Kosovo

Transitional or Hybrid Regime
38
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 37.50 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 3.25 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
36 100 Transitional or Hybrid Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2022

  • National Democratic Governance rating improved from 2.50 to 3.00 due to the stabilization of Kosovo’s leadership after snap parliamentary and presidential elections, the conduct of which showcased growing political maturity.
  • Judicial Framework and Independence rating improved from 2.50 to 2.75 due to renewed efforts to reform the judiciary and operational improvements across the justice sector.

As a result, Kosovo’s Democracy Score improved from 3.14 to 3.25.

header2 Executive Summary

In 2021, Kosovo experienced a major shift in the political scene with early general elections in February leading to an unprecedented popular vote majority for Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s party, Lëvizja Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination Movement, LVV). This result was widely perceived as a political tremor leading to higher expectations among citizens for a transformative government. Meanwhile, the opposition parties pledged not to obstruct the establishment of the new parliament, signaling a degree of political maturity rarely seen in the broader region. The devastating electoral results prompted leadership changes at the former ruling, now opposition parties Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës (Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK) and Partia Demokratike e Kosovës (Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK), with new party presidents1 pledging genuine internal reforms in order to improve citizen trust and restore support.2

The newly established Kurti II government, led by LVV with support from parties representing various minority groups, pledged greater efforts to fight corruption and social injustice, increased employment opportunities, and improved rule of law. Managing the COVID-19 pandemic and minimizing its socioeconomic consequences were also among key priorities. Kurti II marks a new political chapter for Kosovo yet carries a heavy burden since public expectations for a revived economy, increased employment, and justice delivery are now at their highest given the PM’s enhanced mandate and electoral promises. Aside from Kurti, the government consists of 15 ministers, the smallest in post-independence history.3 Representation of women in the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo is the highest in the postwar period and has increased without any reliance on a gender quota; out of 120 elected members of parliament (MPs), 44 are women (30 percent).4 Similarly, the most-voted person during the February elections was Vjosa Osmani, president of the Lista Guxo electoral list. The election of Osmani as Kosovo’s new president, however, proved challenging. Only an unusual third round of voting by parliament made it possible for her to take the position in April; meanwhile, LVV’s aggressive push to amend the Law of Elections jeopardized the process. After long, hard talks between PM Kurti, Osmani, and the opposition parties, it was LDK that agreed to ensure the required quorum of 80 MPs present, although LDK members did not cast their votes for Osmani.5 It was understood that failure to elect a new president could have led to deep political crisis as well as numerous constitutional uncertainties.

Kosovo’s intense electoral year included snap parliamentary and regular local elections in February and October, respectively. Elections were well-administered, and the processes were fair and transparent. Contrary to the general elections results in February, the local elections were overwhelmingly bad for the governing LVV party, which won only 4 out of 38 municipalities after the second round.6 LVV failed to win any municipalities in the first round, which demonstrates its fragile representation at the local level.7 In the mayoral second round, the capital Prishtina chose Perparim Rama (LDK),8 a UK-based architect, over former health minister Arben Vitia (LVV). Significantly, Rama had never affiliated with any political party and only recently joined the LDK ranks as candidate for mayor—a risky, unconventional move that signals further intraparty democratic development in Kosovo. Rama’s victory marks the return of LDK to capital city leadership after eight years.

Under Kurti, the government stepped up the fight against organized crime. Kosovo police seized 400 kg of cocaine originating from Brazil and worth over 20 million euros, resulting in numerous drug trafficking arrests.9 Similarly, an anti-smuggling police operation took place in two-dozen locations, including Prishtina, Peja, and Mitrovica,10 resulting in several violent raids of Serb-majority municipalities that ultimately injured police, protesters, and journalists (see Independent Media).11 PM Kurti declared that the government would not back down from fighting organized crime across all of Kosovo, including in the Serb-majority north.12

In 2021, the government undertook numerous initiatives to improve the judicial framework, based mostly on efforts from Kurti I (2020), including concepts for judicial vetting and the confiscation of illicit wealth. The government approved the widely lauded Strategy for the Rule of Law 2021–202613 to increase justice sector transparency and impartiality, and strengthen the fight against corruption. Meanwhile, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a court set up to prosecute wartime-era crimes, began its first trial.

