The Fate of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers Provides an Alarming Scenario for Albanian Judicial Reform US Ambassador Donald Lu and EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin.

The recent turnaround of several Kosovar MPs and President Hashim Thaçi regarding the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office for Kosovo, which is supposed to investigate and try war crimes from the Kosovo Liberation War, provides an alarming scenario for the future of the Albanian judicial reform.

In a clear-headed analysis in Prishtina Insight, Aidan Hehir traces the history of the installation of the special court and the reasons behind the current action of several MPs to revoke it. The article is worth reading in its entirety, but I would like to pick out several parallels between the process behind the special court and Albania’s judicial reform.

First, the political landscape of Kosovo sketched by Hehir must sound very familiar to anyone occasionally browsing Exit:

The domestic elite has sought to maintain a position of power that enables them to extract Kosovo’s resources for their own gain, while the external actors use Kosovo as a prop in their respective geopolitical machinations, presenting its “success” as evidence of their power.

For the majority of Kosovo’s citizens, the promised land of independence has proved something of a disappointment given the persistent corruption, high unemployment, visa restrictions, and the country’s failure to join key international organizations. Yet, the domestic/external coalition have an altogether different set of criteria for gauging success. They are focused on maintaining stability in Kosovo – narrowly conceived as the absence of inter-ethnic conflict and/or popular unrest – so as to facilitate both the capture of the state’s resources and the proliferation of an imaginary Kosovo for external consumption.

In broad lines, the same holds for Albania. Although in Albania the influence of the internationals is less direct in the sense that Albania’s sovereignty appears to be intact at least on paper, both the EU and US Embassy wield considerable power over Albanian politicians, even though at the same time they are often non-plussed players in a game they fail to understand completely. The continued “progress” of Albania on the road to EU accession is much less evidence of the “success” of the Western values than it is a desire of some international bureaucrats to add this progress as a line to their CV.

Even though Albanians are not restricted, like Kosovars, by visa regulations and live in an internationally recognized country, persistent corruption and high unemployment have led to a continuous exodus of Albanians to the EU, becoming one of the largest groups of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

Moreover, the coalition between the Albanian and international elite exists for the same reasons: state capture and successful portraying a future EU member without really committing to anything.

The reason this coalition in Kosovo committed to the installation of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office for Kosovo in the first place, Hehir argues, “was not so much to facilitate the exercise of justice, but to be seen to be doing so.

The very same thing can easily be said about the Albanian judicial reform, which like in Kosovo, is the result of a domestic/international coalition trying to be seen to be reforming the judicial system, without actually doing so. As the recent unconstitutional election of the Temporary Prosecutor General has shown, neither the internationals nor the domestic elite is interested in actually upholding the legislation passed under the judicial reform. The only thing they both desire is “a few” judges and prosecutors filtered out by the vetting process, and continue to business as usual – extracting enormous profits from an impoverished population.

Why the current political situation in Kosovo provides such an interesting parallel, is that it shows what happens when the internationals do not deliver on their promise:

In explaining his recent rejection of the Court, Thaci stated that he supported the Court’s establishment because “we were promised that we can apply for membership into the Council of Europe, that visa liberalization will happen soon, that we will have massive support on membership in UNESCO, and we will be allowed to establish the Kosovo Army very soon and have new recognitions.” Given that the ‘International community did not fulfil any of the promises,’ naturally, Thaci’s support has faded (the international community has rejected claims that the Court was a trade-off).

Thus, amidst the current crisis, the motivation behind the establishment of the Court is laid bare. For the West, the Court’s purification of Kosovo’s international image would enable it to once again be proudly touted as conclusive evidence of Western benevolence, might and efficacy; hence the increasingly grave threats now being issued by the US, the EU and the Quint states. The powerful elite acceded to the creation of the Court as a means to secure both the continued patronage of their foreign sponsors and the array of lucrative ‘promises’ made. Achieving justice for the victims was a secondary motivation. This of course explains the government’s noted reluctance to boost public perceptions of the Court.

The judicial reform in Albania runs exactly the same risk. Why would Prime Minister Edi Rama be interested in the appointment of a National Investigation Bureau and Special Prosecutor with a far-reaching independence if he doesn’t get EU accession negotiations in return? Why would the government continue to fund the vetting commission if that puts allies such as Saimir Tahiri in harm’s way? Why would they hurry with appointing the High Prosecutorial Council, when they now have a Temporary Prosecutor General with an indefinite term in office in their pocket?

For both the internationals and the Rama government the actual reinforcement of the Albanian judicial system was, just like in Kosovo, a “secondary motivation.” And if in the coming months the EU Council of Ministers decides not to open accession negotiations with Albania, Rama will have been able to drag on the implementation of the judicial reform and its key institutions long enough to completely mold to his own desires.

His strategy is simple: to make enough progress to impress the internationals, but not enough to threaten his own power. He can still pull the plug at any time, and the developments in Kosovo should be a warning to any international in Albania who thinks the judicial reform can only forward.