Independence with obstacles
In November 2007, the general election in Kosovo was won by the PDK, which received 35 percent of the vote. PDK leader Hashim Thaçi, the former guerrilla leader, was appointed new prime minister. In accordance with his election promise, on 17 February 2008, Thaçi proclaimed Kosovo’s independence, as the UN negotiations did not lead anywhere.
The declaration of independence took place unilaterally, without a decision by the UN Security Council. In the near future, a number of countries recognized the new state, including the United States and a number of EU countries, including Sweden. While the Kosovo Albanians were celebrating independence, anger and bitterness were high in Serbia.
In the Declaration of Independence, Kosovo pledged to implement the Ahtisaari Plan and welcomed international monitoring. An International Steering Group (ISG) was set up to work for a transitional period on the implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan and then hand over control to Kosovo’s own institutions.
In addition, the EU contributed a so-called police, customs and justice mission, EULEX, which would help build and support Kosovo’s own judicial bodies. The NATO-led peacekeeping force Kfor also remained and would, among other things, help build a multi-ethnic security force in the country.
The plan was for the EU to take over after UNMIK, but since the Serbs regarded the EU as an “occupying power” in Kosovo, a shrinking UNMIK had to remain.
In the summer of 2012, the ISG noted that Kosovo had made sufficient progress and implemented so many conditions from the Ahtisaari Plan that international monitoring could cease, and in September the ISG completed its mission. However, the EU body Eulex and the KFOR force remained for the time being.
Following the declaration of independence, Serbia acted as if it had not taken place and supported the Serbs in northern Kosovo when they established their own government and their own institutions in, among other things, the judiciary, education and health care, separate from Kosovo.
According to agooddir, the Serbs in the south, who constituted the majority of the Serbs in Kosovo, were generally integrated into the new state, while the Serbs in the north in a referendum in February 2012 refused to submit to Kosovo’s rule. But the development had then taken a different turn.
For Serbia, negotiations on EU membership loomed and a precondition was that Serbia first improved its relations with Kosovo. With the help of the EU, an agreement could be concluded between Serbia and Kosovo in April 2013 on normalized relations. With the agreement, Serbia accepted Kosovo’s sovereignty over the Serbian-dominated areas in the north, while the Serbian-dominated municipalities in the north were to be given far-reaching autonomy. The Serbian judicial institutions in the north were to be integrated into Kosovo’s judicial system at the same time as a Serbian court of appeal was established in the city of Mitrovica.
Although the agreement was met with loud protests from nationalists on both sides, it was adopted by both the Kosovo and Serbian parliaments (although interpreted differently). For Kosovo, this meant that the EU was now given the go-ahead to start negotiations on a so-called Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA).
In November 2013, for the first time, local elections could be held jointly throughout Kosovo. Serbia urged Serbs to vote, but they were also subjected to pressure and violence by hardline Serbian nationalists. In the north, many chose to boycott the election.
When parliamentary elections were held in June 2014, almost as many Serbs as Albanians participated, although many Serbs in the north abstained this time as well. Overall, turnout was low. Just as in the 2007 and 2010 elections, Hashim Thaçi’s PDK became the largest party. Thaçi assumed he would be allowed to form a government for the third time but he had lost in popularity since 2007 and the opposition joined forces to get rid of him.
The government negotiations became protracted and complicated. Only at the end of 2014 could a new government be formed, after a rift arose within the opposition. The new Prime Minister was LDK leader Isa Mustafa with Hashim Thaçi as deputy. Thaçi also became Foreign Minister and was promised to succeed the country’s female president, Atifete Jahjaga, when her term expired. In April 2016, Thaçi was installed as president under a boycott by opposition parties and with violent demonstrations outside the parliament building.