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AFP
March 22, 2020

In Kosovo, coronavirus breeds political maladies

National

AFP
March 22, 2020

PRISTINA: As Europeans take to their balconies to cheer on health workers every evening, Kosovars have joined the chorus for a different reason: to protest a political debacle threatening to bring down the government in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.

Unable to gather en masse on the streets, Pristina residents have been banging pots and pans from their terraces to express anger at politicians accused of exploiting the health emergency for personal gain.

"I could not imagine such misfortune in my worst dreams," 30-year-old economist Azra Marmullaku, who has been joining the nightly noise-making, told AFP by phone.

Kosovo has "very modest resources to cope with a pandemic that has brought world powers to their feet," she lamented.

"And now, instead of mobilising all of our potential in the fight for survival, we are wasting our time and energy with a power struggle.

"What a shame!"

Across the globe, governments have been clicking into crisis-mode to protect citizens from the rapid spread of the virus, which has already claimed more than 11,000 lives. But in Kosovo, a young and unstable European democracy, the new governing coalition is on the cusp of collapse, mired in squabbling, and with the junior partner threatening to leave.

While only some 22 cases of the new coronavirus have been detected among the population of 1.8 million, testing has been limited and many fear a major outbreak could easily cripple impoverished Kosovo’s already weak healthcare system.

The government only took office two months ago, marking a historic defeat of former rebel fighters who have dominated Kosovo since it broke away from Serbia 20 years ago.

Yet the alliance of the left-wing Vetevendosje party, whose leader Albin Kurti is prime minister, and its centre-right partner, the LDK, has been shaky from the start.

Weeks of tension boiled over on Wednesday when Kurti sacked an LDK minister for breaking rank by supporting calls for a state of emergency because of the new coronavirus. LDK called it the final straw and has submitted a no-confidence motion to parliament.

Analysts say the turmoil is playing straight into the hands of President Hashim Thaci, the former guerilla leader whose nom de guerre was "The Snake", who has been at the centre of Kosovo politics for over a decade.