July 2023 | Ex-intelligence chief sentenced over deportations
The former head of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency (KIA), Driton Gashi, has been sentenced by the Pristina Basic Court to almost five years in prison after being found guilty of abuse of office. In 2018 he was involved in illegally deporting six Turkish nationals living in Kosovo to Türkiye, after the Turkish government accused them of being followers of Fethullah Gülen, who the Turkish authorities accuse of sponsoring terrorism. This is part of a larger transnational repression campaign by the Turkish authorities, which, as reported by Freedom House, took place in at least 31 other countries. The six deportees are serving hefty prison sentences in Türkiye with minimal or no contact with their families. A 2019 Kosovo parliamentary commission found that 31 laws and procedures were breached and that former president Hashim Thaçi, now on trial in the Hague for unrelated crimes, ordered the incident. The then Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, claimed he had no knowledge of the operation. Human Rights Watch has condemned the deportations as a “serious disregard of human rights and the rule of law”. Nonetheless, Gashi has announced that he will appeal the charges.
June 2023 | Government declares two Serb groups terrorist organisations
In an unprecedented move, the government declared two Serb groups that operate in Serb-dominated northern municipalities terrorist organisations. While the North Brigade is lesser known, the Civil Protection was one of the parallel structures not recognized by the Kosovo institutions, serving as a de-facto security force in the north. These illegal structures have challenged Kosovo authorities’ efforts to establish a unified system of governance and extend the rule of law in all its territory. Prime Minister Albin Kurti claims that the groups “pose a serious and direct threat for the constitutional order and security of Kosovo,” and that their members were trained at military bases in Serbia. The Interior Minister, Xhelal Sveçla, said the groups are responsible for a series of ongoing violent attacks, including those against NATO peacekeepers, the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), journalists, and the Municipal Election Commission this year. The Minister for Communities and Returns, Kosovo Serb Nenad Rašić, said that the move could negatively affect relations with the Serbian minority in the north.
May 2023 | Tensions escalate in Serb-dominated northern part of the country
Local elections were held in the north of Kosovo after Serb mayors of Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista party resigned in November 2022. The election saw 3.5 per cent turnout and the victory of Kosovo Albanian candidates and one Bosnian. Violent clashes ensued when Serbs tried to prevent the newly elected officials from entering their offices and police used tear gas to disperse the masses. Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić placed the army on combat alert, ordering them to move closer to Kosovo’s border. Serb protesters, including groups of masked men, attacked journalists as well as NATO peacekeepers, leaving 30 of them injured. Vehicles of journalists, NATO and the police were vandalized and sprayed with the “Z” symbol used by Russian forces invading Ukraine. NATO sent an additional 700 troops to Kosovo to address the violence. The Kosovo government insists it is trying to enforce the rule of law, while the EU and the US condemned Kosovo’s “forced access to municipal buildings” and called on authorities to ”de-escalate,” with the latter imposing penalties on the country despite recognizing the elections.
April 2023 | EU approves visa-free travel for Kosovo
The European Parliament has endorsed Kosovo’s visa liberalization, enabling its citizens to travel to the EU for up to 90 days in any 180-day- period without applying for a visa. The agreement will come into effect by 1 January 2024.
Kosovo is the only country in the Western Balkans whose citizens were not, until now, able to travel visa-free in the Schengen area. The European Commission proposed visa liberalization for Kosovo in 2016, and confirmed that all criteria were fulfilled in 2018. The visa liberalization agreement has been considered long overdue, yet an important milestone for the country, its EU integration process, the strengthening of relationships with the EU, as well as increased freedom of movement for its citizens.