Kosovo Is In Turmoil After Coronavirus Controversy Helped Fell Its Government

Mar 26, 2020

Heading into Wednesday evening, Kosovo had already been tangled in tumult. The Balkan country had seen dozens of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and frustrations with the government's response had drawn residents onto their balconies — not to clap in praise of medical workers, as in other countries, but to bang drums in protest of their politicians' deepening feud.

Then, on Wednesday night, that feud deepened further.

Kosovo's ruling coalition lost a no-confidence vote called in Parliament by one of the coalition's own member parties, formally toppling the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti. The decisive defeat, with 82 in favor of ouster and 32 against, spells a swift end to Kurti's tenure — less than half a year after his left-wing party, Vetëvendosje, barely seven weeks after he was sworn in.

But this is not the end yet, exactly.

Kurti is expected to remain in office in a caretaker capacity until a new government can form. And he vowed that Wednesday's vote doesn't change the fact that "we have to fight the Covid-19 pandemic together."

A man uses a hammer and a pan to make noise from his balcony last week in Pristina. The protest was intended to express frustration over the country's coronavirus response and the fight unfolding between its top politicians.
Armend Nimani / AFP via Getty Images

Still, the sudden ouster has only exacerbated concerns that the country's official response to the virus has been slowed and distracted by disagreement

Kurti and several prominent ministers of the Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, a junior party in his ruling coalition, clashed over the proper response to the virus. But they also had clashed over the country's trade relationship with neighboring Serbia — which Kosovo seceded from more than a decade ago, and which does not officially recognize Kosovo's independence.

Disparate as these disputes may seem, they dovetailed. Many in the LDK backed emergency measures for the virus that Kurti resisted, and that would have handed more power to his rival Hashim Thaçi -- who, unlike Kurti, favored easing Kosovo's high tariffs on Serbian goods.

"People are very disappointed and angry about what is going on; they feel it's very selfish from the parties and leaders who decided to tackle the government at this particular moment, when we all need to address the coronavirus issue," Agron Bajrami, editor-in-chief of the daily Koha Ditore newspaper, tells The Guardian.

That's a sentiment echoed by the French and German foreign ministries.

"Kosovo needs a stable and fully functioning government to deal with this crisis," the ministries explained in a joint statement earlier this week requesting that the no-confidence vote be "reconsidered or postponed."

The U.S., which rejects Kurti's policies toward Serbia, nevertheless expressed pleasure at the decision to hold the vote. "It is important," said Philip Kosnett, the U.S. ambassador to the country, "for the Assembly and all Kosovo institutions to respect the Constitution."

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