Albin Kurti (Albanian pronunciation: ['albin 'kuɾti]; born 24 March 1975) is the Prime Minister of Kosovo, having been elected in March 2021 for a second time. He first served in the role between February and June 2020.

Albin Kurti
Kurti in 2023
Prime Minister of Kosovo
Assumed office
22 March 2021
PresidentGlauk Konjufca (acting)
Vjosa Osmani
DeputyBesnik Bislimi
Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz
Emilija Redžepi
Preceded byAvdullah Hoti
In office
3 February 2020 – 3 June 2020
PresidentHashim Thaçi
DeputyAvdullah Hoti
Haki Abazi
Preceded byRamush Haradinaj
Succeeded byAvdullah Hoti
Leader of the Opposition
In office
3 June 2020 – 22 March 2021
Preceded byKadri Veseli
Succeeded byEnver Hoxhaj
In office
9 December 2014 – 3 February 2020
Preceded byIsa Mustafa
Succeeded byKadri Veseli
Leader of Vetëvendosje
Assumed office
21 January 2018
Preceded byVisar Ymeri
In office
12 June 2005 – 28 February 2015
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byVisar Ymeri
Member of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo
Assumed office
2010
Personal details
Born (1975-03-24) 24 March 1975 (age 48)
Pristina, SR Serbia, SFR Yugoslavia
(now Kosovo)
NationalityKosovar
Albanian
Political partyVetëvendosje
SpouseRita Augestad Knudsen
Children1
EducationUniversity of Pristina
Signature
Military service
Political representativeKosovo Liberation Army

He came to prominence in 1997 as the vice-president of the University of Pristina student union, and a main organizer of non-violent student demonstrations 1997 and 1998. Kurti then worked in Adem Demaçi's office when the latter became the political representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army "Commander in chief" (KLA). Kurti has been a member of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo since 2010 in three consecutive legislatures.

Personal life edit

Albin Kurti was born on 24 March 1975 in Pristina, Yugoslavia. Kurti's father, Zaim Kurti originates from an Albanian family from the village of Sukobin in Ulcinj Municipality, Montenegro; an engineer, he moved to Pristina in search for employment. Kurti's mother, Arife Kurti is a retired elementary school teacher, born and educated in Pristina.[1] Kurti also has 2 brothers, Arianit and Taulant. Kurti finished his elementary and middle education in Pristina. He graduated university in 2003 in Telecommunications and Computer Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Pristina.[2]

He is married to Norwegian Rita Augestad Knudsen, and they have a daughter named Lea. In addition to his native Albanian, he also speaks Serbian, French, and English. Besides his Kosovo citizenship, Kurti also holds Albanian citizenship and has voted in Albanian elections.[3]

Rise to prominence and arrest edit

Albin Kurti first came to prominence in October 1997, as one of the leaders of the student protests in Kosovo. Albanian students protested against the occupation of the University of Pristina campus by the Yugoslav police. The occupation had started in 1991 and had led to ethnic Albanian academic staff and students having to use alternative locations for their classes due to them being barred from using university premises by Serbian law.[4] The protests were crushed violently, but the students and Kurti did not stop the resistance and they organized other protests in the following months. In July 1998, Kurti collaborated as assistant of the political representative Adem Demaçi, close to the UÇK group. These actions made him a target of the Yugoslav police.[2][5]

In April 1999, during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Kurti was arrested and severely beaten by Yugoslav forces.[6] He was first sent to the Dubrava prison, but as the Serbian army withdrew from Kosovo, they transferred him to a prison in Požarevac on 10 June 1999.[2] Later that year, he was charged with "jeopardizing Yugoslavia's territorial integrity and conspiring to commit an enemy activity linked to terrorism" and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.[7]

