Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kosovo - The New Wine Destination?

Honestly, I must admit that some of my favorite wines come from the Balkans so it is no surprise to find an article that wonders if the next trendy wine destination is Kosovo.  Kosovo has produced inexpensive yet good quality wine for quite some time and it is wonderful to finally see Kosovo winemakers receive recognition.  While there are still obstacles for recognition of the quality and brands of Kosovo wine, I do not believe that it will take long for Kosovo wines to become favorites abroad especially once the customs issue has been addressed.

Free Albanian Lessons

After 5/10 years respectively of being in Kosovo, Troy and I signed up for free Albanian language lessons at Basement Bar in Pristina.  Both of us speak a smattering of conversational Albanian and can count to 10 but have always understood a lot more than we could actually speak.  Lessons are offered at different days of the week depending on your level.  Stop by at Rexhep Luci No 9-1 (Downtown Pristina) or give them a ring (049 151 000) if you are interested!

Witness in War Crimes Trial Found Dead

Agim Zogaj, aka Witness X, in the war crimes trial against Fatmir Limaj was found dead this morning in Germany.  Initial reports indicate that Zoga committed suicide but so far German authorities have not released a cause of death.

After yesterday's clash between Serbs and KFOR, the Serbian delegation has walked out of European Union sponosored talks in Belgium.  KFOR states that they fired tear gas and rubber bullets and that they came under fire and had pipe bombs thrown at them.  However Serbian witnesses and authorities say that KFOR provoked and used live ammunition against the demonstrators. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Serbs Clash with KFOR in North Kosovo

At approximately 1300hrs today, a group of Serb protestors clashed with KFOR at the Jarinje border crossing in the North of Kosovo.  KFOR reportedly responded to the demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets after coming under fire by rocks and guns.  Serbian media also states that KFOR used live ammunition and lists one of the injured as being in a coma and the other in serious condition.

It is reported that four (4) members of KFOR were injured and 10 Serb protestors were injured in the clash.  The peacekeepers were reportedly injured by makeshift pimp bombs were thrown at their position at the border and one soldier is said to be in critical condition.

Some Serb leaders are urging calm while a group of angry demonstrators attacked and damaged two police vehicles in the North and Serbia's Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, is blaming KFOR for the violence .  EULEX and KFOR have deployed reinforcements to the south of the Ibar river.

Earlier today, KFOR used bulldozers to remove mounds of gravel placed as roadblocks in the North.  Demonstrators responded by recreating roadblocks in various areas.

In unrelated news, Romania, which has not recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence, has announced that it would be withdrawing its force from EULEX when their contingent members reach the end of their secondment.  Currently Romania contributes around 170 police officers and gendarmerie to EULEX.

Kosovo Constitutional Court Rules Against Diplomatic Immunity

The Kosovo Constitutional Court has ruled that Kosovo parliamentarians and government officials do not have diplomatic immunity in response to the EULEX request for clarification that was forwarded by PM Haschim Thaci.  Within 24 hours of the announcement of the court's decision, EULEX placed Fatmir Limaj under a 30-day house arrest in connection with war crimes charges filed earlier this year.  The date of the trial has not been set yet but it is rumored that the trial will begin on 17 October according to local media or late October according to EULEX.

The decision of the Constitutional Court has been criticized by various members of the Kosovo government as a threat to democracy and political maneuvering to get rid of competition in the run-up to the presidential elections next year.  Some Kosovo politicians worry that removing diplomatic immunity from parliamentarians will lead to less freedom as members of the government will fear retribution for speaking out against powerful politicians and have a negative impact on the working of the parliament because its members can be detained while the parliament is in session, as the case with the upcoming session which Fatmir Limaj will have to sit out due to his house arrest.  Other politicians say that it is a move by PM Thaci to create a police state. 

