Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

The Struggle For A Kosovo Authority

The KLA leader is fighting to salvage his popularity, and the UN chief is battling to build an administration. But the winner may be Rugova.
By Fron Nazi

Hashim Thaci, prime minister of the Kosovo Liberation Army's provisional government, is manoeuvring to rebuild his authority after recent newspaper headlines showing four-to-one support in favour of veteran Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova. At the same time, Bernard Kouchner, head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), is attempting to open up his international administration to Kosovars and bring locals into various governing structures.


According to a recent Washington Post article re-published in local media, an un-named Western organisation polled 2,500 Kosovo Albanians and found that 90 per cent of respondents said that if an election was to take place immediately, they would vote for Rugova, the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).


It is a remarkable turn-about in political fortunes for the pacifist. For nearly a decade, he was the undisputed representative of Kosovo's Albanians, but his day appeared to have passed as, in the course of 15 months of war, his authority was eclipsed by the KLA.


In the past four months Thaci and the KLA have seen their popularity ratings drop for a variety of reasons, including a wave of crime committed by individuals claiming to be KLA members. Moreover, since forming his provisional government, Thaci has lacked the funds to pay the self-appointed representatives' salaries, let alone try to govern the province.


In order to revive his popularity, Thaci is pursuing a twin-track approach. On the one hand, he has forged an alliance with Bardhyl Mahmuti, formerly the head of the break-away Popular Movement Party, called the Democratic Progressive Party of Kosovo (PPDK). On the other hand, he has accepted an UNMIK invitation to serve on Kosovo's executive council.


Local analysts interpret the alliance between Thaci and Mahmuti as a natural step. "Both had an interest in coming together," says a local political journalist. "Thaci needs Mahmuti because Mahmuti's party has the high-profile names. Mahmuti needs Thaci because Thaci has access to funds-however few - and an assured seat on the executive council."


According to the Rambouillet Agreement and UN General Resolution 1244, Kosovar parties and individuals present at the Rambouillet talks were entitled to serve on what was originally supposed to be the Kosovo Transitional Council (KTC), which also includes representatives from UNMIK.


After the war, KTC was formed comprising representatives of three Kosovo-based Albanian political movements, Rugova's LDK, Thaci's KLA, and Rexhep Qosay's Democratic Union League. Also included were one Serb from a Kosovo-based political party, and two independents - Veton Surroi, publisher of Pristina daily Koha Ditore, and Blerim Shala, editor-in-chief of the Pristina weekly Zeri. As a result, Mahmuti's newly formed party was unable to join either the KTC or the executive council.


According to the prescribed four-plus-four formula, the executive council will be comprised of the four leading Kosovar parties, listed above, plus four international representatives from the four pillars of UNMIK. These are Joly Dixon for economic affairs, Daan Everts for civil matters, Dennis McNamara of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Tom Koeings for administrative questions.


Sources at UNMIK say that Thaci sought to be deputy director to Kouchner, but was rebuffed. It seems he wanted the position to ensure a high profile and look like the leader anointed by the West in order to win back lost support. If, however, the Albanian members of the executive council elect Thaci as their representative UNMIK will support the choice, sources close to the UN have said.


All members of the executive council have the right to take part in the interim governing structure in co-operation with the respective appointed UNMIK representatives. With Thaci agreeing to join the executive council, he will have to forego many of the positions in his self-appointed provisional government.


In return for allowing some of Thaci's "ministers" and local government representatives to operate under the aegis of the executive council - thus assuring them a salary and a budget - Thaci will have to allow for greater participation of the other parties in this new structure.


Local analysts believe that Thaci has to accept this new role, given the prospect of elections early next year and the likelihood, as things stand, that he will be defeated. "Since it's become fashionable to accuse the KLA of every crime that is committed, Thaci needs to show that he has the backing of the West," says a local political journalist. "Even if it's only a photo opportunity."


Meanwhile, Kouchner is facing a battle of his own at the UN. Sources in UNMIK say that Kouchner still requires the go-ahead from UN headquarters to turn the executive council into a part local, part international institution. With four UNMIK members on the executive council and Kouchner's power of veto, the council's structure gives little if any executive powers to the Kosovars. The concept of the executive council is still under discussion in New York, and sources say that many officials there want Kouchner to remain firmly in control.


If Kouchner and Thaci do come up with a formula to change the governing authority, and the way Kosovo is run, both of them and the UN itself will look like losers if things go badly. Hard politics, and a hard winter, beckon. With such high political and personal stakes, the winner may be the one who has remained least active, waiting in the wings: Ibrahim Rugova.


Fron Nazi is IWPR project director in Pristina.