Political career edit

Kurti was released in December 2001 by Yugoslavia's post-Milošević government after being pardoned by President Vojislav Koštunica[8] amid international pressure. Since his release, he worked outside party politics in Kosovo but was a severe critic of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and of corruption. He organised non-violent protests in support of the families of those whose relatives disappeared in the war, and in favor of Kosovo's self-determination. On 23 April 2003 Kurti graduated with a degree in Computer and Telecommunications Sciences from the University of Prishtina. He was an activist for the Action for Kosovo Network (AKN), which was formed in 1997, and was a movement whose mission focused on human rights and social justice, education, culture and art.[citation needed]

 
Albin Kurti in a Vetëvendosje demonstration, 2013

On 12 June 2005 AKN activists wrote the slogan "No negotiations, Self-Determination" on the walls of UNMIK buildings. The police, with the help of UN Police, arrested, jailed, and convicted hundreds of activists, including Kurti. AKN then changed its name to the Self-Determination Movement (Vetëvendosje). Vetëvendosje demanded a referendum on the status of Kosovo, stating "only with a referendum as a use of international right for self-determination, can we realise a democratic solution for Kosovo, instead of negotiations which compromise freedom".[9]

In February 2007 Vetëvendosje organized a protest against the Ahtisaari Plan, which according to them divided Kosovo along ethnic lines and did not give the people of Kosovo what they were striving for. The protest turned violent and the Romanian UN Police killed two unarmed protesters and injured 80 others with plastic and rubber bullets. Kurti was arrested. He was detained until July 2007 and then kept under house arrest. Amnesty International criticised the irregularities in his prosecution. He was eventually sentenced to nine months. Kurti was an advocate of "active nonviolent resistance".[10]

Vetëvendosje joined the political spectrum of Kosovo by running in the elections of 2010 for the first time. Albin Kurti was the candidate for prime minister, though Vetëvendosje only scored 12.69% and won 14 out of 120 seats in the assembly, becoming the third political force in the country. Vetëvendosje criticized the Brussels Agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. The Vetëvendosje MPs, including Kurti, were escorted out of the parliament by police for disrupting the session of the assembly.[11]

Kurti ran for prime minister again in the following elections in 2014, but Vetëvendosje was third again, only gaining 16 seats. Vetëvendosje and Kurti personally were involved in the protests within the parliament that earned international attention by setting off tear gas in the parliament on multiple cases.[12][13]

In the 2017 election Vetëvendosje doubled in size, becoming the biggest political party in Kosovo and winning 32 seats (the most as an individual party compared to other parties in that election); his party took 200.135 votes (27,49%).[14] They were still defeated by the big PANA coalition that took 245.627 (33,74%). Albin Kurti became the most-voted politician in Kosovo. During this term, Kurti was the leader of the opposition and Vetëvendosje managed to put strong pressure on the government in coordination with the other opposition party, LDK. On 3 January 2018 Kurti was sentenced to 1 year and 6 months in prison on probation for his role in setting off the tear-gas in 2015.[15]

Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned in July 2019, taking Kosovo to early elections in October 2019. In the elections that followed, Kurti's Vetëvendosje won the largest share of the electorate with 221.001 (26,27% or 29 seats) and remained the first political force in Kosovo, with Kurti's share of votes increasing further in comparison to 2017. He became Prime Minister of Kosovo in early February 2020.

On 26 November 2019, an earthquake struck Albania. Kurti visited Durrës on Friday to survey the damage and stressed the importance for institutional cooperation between both Kosovo and Albania.[16][17]

On 18 March 2020, Kurti sacked Interior Minister Agim Veliu (LDK) due to his support for declaring a state of emergency to handle the coronavirus pandemic, which would have given power to the Kosovo Security Council chaired by Hashim Thaçi (PDK). The Democratic League of Kosovo, the junior partner leader of the coalition, filed a no-confidence vote motion in retaliation for the sacking and on 25 March 82 members of the Kosovo Assembly voted in favor of the motion becoming the first government to be voted out of power due to disagreements over how to handle the coronavirus pandemic.[18][19][20]

The Kurti cabinet continued as a caretaker government,[21][22] until 3 June 2020, when Avdullah Hoti was elected as the next Prime Minister.[23]

On 26 January 2021, Kurti was barred from running in the 2021 Kosovan parliamentary election by Kosovo's election complaints panel, as he had been convicted of a crime less than three years prior to the election.[24] In spite of this, the party went on to win by a landslide with 50.28% of the vote.

