Tense Kurti-Rama relations spur media speculations

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The last minute cancellation of a joint meeting between the governments of Albania and Kosovo was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back in the tense relationship between prime ministers Kurti and Rama. Clashes had begun to intensify when Rama took the initiative to meddle in the negotiations regarding northern Kosovo, and the media and portals joined the fray with speculations, as well as inaccurate and often contradictory news.

Barbara Halla

For a while now, there have been signs that the relationship between Edi Rama and Albin Kurti does not adhere to the brotherly vision that is commonly assumed of Albania’s connection to Kosovo, and vice versa. There have been doubts about this relationship since at least 2021, and they have only increased as Rama prioritized a diplomatic rapprochement with the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, not least through the creation of the so-called Open Balkan project, which Kurti has refused categorically to join.

These suspicions seem to have been confirmed in June 2023, as Rama criticized Kurti directly for the latter’s approach towards Kosovo Serbs, submitted a draft for the Association of Serb Municipalities without consulting the Kosovo government, and then canceled (apparently without notifying the other party in advance) the ninth annual meeting between the governments of Kosovo and Albania.

There is an affective and ethnic dimension to the Albania-Serbia-Kosovo relationship which has provided fodder for speculation to Albanian media and politicians, leading often to disinformation that has the potential to further increase tensions in the region. This dimension was in full display when we analyze how Albanian media covered Rama’s draft of the Association and the canceled meeting. Some of the titles used by portals and tabloids are mere click-bait; they serve no other purpoes but using highly-charged titles to get readers to click on them. However, other titles show a clear pattern of a relationship chilling over time, and a breakdown of communication between the two governments, leading to inaccurate and misleading headlines.

Rama’s draft for the Association

During a June 8 conference, Rama announced that he had submitted his own suggestions for the creation of a Association of Serb Municiaplities to Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz, the heads of France and Germany respectively. It soon became clear that Rama had compiled and presented the draft without consulting the Kosovo government.

In Albanian media spaces, the speculations about Rama’s draft were immediate. The main narratives put forward by the opposition speculated that Rama’s draft was written in cooperation with Vučić. Opposition leader for the Democrats, Sali Berisha claimed precisely that “The text was written in Belgrade and rewritten in Tirana.”

Source : A2CNN

Source A2CNNNews

A similar message was also spread by former Democratic MP Klevis Balliu, who wrote on Facebook that “Rama has long been seen as the heir to the fraternal line with Serbia in the footsteps of the founder of this relationship, Enver Hoxha.”

Source Albanian Post

Meanwhile, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kosovo, Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla, tweeted something similar, implying that the draft was written not only by Serbia, but in collaboration with those wishing to partition Kosovo. This message refers to an agreement made in Washington in 2020, between then Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Vučić. The agreement overseen by President Trump also provided for the exchange of territories between the two countries.

Some portals pushed the speculation even further, claiming that this draft was not only written by Vučić, but it shows that Edi Rama is ready to withdraw Albania’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

Source Syri

While the title is clickbait in nature, the argument being made inside the article purports to the nature of Rama’s intervention: by going against the Kosovo government’s back, it has undermined its status as an independent country. Nevertheless, although there has been much discussion about the format of the Association and what it means for Kosovo’s territorial integrity, there is no evidence that Rama is preparing to withdraw Albania’s recognition of Kosovo.

Regarding the speculations that the draft was written with the help of Serbia, both Vucic and Rama have denied these claims. In a press release, Vučić opposed the draft, considering the issue outside Rama’ss competence.

Source Shqiptarja

Albania Cancels 9th Annual Meeting

On June 13th, the governments of Kosovo and Albania were preparing for the ninth annual meeting, where 13 agreements reached in 2020 were expected to be signed . However, less than a day before the start of the meeting in Gjakovë, Rama canceled it.  Even the government of Kosovo itself seemed to have been caught in an ambush, as only a few minutes before the announcement of the cancellation, they insisted that the meeting would take place. A screenshot of an Albanian tabloid within minutes of each other show the disarray: while Kosovo insisted the meeting would go ahead, Rama announced its cancellation on the news.