In March, Kosovo opened its embassy in Jerusalem following recognition in 2020 and the agreement reached by Washington during the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Kosovo thus became the first Muslim-majority country to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with few other countries having an embassy there.14

The long-running European Union (EU)-mediated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue took a U-turn when the Government imposed reciprocity measures on Serbian license plates affixed to vehicles entering the country following the expiration of a 2016 agreement on cross-border travel, which then led to blockades and violence. In a surprisingly rare move, the opposition parties were united behind the government’s efforts to intervene. The situation sparked divisions among international actors, while the two countries reached a deal in the fall with the application of a new sticker regime. The reciprocity measures in this case did not come as a surprise given that Kurti had pledged to restore Kosovo’s position in the dialogue, vowing to take a more reciprocal approach with Serbia rather than allowing unilateral implementation of agreements reached in Brussels.

header3 At a Glance

National governance in Kosovo saw an improvement in 2021 due to the stabilization of leadership following snap elections, the conduct of which showcased growing political maturity. Elections were well-administered, fair, and transparent, but despite prolonged pressure for electoral reforms from the EU, international organizations, and civil society, efforts to address a variety of shortcomings went nowhere. Civil society continued to contribute in designing and implementing key policy processes, and activists may freely express their views and criticism without institutional pressure. Journalists continued to risk their safety in exercising their professional duties, and institutions failed to ensure a secure environment or proper protections; similarly, the justice system lacks the willingness to solve media-related cases. Local government is plagued by inefficiencies and weak finances, but the 2021 local elections were largely fair. The government undertook numerous initiatives to improve the country’s judicial framework and impartiality, and resumed work on a vetting concept that is highly opposed by self-governing bodies. Corruption remains a systemic issue.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 3.003 7.007
  • The year 2021 in Kosovo featured a major shift in the political landscape, a new government and president, an ongoing health crisis, tensions in the Serb-majority north, and an aggravated socioeconomic situation as a result of the pandemic. After the Constitutional Court invalidated the government of former prime minister Avdullah Hoti in December 2020, the new year found Kosovo in another electoral cycle declared by then-acting president Vjosa Osmani, who dissolved the seventh legislature and set February 14 as the date for early parliamentary elections.1 The generally competitive campaign, started on February 3 and limited to 10 days due to the pandemic, saw 28 parties running for the 120 seats of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo,2 including for the first time Lista Guxo (Dare), led by Osmani. The three largest contesting parties were Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s Lëvizja Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination Movement, LVV), Hoti’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), while Osmani and former PM Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) publicly aimed for the presidency, which was unusual since the president is elected by the parliament and not by popular vote. LVV established a pre-coalition agreement with Lista Guxo a month before the elections.3
  • Once the candidate lists were submitted, a new dilemma arose on whether Kurti and a number of LVV officials were eligible to run considering a Constitutional Court decision that clearly prohibits those convicted of a criminal offense in the last three years from partaking in elections. Conclusively, a January Supreme Court decision4 disqualified Kurti and another 46 candidates with prior convictions from running.5 For the first time, Kurti did not lead his own party’s list in the parliamentary elections.
  • The elections results transformed the political scene, delivering a historic win to the progressive LVV-Guxo coalition; the duo took 50.28 percent of the overall vote to gain an unprecedented near-majority in parliament (totaling 67 out of 120 seats in the assembly with the support of various parties representing non-Serb minority groups6 ), followed by PDK and LDK with 17 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively.7 This was the largest margin of support ever in postwar Kosovo and interpreted as a vote for change and deep structural reforms to ensure social justice, rule of law, and economic prosperity. The diaspora vote played a huge role in this landslide victory with over 78 percent choosing the winning duo.8 Kurti was installed as prime minister in March since the PM need not be a sitting MP.9
