Less distant Balkans

Encouraging signs after the elections in Kosovo

Since last Wednesday, December 15, the Balkan region is less isolated from the rest of Europe. This day sanctions the lift of visa requirements for the citizens of Albania and Bosnia – Herzegovina traveling to the Schengen Area. A year ago a similar right had been granted to their compatriots of Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia. Visa-free travel also enables the two States to make decisive progress in EU accession procedures, with all the consequences that this entails for the future of the Old Continent. At this point the only State of former Yugoslavia that is still outside the “Schengen system” is Kosovo. The promise of visa-free travel was in fact a strong point of the electoral campaign of Kosovar leader Hashim Thaci in the early elections held in his Country past Sunday. It was a significant event since it was the first time that the Kosovar population voted after Serbia’s self-proclaimed independence in February 2009. Thaci’s Democratic Party (PDK) gained a narrow win with over 30% of the votes. Openness to the EU and to the Atlantic Alliance propounded by the outgoing premier during his mandate was rewarded. In fact, it is a compulsory option considering the Country’s need of international aid to support its quivering national economy, jeopardized by widespread corruption. Moreover, Thaci’s electoral program featured increased recruiting in the public sector: namely, the attempt to fight unemployment, which in the Country has reached record growth. From his fellow citizens the Prime Minister had been hoping to obtain consistent support so as to be at the lead of a strong government during the forthcoming negotiations with Belgrade. Sunday’s elections were blurred by allegations of irregularities in the ballot-boxes while the official turnout (estimated at 48%) appears inconsistent in a Country where electoral lists are based on a 1981 census. What is sure is that the Serbian minority in the North of Mitrovica didn’t vote, while at the South of Ibar (the river that crosses the city, symbol of the Serbian-Kosovar division) it took part in the elections. The pacification between Kosovar Muslims and Serbian Orthodox must represent an inalienable aspect of the future of this part of the Balkans: as underlined by Pope Benedict XVI in the message for the next World Peace Day (January 1st 2011), interreligioius dialogue is a fundamental component in the creation of the common good. After the euphoria for the Country’s independence, Kosovo today must conquer the trust of international public opinion, especially of those States that have yet to recognize its existence. It’s not an easy task for a controversial premier like Thaci, who is accused of being responsible of “inhuman treatment and illegal organ trafficking” in Kosovo in the report drawn up for the Council of Europe by Swiss senator Dick Marty (released past Wednesday), that described him as a “criminal boss”. The document, inspired by the memoirs of Carla Del Ponte (Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia from 1999 to 2007) equally accuses the international community for not having highlighted the charges that had already been made against the Kosovar leadership.

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