Source : Lapsi

BIRN investigation shows that the Kosovo government was not expecting this decision by the Rama government. Engjëll Berisha, the director of the Gjakova Library, told BIRN journalists that “Everything was ready. Even on the afternoon of [Tuesday, June 13], when the press conference from Albania became public, the work was still going on. We worked until around 10pm.”

Relations between Kurti and Rama have been on the rocks before, as Rama sided with the EU and the US when they accused Kurti of exacerbating situation in the north. However, Rama’s intervention with his own draft for the Association appears to have been the nail on the coffin. Kurti criticized Rama’s intervention, saying that he has an obligation to protect Albanians even outside the territory of Albania. Moreover, he invited Rama “to present [his draft of the Association] to the president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, for the Albanians in Preševo, Bujanoc and Medveđa.”

A few hours after Kurti’s statement, Rama canceled the meeting, citing tensions in the north as an excuse. “Given the hourly breakdown of Kosovo’s relations with the entire Euro-Atlantic community, this meeting cannot be held in the anticipated format,” he said during a press conference.

The Three Drafts for the Association

At the moment, three drafts are circulating for the creation of an Association of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo. The first was the draft proposed by the so-called Managing Team (consisting of four members of the Serbian community) and presented to Vučić and Kurti on May 2. The document, which is made up of 67 articles according to Radio Free Europe, describes the Association as a “special form of organization,” a separate legal entity with its own separate Assembly, as well as and different organizational and administrative units. The draft is comprehensive, and gives wide powers to the Aassociation, ranging from proposing and creating laws, to managing finances, and keeping civil records.

However, Kurtit rejected this draft, considering it in violation with the Kosovo constitution. The day after the meeting, he dismissed all members of the Managing Team. The Minister of Local Government Administration, Elbert Krasniqi, said that with the presentation of the draft, they had completed the mandate granted by the agreement signed in Brussels in 2013.

Kurti himself proposed a “draft vision” on May 2, based on Article 7 of the Ohrid agreement, as the agreement emphasizes “an appropriate level of self-management should be ensured for the Serbian community in Kosovo and the possibility of providing services in some specific areas, including the possibility of financial assistance from Serbia and direct communication channels of the Serbian community with the Government of Kosovo.”

The Association of Serb Municipalities has been a key point of the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia since 2013. This obligation was reiterated in the Ohrid agreement which was discussed (but not signed) on March 18.

Kurti’s draft vision emphasizes the self-management aspect, where members of the Kosovo Serb community will have the opportunity “to promote and protect their interests through a self-management framework,” including cultural and artistic activities that develop Serbian identity. The draft also foresees the possibility to receive funding from both the government of Kosovo and that of Serbia, following the rules of the Ministry of Finance of Kosovo.

Above all, Kurti’s draft vision points out that efforts for self-management of the Serbian community in Kosovo cannot, however, undermine the territorial integrity of Kosovo and must respect the provisions of the Constitution of Kosovo.

Rama’s draft has yet to be made public, nor its vision. While EU representatives say they are treating it seriously, both Kosovo and Serbia have publicly spoken against it.

The consequences of Rama’s draft, and his general behavior towards Kurt since the beginning of the situation in the north, have rippled into July. While tensions in the north of Kosovo continue to be high, the relationship between Kurti and Rama remains icy. So far, the meeting between the two governments has yet to be rescheduled.

On July 6, Rama was in Prishtina for discussions in the framework of the Berlin Process, where he met with President Vjosa Osmani and Speaker of Parliament Glauk Konjufca. Rama said that he is waiting for confirmation from the government of Kosovo for the next meeting, while stating that he had signed the 13 agreements reached between the two countries. Kurti announced that he would meet with Rama only as part of the annual bileteral government meetings, skipping a face-to-face meeting with Rama during his latest visit to Prishtina.