  • The challenge to elect a new president emerged as the six-month mandate of acting president Osmani came to an end on April 6.10 Since the requirement of a quorum of 80 MPs in the first two rounds of a presidential election was unsecured, the possibility of failing to elect a new president loomed, which could have led to another round of snap elections and numerous constitutional uncertainties. In a surprise move, LVV proposed changes to the electoral law via an accelerated procedure to enable diaspora voting through embassies and consulates, arguing that new elections might be on the horizon (see “Electoral Process”). The opposition parties rejected this initiative, accusing LVV of threatening the country’s democratic and constitutional order, and characterizing the majority’s move as a power grab.11 Similarly, a number of civil society organizations (CSOs) called upon the government to withdraw from the initiative, arguing that the law could not bring concrete changes at that point and the government should focus on electing the new president.12 Responding to these criticisms, the government dropped the initiative.
  • Thus, on April 4, Vjosa Osmani was elected President of Kosovo with 71 votes from 82 lawmakers present, including those of LDK (who pledged their presence to help form the necessary quorum but nevertheless did not cast their votes for Osmani). PDK, AAK, and Serb List MPs boycotted the session. Osmani, the second female president elected in Kosovo,13 ran against Nasuf Bejta, a candidate proposed from her own initiative, Lista Guxo (no other candidates were put forward). However, the election process was challenging for the duo, including long sessions and clashes with the opposition parties.
  • The government’s program14 was not presented by PM Kurti until May 17; emphasis was placed on managing the COVID-19 crisis, including immunization and mitigating socioeconomic consequences via recovery funding.15 For most of the year, the government engaged in vaccination of the general population, economic recovery measures, and major justice reforms, such as a vetting concept and an initiative for the confiscation of unjustifiably acquired assets, among others. According to an LVV statement, the government managed to save approximately €50 million, or about 2 percent of the 2021 budget, by annulling “harmful” contracts for various infrastructure and service projects.16
  • Although the EU-mediated dialogue with Serbia was not considered a government priority, it continued at an intensified pace, the first meeting taking place on June 15—with PM Kurti for the first time seated at the negotiating table with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić.17 Kurti had pledged to improve Kosovo’s negotiating position, and inevitably, the first meeting exposed profound differences between the two, with no consent on any issue. Among several points, Kurti proposed the signing of a peace agreement wherein both countries would pledge not to attack the other. Other proposals concerned the return of missing persons; dismissing Serbian delegate Veljko Odalović for his actions during the war; and remodeling the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) partnership, in which Kosovo is represented by a UN mission, to a proposed Southeast European Free Trade Agreement (wherein Kosovo would have equal standing with all other members). Nonetheless, Vučić did not agree with his counterpart.18 At subsequent meetings, Kurti reiterated his propositions, while Vučić once again proposed the formation of an Association of Serbian Municipalities (see “Local Democratic Governance”), and both sides refused. No progress was acknowledged by the EU mediator Miroslav Lajčák.19 The parties did agree, however, to allow access to each other’s state archives. Thus, according to Kosovo’s chief negotiator, Besnik Bislimi, the country would have full access to military archives in Belgrade, and Serbia would have access to records of the wartime Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the state archives.20 All the same, there was little progress in the dialogue towards the end of year without any additional high-level meetings between the leaders.
  • Of special note, the dialogue took a U-turn in the fall when the Government imposed reciprocity measures on license plates following the expiration of a 2016 agreement on cross-border travel,21 which then led to blockades and violence. In September, the government began requiring Serbian vehicles to use temporary Kosovo license plates upon entering the country, mirroring the policy in Serbia. The counteraction was immediate and aggravated with blockades by ethnic Serbs at the Bernjak and Jarinje border crossings, who faced off against Kosovan special forces positioned at border points. The situation escalated quickly as two Ministry of Interior buildings were attacked with hand grenades and set on fire.22 In a surprisingly rare move, opposition parties were united in support of the government intervention, calling it utterly sovereign. The situation sparked divisions among international actors, with most Quint countries (France, Germany, Italy, UK, US) supporting the intervention for improved rule of law, on one hand, and the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell condemning the government’s actions as unilateral and unacceptable on the other.23 A meeting between the countries’ chief negotiators followed on September 29; both parties reached a deal that included withdrawal of the special forces from border points, removal of barriers by Kosovo Serbs, and KFOR peacekeepers deployed at Bernjak and Jarinje. Ultimately, a new sticker regime was agreed upon by both countries,24 and no major incidents were later reported or witnessed. The reciprocity measures in this case did not come as a surprise given Kurti had pledged that, under his leadership, the government would restore Kosovo’s position in the dialogue, which had been severely damaged over the years, and that it would in no way allow unilateral implementation of agreements reached in Brussels but, rather, reciprocate Serbia’s approach.