Prime Minister of Kosovo edit

First term edit

 
First Kurti cabinet

On 3 February 2020, Albin Kurti was elected Prime Minister of Kosovo with 66 votes[25] in favor and 10 abstains,[26] 34 opposition MPs boycotted the vote and left the Kosovo assembly building.

One of the first decisions by Kurti and his cabinet was to repeal the unpopular pay raise awarded to ministers by the preceding Haradinaj government and return salaries to their previous amount.[27] As a result, the Prime Minister's monthly wage set at €2,950 will return to €1,500 for Kurti.[27]

As part of his government's policy platform, Kurti seeks to introduce a three-month period of military conscription service in Kosovo, viewing it important to the country's defence.[28][25]

Countries visited edit

List of official visits abroad made by Albin Kurti as prime minister.

# Country Date Cities visited Type of visit
1   Albania 11 February 2020 Tirana Official visit[29][30]
2   Germany 14 February 2020 Munich Munich Security Conference
3   United Kingdom 24 February 2020 London European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
4   Belgium 28 April 2021 Brussels Official visit[31]
5   European Union 15 June 2021 Brussels Belgrade–Pristina negotiations
6   France 23 June 2021 Paris Meeting with Emmanuel Macron
7   Croatia 25 July 2021 Zagreb Meeting the wounded on the bus crash on Slavonski Brod
8   Slovenia 1 September 2021 Bled 16th Bled Strategic Forum
9   North Macedonia 16 September 2021 Skopje Official visit[32]
10   Austria 23 November 2021 Vienna Official visit[33]
11   Germany 18–21 February 2022 Munich Munich Security Conference[34]
12   United Kingdom 28 February 2022 London Western Balkans Investment Summit 2022[35]
13   Turkey 12 March 2022 Antalya Antalya Diplomacy Forum[36]
14   Norway 27–29 March 2022 Oslo Official visit[37]
15   Greece 6–9 April 2022 Athens Delphi Economic Forum[38]
16   United States 26–29 April 2022 Washington, D.C. Funeral ceremony of Madeleine Albright[39]
17   Germany 4 May 2022 Berlin Official visit[40]
18   United States 6–23 May 2022 Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Des Moines Official visit[41]
19 25–26 July 2022 Washington, D.C. Working visit[42]
20   Japan 26–28 September 2022 Tokyo State Funeral of Shinzo Abe[43]
21   Germany 3 November 2022 Berlin Berlin Process[44]
22   France 10 November 2022 Paris Paris Peace Forum[45]
23   Estonia 18 November 2022 Tallinn Official visit[46]
24   Czech Republic 15 December 2022 Prague Working visit[47]
25   Austria 12 January 2023 Vienna Official visit[48]
26   Turkey 3 February 2023 Istanbul Working visit[49]
27   Germany 18–19 February 2023 Munich Munich Security Conference
28   European Union 27 February 2023 Brussels Belgrade–Pristina negotiations
29   France 15 March 2023 Strasbourg Working visit[50]
30   North Macedonia 18 March 2023 Ohrid Belgrade–Pristina negotiations
31   South Korea 4–5 May 2023 Seoul Working visit[51]
32   Slovakia 31 May 2023 Bratislava Globsec Forum
33   Vatican City 22 June 2023 Vatican City Official visit[52]
34   United Kingdom 26–27 June 2023 London Official visit[53]
35   Greece 21–22 August 2023 Athens Working visit[54]
36   Slovenia 27–28 August 2023 Bled Bled Strategic Forum[55]
37   Switzerland 22 September 2023 Bern Official visit[56]
38   United Kingdom 9 October 2023 Liverpool Working visit[57]
39   Albania 16 October 2023 Tirana Berlin Process[58]
40   France 9 November 2023 Paris Paris Peace Forum[59]
41   Austria 12 November 2023 Vienna Vienna Economic Forum[60]
42   Belgium 14 December 2023 Brussels Working visit[61]
43   Switzerland 16–19 January 2024 Davos World Economic Forum[62]
44   North Macedonia 21–22 January 2024 Skopje Western Balkan Summit
45   United States 8 February 2024 New York City UNSC Meeting[63]
46   Germany 16 February 2024 Munich Munich Security Conference[64]
47   United Kingdom 23–26 February 2024 London Working visit[65]

