Kosovo Has Forgiven Turkey’s Interference Too Easily

Kosovo may rely in part on Turkish goodwill – but it should not have forgotten so rapidly the recent, secretive and highly controversial deportation of six Turks from the country.

Nektar Zogjani

Originally published by BIRN

July 23, 2018

The recent arrests of two Turkish citizens in Azerbaijan and Ukraine – who were then deported to Turkey to face charges of alleged links with the exiled Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen – has added to the fears felt the Turkish diaspora about people’s safety.

 

The secret operation, which Turkish state media said took place last Thursday, has made it clear that following his sweeping victory in snap elections on June 24, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to continue seizing and silencing his critics in the diaspora.

 

This news has sparked fresh fears in Kosovo, where the Turkish community suffered a similar experience recently.

 

On March 29, Kosovo police secretly arrested and deported six Turkish nationals, reportedly without the knowledge of the country’s own government.

 

While the families of the deportees and human rights organizations are still up in the arms over this, the incident seems to have been forgiven by Kosovo President Hashim Thaci.

 

He was one of a handful of European leaders to attend Erdogan’s presidential oath-taking ceremony in Ankara on July 9.

 

Few people in Kosovo expected Thaci to express any real concerns to Erdogan – assuming Erdogan had any time to meet the Kosovo President during the ceremony – even though such a scandal, in normal circumstances, would surely have strained relations between the two countries.

 

When the deportation was revealed, Thaci was notably more muted than other leaders in Kosovo, including Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, Assembly Speaker Kadri Veseli, as well as representatives of the opposition parties. 

After Haradinaj dismissed his interior minister and intelligence chief for failing to inform him of the operation, Erdogan – in front of thousands of Turks – slated Haradinaj for his actions. He also warned Kosovo to expect similar actions in future. Such a threat should be taken seriously.

 

“Our National Intelligence Service picked up six of their senior managers during an operation in Kosovo and brought them here. But I’m saddened. The Kosovo prime minister has dismissed the chief of intelligence and the interior minister. Now I ask: ‘Hey, Kosovo prime minister – who told you to do this?’” Erdogan was quoted as saying.

 

However, Thaci is the one who is supposed to bear the responsibility of responding to such actions, especially given his insistence on his indispensable role in Kosovo’s foreign policy.

 

Yet Thaci remained mostly silent about the arrest and deportation of six Turks, and then failed to react again after Erdogan, in his reply to the Kosovo government, continued to interfere with what should be Kosovo’s internal issues.

 

Although the deportation “incident” triggered harsh reactions in Kosovo [as well as triumphant reactions in Turkey], the story was eventually overshadowed by other regional and global developments, quickly heading towards collective oblivion.

 

Kosovo has not taken any measures even against the Turkish company that is believed to have deceived the Kosovo authorities when getting a permit to carry out a commercial flight from Pristina airport, while being involved in the deportation of the Turks.

 

The question arising from that experience, as well as from the more recent one from Azerbaijan and Ukraine is – is Kosovo opening its doors to other countries to interfere in its internal affairs through its silence in face of that event?

 

One could argue, of course, that Thaci simply could not miss the ceremony in Ankara.

 

Thaci and Erdogan have cemented a close relationship over the past years. Given that Thaci has been shunned by Western leaders since he was elected President of Kosovo, it was an ideal occasion for him to travel outside Kosovo, without having to meet his Serbian counterpart as a part of the difficult “normalization of relations” process.

 

Kosovo and Turkey in general have friendly relations and Thaci’s visit to Ankara should be viewed in the context of advancing this relationship.

 

Despite that, in the circumstances, the visit could and should have also served as an opportunity for Thaci to raise the issue of the deportation of six Turkish citizens from Kosovo in a deeply suspicious fashion.

 

While Kosovo has failed to protect itself from obvious interference from Turkey and react in relation to the arrested Turks, it has not missed opportunities to react to other countries on other occasions.

 

On July 10, the Kosovo Police arrested five Serbs, who, according to Assembly Speaker Veseli, had been threatening members of the Kosovo Security Force, KSF, pressuring them to leave the force.

 

Reportedly, a number of Serbian members of the KSF have resigned due to what the Kosovo authorities assess as direct pressure from Belgrade.

 

In the case of Turkey, if is too late now for any concrete actions in response to the deportation of the six Turkish citizens, but Kosovo should at least declaratively continue to protest over such actions.

 

As with the case of the Serbs, Kosovo has a responsibility to protect minority communities living in Kosovo.

It should be noted also that Kosovo itself has a history of interfering in affairs of neighbouring countries.

 

Prime Minister Haradinaj has allocated financial aid for the families of the so-called Kumanova Group – a group of men who have been jailed in Macedonia in connection with an armed shoot-out with the police.

Such aid could be considered evidence that Kosovo in some way directly supported the aims of that group, whose ultimate goal remains unclear.

Ten years after declaring independence, Kosovo continues to face serious problems internally and externally.

The country cannot pretend to be a normal state without maintaining equal and fair relations with other countries. 

But with Turkey, unfortunately, it seems that Kosovo not only has forgiven but has even forgotten what happened on its soil only a few months ago.