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 3.504 7.007
  • In 2021, Kosovo continued a positive electoral trend as the country successfully underwent two important polls: parliamentary snap elections on February 14 and regular local elections on October 17.
  • The Assembly elections on February 14 were considered well administered and democratic by external observers,1 with a 41-percent voter turnout.2 LVV-Guxo won by an unprecedentedly large margin, with 50.28 percent of the overall vote, leaving behind PDK with 17 percent and LDK with 12.73 percent.3 The diaspora turnout in the 2021 elections was 11.5 percent compared to 4 percent in 2019.4
  • More than 200 complaints of irregularities were submitted to the Central Election Commission (CEC), including a suspicious 49-percent increase in the Bosniak minority vote.5 The tallies for the Bosniak and Roma entities from majority-ethnic Serb territories were disproportionate to the number of minority residents in Kosovo, and the CEC annulled the votes.6 This decision to annul most votes cast for the new Bosniak party Ujedinjena Zajednica (United Community), considered a “sock puppet” of the Belgrade-backed Serb List (a characterization the party disputes), was appealed yet ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.7
  • In April, LVV attempted to amend the Law on Elections via an accelerated procedure to allow diaspora voters to take part in elections at embassies and consulates (in addition to by mail).8 LVV later abandoned this effort in the face of resistance inside and outside of the parliament.
  • In June, President Osmani dismissed CEC chair Valdete Daka, arguing that “the CEC chairwoman, in many cases, has not managed to be an independent force against political polarizations” and “has violated the integrity and trust of citizens towards the CEC.”9 Her dismissal was met with strong criticism from political parties, the international community, and civil society.10 Daka opposed the decision and filed a complaint at the Ombudsperson Institution (OIK),11 which was later refused on grounds that Daka had not exhausted all regular legal remedies prior to petitioning the OIK.12
  • Despite prolonged pressure for electoral reform from the EU, international organizations, and civil society, efforts to address a variety of electoral shortcomings during the year again went nowhere.13 These include failure to approve the law on political financing, voter list inaccuracies, and the burdensome and complex voting process for Kosovan citizens abroad.14
  • On the transparency and accountability of political party financing, the government did not put forward the new draft law composed of Venice Commission and civil society recommendations, which address clientelism, cash contributions, and new transparency standards.15
  • In June, the Assembly’s Committee for Oversight of Public Finances (COPF) reopened the tender for outsourced auditors16 regarding financial reports for 2018–20, and also those of the September 2019 election campaigns and local elections in Podujeva and North Mitrovica.17 An external auditor applied for the position, and the process was successfully implemented. The results were published in November and shed light on the poor financial management of all political parties.18 Accordingly, parties have failed to maintain accounting standards for registering financial transactions and statements in line with Kosovo’s applicable regulations.
  • Although the local elections experienced no major disruptions, several complaints of manipulations were sent to the CEC and later examined by the Supreme Court. The CEC certified the final results of the first round in the mayoral elections; the municipalities of Shtime, Ferizaj, Podujeva, and Klokot were not initially included due to procedural complaints, mainly inaccurate vote counting in some polling stations,19 although these were later certified as well.20 On a positive note, the electoral campaign was considered mature and far more sophisticated than in past years. Municipalities respected pandemic recommendations in conducting electoral campaigns and no major disruptions were reported, contrary to the parliamentary elections where political parties failed to respect imposed measures at large.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 4.505 7.007
  • Civil society in Kosovo continues to play a fundamental role in key reform processes by remaining highly active on the public scene. The civic sector has contributed significantly to designing and implementing key policy processes in the areas of EU integration, the rule-of-law , public administration, environment, and protecting and promoting human rights. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists are free to express their views and criticism without institutional pressure, and the sector maintains high credibility among citizens by providing genuine oversight of the government, parliament, and judiciary.
  • Early in 2021, CSOs called on political parties to refrain from exerting pressure on and attacking the CEC; they urged that any dissatisfaction with the CEC’s decisions not to certify some MPs be examined via legal actions, asking parties to avoid pressure via public statements.1 However, these calls were not heeded by some political actors.
