osmani has within parts of the establishment in Washington contrast with Kurti’s idea of his own significance and political role among Albanians. At the same time, Kurti's poor image in the US and his reliance on circles in Berlin and London have increased the rivalry between the two offices in Pristina from the outset.

After the severe failure of Kosovo’s political leadership regarding admission to the Council of Europe last month, a previously simmering conflict has turned into open disagreement and blame-shifting.

Analysts in Pristina believe that President Osmani's criticism of Foreign Minister Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz, for not informing her about the letter sent to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, is actually her attempt to distance herself from the failure of Kurti's government regarding Kosovo’s membership in that international organization.

To recall, Gërvalla sent the aforementioned letter with the promise that instead of the Draft Statute of the Community of Serb Municipalities sent by Brussels last autumn, Pristina would draft its own and submit it to the Constitutional Court for review, but only after obtaining membership in the Council of Europe. Many analysts, including Pristina journalist and publicist Veton Surroi, consider this letter to be erroneous in content, manner, and timing.

Experienced political analyst Nexhmedin Spahiu agreed with Vjosa Osmani's reaction but pointed out that she should have also reacted when Infrastructure Minister Liburn Aliu recently stated that "Kosovo is a temporary state," as he believes this is a much more serious issue. Spahiu agrees that Osmani is clearly not on the same wavelength as Kurti's cabinet.

"I don't know exactly why the relationship between Vjosa Osmani and Albin Kurti has deteriorated; I just know that the reason given publicly is not the real one," Nexhmedin Spahiu enigmatically stated in a comment for Kontekst.

Ibar Bridge for the end of the term

DPK MP Bekim Haxhiu stated that Vjosa Osmani did not form a coalition with the Self-Determination Movement in the interest of the citizens, but for her own political gain.

"She deceived Fatmir Sejdiu, Isa Mustafa, and even Kurti; turning her back on them is not a big deal for her," says Haxhiu.

What has Kurti achieved by encouraging Gërvalla to write to the leaders of the Council of Europe without Osmani's knowledge, and what does the President now plan by opening a direct conflict with the government?

Analyst Blerim Burjani explained to Kontekst that Kosovo's government is currently facing what is called an institutional crisis.

"The situation is unfavorable, requiring good management and a calm response. More than a year ago, there were disagreements between Prime Minister Kurti and President Osmani, but they did not come to light. The problem arose due to some Quint countries literally halting Kosovo's membership in the Council of Europe, creating a crisis in Kosovo. I think Kurti was deceived by some countries regarding Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe, as the condition was only to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision on the land of the Dečani Monastery, but later conditions included implementing the agreement on the Community of Serb Municipalities, which Kurti and Kosovo's institutions blocked," Burjani notes.

The international community, he says, has given more political space to President Osmani. Meanwhile, Kurti has been making unilateral moves, with the opening of the Ibar Bridge being the latest, serving as his introduction to the elections.

"Some countries, including the US and some European states, have put Osmani in the foreground. This situation has not been favorable for Kurti, who was left alone, and the decisions we have seen in the north are Kurti's unilateral decisions, made without consulting the West. These events have divided Kurti and Osmani. Now Kurti has only one more option available, to implement the agreement on opening the Ibar Bridge for traffic. This is Kurti's last move before the elections, and it can conclude his four-year mandate," says Burjani.

According to his assessment, parliamentary elections may be held in September or October.

"In fact, the international community promised Serbia and Vučic that Kosovo would not gain membership in the Council of Europe without implementing the agreement on the Community of Serb Municipalities, and this has contributed to the strained relations between Kurti and Osmani. There is also talk of extraordinary elections, which the international community could use to dismantle Kosovo’s institutions and the currently blocked government. I think there is a possibility that the elections will be held in September or October," Burjani concludes.

Political scientist Ognjen Gogic assesses that there are significant differences between Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani regarding their relations with Western partners.

"Osmani is more pro-Western, while Kurti is not afraid to defy the West. Whenever a crisis in relations between Pristina and the West arises, this difference comes to the fore, though Osmani always expressed herself in a much more discreet manner. Through certain subtle messages and euphemisms, such as the need for greater coordination with Western partners, Osmani has distanced herself from Kurti to ensure her relations with Western centers are not jeopardized by Kurti’s actions. She often met with ambassadors or other officials to show that she was not the one damaging relations with the West," Gogic explains for Kontekst.

What does Kurti want?

In the situation regarding the Council of Europe, however, things are different because Osmani has never openly and explicitly distanced herself and criticized the actions of Kurti’s government in this way.

"The question is why she decided to be so direct this time. Perhaps it is because Osmani is aware of the damage that Gërvalla's letter to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe actually caused to Kosovo's diplomacy, as this act showed a high level of amateurism and overall disrespect for the West by Kosovo. However, it may also be because Gërvalla is from the Guxho party, which Osmani founded. Kurti probably deliberately had Gërvalla send the letter to show that he actually controls the party Osmani founded. In the context of the upcoming elections, Kurti probably wants to demonstrate that he has predominant influence in that party and that Osmani has no say. As President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani cannot be involved in party life. However, she still needs to maintain some influence in her party to return when her term ends. In this situation, a battle for her place in political life is unfolding. On the one hand, Osmani saw this as an attack on her position, but on the other, she saw it as an opportunity to gain political points by shifting the blame for Kosovo’s failure to gain membership in the Council of Europe onto Kurti’s government," Gogic concludes.