The war crimes trial of former PM Ramush Haradinaj is continuing after a three week break.  The court heard testimony from a protected witness, designated at Witness 077, who was reportedly a member of the FARK (Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo) who crossed into Kosovo from Albania.  The witness told the court that the Haradinaj, a commander in the KLA, told the FARK brigade to "go back where they came from" and alleges that five of the FARK members were taken and killed by the KLA.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kosovo Prepares for Establishing Border Checkpoints in the North

Kosovo is preparing to establish border checkpoints in the North of Kosov tomorrow to implement the customs agreement brokered by the European Union.  Many roadblocks have been set-up in the north including a mound of gravel dumped on the main bridge in Mitrovica to block traffic.  Serbia is stating that the establishment of the border checkpoints will bring instability while Kosovo says that it has the right to establish rule of law in all of Kosovo.  NATO and other organizations are repeatedly urging everyone to stay calm as the tensions build.

The recognition of Kosovo has been in the news lately with Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxaj touring the Middle East and Deputy Prime Minister Pacolli in Africa.  Hoxaj states that Egypt will likely recognize Kosovo soon and that Arab countries are starting to warm up to the idea of recognizing Kosovo independence.  Meanwhile, Pacolli has announced that Nigeria recognized Kosovo two days ago and that he expects a recognition soon from South Africa.  Serbia has also been in the news saying that countries have begun to revoke their recognitions of Kosovo, including Oman and Guinea Bissu.  Serbia also says that another two countries have initiated the process to revoke Kosovo recognition but have not provided any names so far.  Lastly, an article in South East Asian News Agency explores the reasons why Pakistan should recognize Kosovo. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Two Kosovo Leaders Answer to War Crimes Charges

The long awaited re-trial of Ramush Haradinaj has begun in the Hague in late August.  Haradinaj and two other defendants are charged with six counts of war crimes.  The retrial is the first in the court's history and stems from the last minute appeal of the prosecution who were denied an extension in the last trial for more time to interview two witnesses. 

The case seems to mainly hinge on the testimony of Sevcet Kabashi and another witness designated only as "Witness X".  Kabashi appeared in Netherlands the day before the trial started and was arrested.  He is being held in the Hague and has separately plead guilty to contempt of court for refusing to testify.  When put on the stand Kabashi has repeatedly responded to the prosecutors that he cannot rememeber the details of previous statements or begins anti-tribunal rants.  With the prosecution failing to obtain testimony from Kabashi, one commentator wonders if the Haradinaj trial was over before it begun?

The other Kosovo leader facing renewed war crimes charges is Fatmir Limaj, who also is still under investigation by EULEX for corruption during his time as the Minister of Post, Telcomms, and Transport.  The charges are separate from the charges brought by the Hague for which he was acquitted in 2005.  Ten other defendants were arrested in early 2011 however Limaj has remained free due to questions about his immunity that stems from being a member of the Parliament.  The question for immunity has been forwarded to the Constitutional Court by Prime Minister Haschim Thaci who has been accussed of trying to eliminate potential political rivals as time nears for the presidential elections.  As SETimes explores, the indictment of Limaj has many political impacts for Kosovo.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kosovo Goverment Bans Religion in Schools

As the holy month of Ramadan closed, in a move that has angered some, the Kosovo government voted against changing the ban on headscarves and a motion to add religious instructions in schools.  Kosovo while having a Muslim majority is secular with a strong separation of "church and state".

The confirmation of the headscarf ban will no doubt lead to more frustration and increasing anti-government rhetoric the demonstrators for establishing a landmark mosque in the center of Pristina who have been protesting the past few months.  The demonstrators point to the construction of the Catholic Cathedral in the center of town as a marginalization of the Muslim faithful as they do not have a large symbol of their faith (on a side note, the author has heard that the Vatican purchased the land where the cathedral has been built, it wasn't freely given by the Kosovo government.).  Although there are 22 mosques in Pristina, the group says that there is not enough room to accomodate the faithful and are demanding that the government allocate land for the construction of the mosque.