  • In April, 40 CSOs reacted against the nongovernmental Europa Nostra’s decision to include the Dečani Monastery in a list of “Seven Most Endangered Monuments in Europe,” claiming their approach to be bigoted and nonfactual.2 Meanwhile, a 2016 Constitutional Court decision, which settled a land dispute between the monastery and the nearby town of Deçan, remained unimplemented.3 Controversies surrounding the monastery underscore the extent to which Kosovo’s religious institutions are caught up in broader ethnopolitical currents and exacerbated by the absence of a law governing the legal status of religious communities.4
  • In February, irregularities were revealed in the vetting procedures for the prospective Information and Privacy Commissioner, responsible for ensuring proper protections and guarantees of access to public data. CSOs called on Assembly members to reverse the process and ensure that a commissioner is elected on a meritorious basis.5 Due to public pressure, the parliament approved the candidate recommended by international actors, which were mentoring the process,6 thus highlighting the ability of Kosovan civil society to help shape the work of government.
  • Individual and collective activism increased during the year, particularly in the area of environmental protection. A new center for pursuing strategic litigation on human rights, with a specific focus on environmental and labor law, was established and has already filed suits over the illegal licensing and operation of hydropower plants in Deçan, Brezovica, Štrpce, and Kaçanik.7
  • On the other hand, two strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) aiming to silence environmental activists Shpresa Loshaj and Adriatik Gacaferi were dropped by Kelkos Energy in October.8 Amnesty International applauded this victory for freedom of expression, describing the suit as baseless9 and a way to intimidate and silence activists for speaking out about private companies that cause environmental damage and unlawfully exploit natural resources.
  • In October, civil society activists protested in front of the Kosovo Judicial Council (KJC) after the Peja Basic Court sentenced a perpetrator convicted of sexually abusing a minor to only eight months in prison.10 Due to the immediate public pressure and media reporting, the judge involved was suspended by the KJC.11 Similarly, in September, a large protest took place in Ferizaj after the murder of 18-year-old Marigona Osmani, who was sexually assaulted and killed by two men. Citizens hurled red paint at police, criticizing their inability to keep the culprits behind bars.12 Gender-based violence increased considerably in Kosovo during the pandemic.13
  • Although cooperation between civil society and institutions has increased, additional efforts are needed from both sides to ensure more structured dialogue and cooperation.14 Despite the well-developed public consultation mechanisms available, some institutions still fail to ensure the process as per required standards. Additionally, the Law on Freedom of Association has yet to be amended to simplify registration for organizations.15
  • As in previous years, organizations continued to face major challenges with financial sustainability and diversification of funding, which remain core threats to their viability. Civil society remains highly dependent on international funding, which has continued to shrink over the years, while self-sustainability concepts are widely unknown within the sector. Although there are available sources of public funding, its regulation and disbursement need to be improved in order to mitigate potential corruption.16 There is evident need for more public data on funded projects in order to avoid misconceptions about the sector.
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.253 7.007
  • It was a challenging year for media in Kosovo; journalists were frequently exposed to hostile environments, with increased threats, verbal attacks, and censorship. Yet institutions fell short in ensuring proper investigation of violence and threats against media. Kosovo dropped eight positions in the Reporters Without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index in which the country ranked 78th compared to 70th in 2020.1 And since the eruption of COVID-19, disinformation has become an even larger concern for the media sector.2
  • An opinion poll published by RTV Dukagjini projecting LVV as winner of the snap parliamentary elections led to a termination of cooperation with the private media outlet by LDK and PDK, which accused the television of supporting LVV and spreading fake news. The Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) criticized the violent vocabulary of both parties as directly affecting editorial policies and pressure on the media.3
  • Journalists continued to risk their safety in the exercise of professional duties, and institutions failed to ensure a secure environment or proper protections for them, with the justice sector lacking the willingness to solve media-related cases.4 By October, the AJK had reported 29 cases of verbal and physical threats compared to 24 cases in 2020.5
  • There were several incidents of physical violence against journalists in 2021. Early in the year, three unidentified masked persons attacked Visar Duriqi, a reporter for Insajderi, outside his apartment in Prishtina.6 The prosecution publicly announced that it had launched investigations.7 In October, journalists covering an anti-smuggling operation in the north were attacked with rocks and Molotov cocktails by Kosovo Serb protesters, who blocked the police.8 The latter used tear gas to disband the protesters. Many media withdrew from reporting the events due to the life-threatening situation. PM Kurti called for Serb citizens not to fall prey to Serbian media propaganda, and claimed the operation was not ethnic-based since it took place throughout the country.
