The long-suffering people of Kosovo must be wondering what they did to deserve their government, and what their government did to deserve the steep pay increase they tried to gift themselves in December. Forced to back down amid an opposition backlash, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj announced that the pay rise, which would have seen his remuneration double to 2,950 euros – nearly ten times the average salary in Kosovo – will be suspended pending a constitutional court ruling on the issue. While this might assuage critics for now, its not the only area in which the Balkan country is throwing up hurdles in the way of its own progress towards eventual EU membership.
Last month Brussels warned Pristina not to go ahead with a mooted plan to abolish a court that had been established to prosecute ex-Kosovo Liberation Fighters (KLA) accused of war crimes during Kosovo’s independence war against Serbia. The court was set up following a 2011 report that found evidence of atrocities committed by the KLA, including the illegal harvesting of organs taken from executed Serb prisoners. Given that the current President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, has been personally implicated in that particularly gruesome crime, it is obvious why the Kosovan leadership – all of whom are ex-KLA – would want to prevent the court from doing its work. But the country’s Western partners, who want to see it normalise its relations with its neighbours and atone for past sins are adamant that the court be allowed to conduct its work, wherever that may lead.
While Kosovo, still freshly scarred by war and fledgling in its institutional development is at the back of the queue for EU membership, other Balkan countries further along in their process towards joining the bloc are not making the process easy for themselves either. Take Macedonia, whose EU ambitions were nearly derailed by the malfeasance of the previous government. In May 2015 opposition leader Zoran Zaev produced information alleging then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s government had wiretapped thousands of Macedonian citizens, the ensuing protests precipitated early elections and the following year Gruevski’s government was ousted from office.
In the midst of constant anti-government demonstrations and increasing pressure from the EU to resolve the crisis, Gruevski’s government still thought it wise to launch a ‘de-Sorosisation’ campaign, along the same lines as that now being conducted in Hungary. Civil society organisations were demonised by the government as nefarious foreign agents seeking to spread a globalist agenda antithetical to Macedonian values and pressured to cut off all overseas funding in favour of government support. Thankfully, as the wiretapping scandal finally caught up with the governing VMRO-DPMNE and they lost their majority in the next elections, the incoming Social Democrat-led government dropped the persecution against NGOs.
Not to be outdone in the race to see which country can backslide furthest towards autocracy, the governing party of Montenegro look poised to nominate their kleptocratic party leader Milo Djukanovic as their candidate for April’s presidential election. In the nearly thirty years since the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, Milo Djukanovic has been either Head of State as President or Head of government as Prime Minister for 25 of those years. Djukanovic created a clientelist regime with himself at its apex, meaning nothing happened in Montenegro without his say so. As a result, the tiny Adriatic nation became synonymous with rampant gang warfare and international drug smuggling. In 2015 the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project named Djukanovic their Person of the Year in Organised Crime. Vanja Calovic, Director of the Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector (MANS), a civil society organisation based in Montenegro had this to say about how Djukanovic had earned the dubious accolade: “Djukanovic, the last European dictator, has captured our country for his own private interests and turned it into safe haven for criminals. While he, his family and friends enriched themselves, ordinary people suffer from poverty, injustice and lawlessness, while those who dare to talk about the corruption become his targets.”
The EU’s intervention in Kosovo seems to have worked in so far as it has forced the government to think twice about granting itself and unmerited pay rise. In Macedonia too, pressure from Brussels helped put an end to Gruevski’s corrupt regime. Now with Montenegro’s elections just around the corner one would hope that in the interest of their European ambitions, Montenegro’s Democratic Party can be prevailed upon to drop Djukanovic as their presidential candidate.