28 korrik 2023
The audio recording that triggered clashes among the MPs and revived claims about Serbia's hybrid war in Kosovo
*Prepared by: Fitim Gashi
The heated debate led to a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations between the ruling party and the opposition. The government insisted that the issue at hand was Serbia's use of hybrid warfare to destabilize Kosovo. Conversely, the opposition alleged that the Self-Determination Movement (LVV) had been collaborating with the Serbian List a year prior to pass legislation that the opposition vehemently disagreed with, particularly regarding the salaries of war veterans.
On July 13th, the legislative institution turned into a “battlefield”. At the beginning of the session, Democratic Party (PDK) deputies placed banners on the podium of the Assembly while Prime Minister Albin Kurti was speaking about the steps taken to ease tensions in the northern part of the country. The banner, featuring a picture of the Prime Minister with a Pinocchio nose, was in Serbian and bore the word "Zdravo," which means "hello" in Albanian.
Afterward, Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi removed and tore down the banner, which sparked a reaction from PDK deputy Mërgim Lushtaku, who threw water at the Prime Minister. In response, Bislimi threw a bottle at Lushtaku.
This led to the situation escalating into a physical confrontation, involving not only the deputies but also other ministers. In an attempt to restore order, the police were called in and entered the premises of the Parliament.
What is said in the audio recording?
The medium “Nacionale” published parts of an audio recording in which the head of the Parliamentary Group of the Self-Determination Movement (LVV), Mimoza Kusari-Lila, is heard communicating with the strongman of the Serbian List, Milan Radojičić. Radojičić is wanted by the authorities of Kosovo for several criminal offenses and is also on the U.S. blacklist for involvement in international organized crime.
Radojičić is also accused of the murder of a prominent Serbian politician from the north, Oliver Ivanović.
In the recording, the former head of the parliamentary group of the Serbian List, Slavko Simić, reminds Kusari-Lila of her conversation with Radojičić on his intercom, making it clear that the deputy leader of the Serbian List is the one who makes decisions for the Serbs in Kosovo. At one point, Kusari-Lila admits to communicating with Radojičić for "3-4 minutes."
During the conversation, Simić dismisses the claims of LVV that the Serbian List and its deputy leader, Milan Radojičić, are controlled by the PDK.
Furthermore, as reported by Nacionale, this communication occurred in June 2022, a time when Radojičić was already wanted by Kosovo authorities and was on the U.S. blacklist.
During their conversation, Kusari-Lila and Simić also discussed the contentious matter of the minimum wage law, which sparked renewed reactions from associations representing war veterans.
Stemming from this audio recording, a protest against the government was organized by war veterans.
However, there were also misinterpretations of the conversation in the audio recording, where Kusari-Lila was accused of attacking the UÇK (Kosovo Liberation Army) and the war veterans in the presence of a Serbian deputy. Nevertheless, based on what is heard, the conversation takes place after the law has been voted on. Kusari-Lila demands an explanation from Simić as to why, after a long boycott of the sessions, the Serbian List came to vote for the law. According to her, the unexpected participation of Serbian deputies was aimed at tarnishing the decision-making process to portray LVV as collaborators with the Serbian List.
The Government's refusal to acknowledge the facts and their attempt to shift blame onto someone else
Prime Minister Kurti and his aides dismissed the fact that the head of LVV’s parliamentary deputies in the Parliament had been in communication with Radojičić, whom she had previously accused of stirring tensions in the northern region.
Kurti dismissed the statements made by the individual who released the recording as "partisan interpretations", raising doubts about possible manipulation. He explained that "it's natural for the head of the parliamentary group to communicate with other parliamentary group leaders" and emphasized that "the government has zero dependence on the Serbian List."
Furthermore, Kurti cautioned about being wary of Serbia's hybrid warfare, which he believes is aimed at sowing confusion among the public, despite the fact that the published recording is authentic.
Kurti also urged the judicial authorities to intervene, but so far, they have not indicated whether they are investigating the case, even though it is the LVV deputy herself who should be scrutinized for her communication with criminals.
Minister of Interior Xhelal Sveçla linked the protest of the veterans and the debate about the audio recordings to Serbia's "hybrid warfare." He expressed his belief that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is losing ground in his competition with Kurti and is, therefore, trying to incite turmoil in Kosovo through the mechanisms under his control.
He stated that the conversations held in the Parliament were recorded by the Serbian List and then handed over to Vučić, "from Vučić's hands, they found their way to be published in a media outlet in Kosovo." He expressed his suspicion over the coincidence that "the protest in Prishtina was held at the same time with the one in Belgrade against Vučić, and that the protest was called by the journalists Berat Buzhala and Vehbi Kajtazi"
In other words, the Kurti Government accused Kosovar journalists of cooperating with Serbia without providing evidence to support this claim.
These statements triggered a reaction from the Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AGK). "Such language jeopardizes the safety of the mentioned journalists and is part of the government's ongoing attempt to intimidate the media," is said in the AGK's response.
Radojičić, a figure often associated with crime and corruption in the northern region, emerged from the shadows by being appointed as the deputy leader of the Serbian List shortly before facing criminal charges. Even before his appointment, he was not an unknown figure. Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj openly admitted that he had cooperation with Radojičić, whom he had met in his office back in 2018.
During their time in opposition, LVV had accused previous governments of collaborating with Radojičić and becoming reliant on the Serbian List, which often had a decisive role in forming governments.
Now, faced with their own representative being caught communicating with Radojičić, there seems to be a complete lack of accountability and responsibility on their part.
*This article is published as part of the Western Balkans Regional Initiative against disinformation. Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: exposing malign influences through watchdog journalism.
28 korrik 2023