  • In some instances, the government took a hostile stance toward the media. In September, Blerim Vela, the president’s cabinet chief, used lynching vocabulary towards the media and labeled them as of the “former Pronto regime” (see “Corruption”).9 Another threat was reported against the portal Albanian Post from the former deputy PM and present LVV MP Haki Abazi. Through a phone call, Abazi threatened media for reporting on efforts to appoint new ambassadors.10 Similarly, the online portal JepiZe was smeared with degrading language from the LVV branch in Mitrovica.11
  • Leaked recordings of Dardan Nuhiu, dismissed director of the Financial Intelligence Unit, touched upon the country’s media environment. In two audio clips published by Shqip.com, Nuhiu was heard discussing “his plan” for “capturing” Kosovo’s most powerful media in a potential blackmail scheme.12 Nuhiu was sacked days after the wiretaps went public.13
  • As of 2020, Kosovo is the only country in the region and in Europe with no printed daily newspapers.14 Advancing technology, financial constraints, and consequences of the pandemic have all contributed to the disappearance of traditional print media outlets. Ultimately, it was the COVID-19 lockdown that brought an end to printed daily newspapers.15
  • No progress was made on reviewing the law on the public broadcaster, RTK; currently stuck in the Assembly, the legislation would clear the way for RTK’s sustainable financing as well as establish transparent and inclusive recruitment and dismissal procedures.16 Yet concrete efforts to reform the public broadcaster are evident in the Assembly’s dismissal of the RTK board17 in July on grounds of alleged nepotism, abuse, irregular procurement procedures, lack of auditing, and other irregularities.18 The opposition parties voted against this move, accusing the government of politicizing RTK for partisan purposes.19 In December, the Assembly appointed a new board composed of eight members with equal gender representation20 —the first independent and politically unaffiliated board since RTK’s creation. During the short-listing period, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) praised the process as transparent and professional.21 The board election process was closely monitored by civil society and internationals. It remains to be seen whether the new board will address numerous shortcomings that RTK has faced for years, including undue political influence, nontransparent remunerations, and irregular recruitments on the basis of nepotism.
  • In June, the head of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), Arben Bilalli, and its financial director were arrested on suspicions of corruption and given a 30-day detention.22 IMC is an independent institution responsible for the regulation, management, and oversight of broadcasters in Kosovo. In 2021, the IMC operated with an incomplete composition; the parliament failed to elect three new members (including one from a non-majority community) in August,23 and an ad hoc commission was created in November to conclude the election process. However, neither the new members nor the IMC head were elected by year’s end.24
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 3.504 7.007
  • Regular municipal elections were held on October 17 across 38 municipalities. Despite a recommendation from the National Institute of Public Health (NIPHK) to postpone the local elections due to COVID-19, political parties preferred to move forward with the process.1
  • In early September, a double murder in Peja shook the country; Astrit Ademaj, a Peja mayoral candidate from PDK, and Blerand Kadriaj, a former Deçan mayoral candidate (2017) from the same party, were shot and killed weeks before the local elections.2
  • Out of 38 municipalities, outright victories were recorded in 17 while the remaining 21 went to a second round,3 including larger municipalities like the capital Prishtina, Prizren, Gjilan, and Gjakova. In the first round of voting, not a single woman candidate was elected mayor; and of the 166 candidates from all political parties running for mayoral posts, only 14 were women.4 Considering the many political parties contesting, as well as independents, this scant number of women candidates constitutes poor gender representation.5 Voter turnout was 42.72 percent in the first round and 37.85 percent in the second round, falling below the 2017 totals.6
  • The local elections resulted in a major defeat for the governing LVV, which failed to win any municipality in the first round. In the end, out of 38 municipalities, LVV managed to win only 4 mayoral posts; meanwhile, opposition parties were the clear victors in the local elections, with PDK winning most municipalities, followed by LDK and others. Addressing the results, PM Kurti claimed that the local elections differ from the central level and that, no matter what, his party’s vote share had grown considerably compared to the 2017 local elections.
  • Financing municipalities in Kosovo is still a problem, and the continually deteriorating pandemic situation was an added burden during the year. The government provided extra support to municipalities to manage the crisis to the tune of €10 million in 2020.7 Central-level capital investments in municipalities were reduced compared to 2020.8 On their own, 33 out of 38 municipalities allocated funds to fight the pandemic, the capital Pristina leading the way.9 COVID-19 limited the physical interaction in receiving public services, while municipal capital investments were also severely reduced.
  • According to a civil society municipal transparency index, the pandemic further deteriorated budgetary transparency at the municipal level. Yet, on a positive note, the crisis improved communications among authorities and citizens, with the former being more responsive than in previous years.10
  • The issue of establishing the Association of Serb Municipalities, outlined in the 2013 Brussels Agreement, was brought up in the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia in Brussels. The question remained unanswered, however, with the Serbian side pushing for its implementation and the Kosovo side arguing that the monoethnic character of the proposed self-government institution makes it unconstitutional.11 Serbian majority municipalities in Kosovo have close ties to the Serbian government in Belgrade and keep the Kosovan state at arm’s length.
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 2.753 7.007
  • In 2021, the government undertook several initiatives to improve Kosovo’s judicial framework, most of them proposed in 2020 during the Kurti I government. In August, the government approved the Strategy for the Rule of Law 2021–2026, which was highly welcomed by civil society and other relevant stakeholders.1 This strategic effort aims to increase justice-sector transparency and impartiality, strengthen the fight against corruption, and eventually improve access to justice.
  • The Ministry of Justice resumed work on the vetting reform. A working group was established to design the concept, composed of members from the judicial and prosecutorial councils, civil society, and legal experts. The concept was finalized and put to a vote at the government level.2 The proposed option is to establish a vetting mechanism through constitutional changes and with a temporary mandate to be ended once the first verification period is concluded. The process of verification would then be transferred to the Kosovo Judicial Council (KJC) and Kosovo Prosecutorial Council (KPC). Subject to vetting will be members of both councils, Chief State Prosecutor, all judges and prosecutors, court administrators, heads of the KJC and KPC secretariat, director of the judicial inspection unit, and other officials engaged in courts and prosecution offices.3 Although official members of the working group, the councils were resistant to the need for a vetting reform. The KJC chair publicly withdrew from the working group, claiming that the vetting process should be a last resort.4 Similarly, through a press release, the KPC declared its withdrawal from the group over the non-inclusive approach of the ministry during the process.5
  • Another initiative in the spotlight was the ministry’s concept document on the confiscation of unjustifiably acquired assets through civil procedure as a key tool in the fight against organized crime and corruption, approved in April.6 The ministry sent the draft law for public consultations, which remained open until the end of the year. The horizontal scope of the law applies to public officials, their relatives, and third parties linked with them. However, there is debate over whether the draft law’s actual scope is too narrow to cover all potential categories that might involve illicit wealth accumulation. Among concerns, in the verification and investigation phase, it is crucial for institutions to ensure legal certainty in order to protect property rights.
  • Another important initiative to amend the legislative framework governing the KPC, State Prosecutor, and Special Prosecution was launched in 2021. The aim is to implement a substantial reform within the prosecutorial system by dismissing current members of the KPC and changing the procedures for appointing future members, whose total number would be reduced from 13 to 7, including removal of the Chief State Prosecutor’s ex-officio membership. These proposed provisions could risk putting the KPC under full control of the ruling majority since the procedure foresees those four members would be elected and appointed by a simple majority in the parliament. The draft law was submitted for an opinion to the Venice Commission, which provided a number of modalities on how the ministry could ensure full independence of the KPC’s composition from the ruling majority, including legal certainty for current members.7
  • In order to improve commercial justice, following recommendations from a functional review of the justice sector, the parliament passed a draft law on Commercial Court in its first reading. However, legal experts argue this initiative should be carefully considered, stating that establishing new mechanisms would not resolve long-standing issues of commercial disputes, while, on the other hand, recommending increased professional capacities of the already existing commercial department within the court system.8
  • Additionally, the Kurti government annulled the recruitment process for the Notary Service, considering it illegal due to several long-standing irregularities.9 The decision was appealed, with no ruling by year’s end.10 On another note, fees to take the bar examination and for required notary services were reduced.11
  • The Court of Appeals confirmed the two-year prison sentence for former MP Ivan Todosijević, which led to a boycott by Serb judges and a court official in the Mitrovica Basic Court. According to them, the 2013 Brussels Agreement was breached since the trial panel did not consist of a majority of Kosovo Serb judges, as foreseen.12 In October, Todosijević went into hiding to avoid serving his sentence for claiming that a wartime massacre of ethnic Albanians was falsified.13
  • In July, a local news portal published several audio recordings in which high state officials incriminated themselves on how to exert undue influence.14 Also included in the wiretaps was Driton Muharremi, a judge and member of the KJC, which led to his irrevocable resignation from both roles.15 Likewise, the prosecution’s indictment for corruption against Lavdim Krasniqi, secretary of the KPC, led to his dismissal.16
  • Also in July, the KJC began to increase it transparency efforts with online broadcasts for all meetings.17 Additionally, the council decided to publish online all final verdicts in disciplinary procedures for judges and prosecutors.18
  • The Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) continued to take action against former Kosovo Liberation Army members. Pjeter Shala was extradited to The Hague from Belgium pursuant to an arrest warrant from the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office,19 and victims were invited to participate in the case proceedings.20 Also, a trial panel was assigned to Salih Mustafa21 and the war crimes trial proceedings commenced in mid-September, the first KSC case to do so.22 Moreover, a trial panel was assigned to the obstruction-of-justice case of Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj, with trial proceedings following.23
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 2.252 7.007
  • Corruption is persistent in Kosovo and requires substantial institutional efforts to achieve any results in this area. Although existing legislation provides sufficient means to address corruption, institutions fall short in implementation. In 2021, little headway was made in fighting high-level corruption, and no high-profile figures involved in various scandals were found guilty in a final court decision.1
  • The highest-profile case during the year was “Subvencionet 2021,” with 40 individuals arrested across the country. According to government data, 12 are officials from municipalities and regional offices of the Agricultural Development Agency, who are suspected of criminal offenses such as bribery, abuse of authority, and falsification of documents, among others.2
  • There were developments in court cases involving senior political figures, including former MPs and ministers. The “war veterans” corruption scandal ended in January with all accused acquitted of the indictment.3 On similar grounds, the infamous “Pronto case” was returned for a retrial by the Supreme Court, following violations in the Court of Appeals decision,4 which then acquitted PDK co-founder Adem Grabovci and another defendant on abuse-of-office charges, while a third defendant was found guilty and convicted.5 The epilogue in both cases proves the justice system’s failure to fight corruption and organized crime, specifically in cases that involve high-profile figures.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the work of the judiciary, affecting court hearings in high-profile cases by risking the statutory limitation, including the “Toka” case (involving illegal seizure of public land)6 and “Visa” case (involving the sale of fake travel documents by an MP). Although court hearings resumed, no final verdicts were reached during the year.7
  • Two important criminal proceedings started in 2021. In the case known as “Falja e hidrocentraleve,” the chair of the LVV parliamentary group, Mimoza Kusari-Lila, former environment minister Dardan Gashi (LDK), and others are accused of corruption in the privatization of the Kosovo Electricity Distribution and Supply Company, with suspected damages of up to €12 million.8 Witnesses have also been called in the trial of former agriculture minister Nenad Rikalo (Serb List), who is also accused of corruption related to agricultural grants.9
  • In 2021, basic courts throughout Kosovo issued only 80 convictions out of 424 ongoing corruption cases.10

Author:

Group for Legal and Political Studies (GLPS) is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit public policy organization based in Prishtina, whose mission is to conduct policy research in the fields of politics, law, and economics, and to advance policy solutions that address failures and/or tackle problems in these policy fields.

Lead contributors:

Arbëresha Loxha Stublla, GLPS Executive Director and Senior Research Fellow, holds both MA and PhD degrees in Economics from the University of Staffordshire, UK. Dr. Loxha has led dozens of research projects in Kosovo and abroad, and has served as lead expert for numerous institutions, government bodies, and international organizations based in Kosovo.

Njomza Arifi, Program Manager at GLPS, focuses on planning and deciding suitable strategies and objectives for the organization, ensuring research quality, seeking funding, and risk and resource management, among other tasks. With more than 13 years of experience, Njomza was directly engaged in the strategic management and implementation of different major projects and initiatives for Kosovan institutions, international organizations, regional initiatives and civil society. Njomza has a BA in Business Administration and Management from the South East European (SEE) University in North Macedonia.

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