Second term edit

 
Second Kurti cabinet

Kurti was elected Prime Minister of Kosovo for a second time on 22 March 2021 with 67 members of the assembly voting in favour and 30 members against.[66]

Kurti condemned the 2022 Kosovo protests.[67]

Policies edit

COVID-19 edit

Kurti's government has said that they have spent a lot of energy in providing vaccines for the population. According to the government, in March 2021, Kosovo did not have even one vaccine or any contract for vaccines. By the end of the year however, they provided 2.2 million vaccines and over 60% of the adult population was immunized. According to the World Health Organization, 3212 people have died in Kosovo as result of COVID-19.[68]

Energy crisis edit

In 2021, Kurti's government faced Kosovo's biggest energy crisis since 2010, leading the government to declare a state of emergency for energy on December 24, 2021.[69] In July 2022, the United States gave a grant to Kosovo in the amount of 236 million dollars for an energy conversation project. Through this project, Kosovo will have energy reserves through high capacity batteries of 170 megawatts. These batteries will make it possible to provide reserves of about 347 megawatts per hour. This means that the electricity produced at a certain time can be accumulated, so that it can be used during the hours of the day when the demand for energy, but also the prices, are higher.[70][71][72]

The investment will increase the production capacity for 30 MW and the lifetime of TC Kosova B, without increasing the emission of polluting gases and the need for frequent repairs.[73][74][75] The government's first auction for Renewable Solar Energy with a capacity of 100 MW continues to be open until January 2024.[76]

Justice reforms edit

During the election campaign, Kurti had promised Vetting and the reform of the justice system. After the victory in the elections, the Kurti government brought the file on Vetting and justice reform to the Assembly of Kosovo on September 4, 2022.[77]

While on February 2, the Kurti government successfully passed the law on the Bureau of Confiscation of Unjustified Assets[78] but it was criticized by the opposition that according to them the law is not compatible with the Constitution of Kosovo, sending the law for interpretation to the Constitutional Court of Kosovo.[79]

Social reforms edit

The Kurti government for 2023 has allocated 60 million euros for allowances for mothers and children. Children under the age of 2 will benefit from monthly allowances in the amount of 20 euros per month, while children under the age of 16 will benefit from monthly allowances in the amount of 10 euros per month. For unemployed mothers, the government paid the minimum wage of 250 euros for 6 months of maternity leave.[80][81][82]

Kurti has stated that Kosovo has increased its GDP in first three years of his government's rule."We have added over 1 billion to the economy every year. In 2020, the gross domestic product was 6.77 billion euros, while next year (2024) it will be over 10 billion euros," said Kurti. He further stated that they are trying to reduce the poverty rate.[83][84]

Organized crime edit

Kurti has stated that they have made progress in the fight against organized crime during his first two years in power, from 2021 to 2023. According to the figures published by the government, Kosovo Police have arrested over 3800 people for serious criminal offences, including over 300 public officials. 16 drug laboratories have been broken up, nine of them in North Mitrovica. They have confiscated 2.2 tons of narcotics and over 14 million euros have been seized under the suspicion of misuse and money laundering. Meanwhile, Kosovo Customs has confiscated goods worth 30.6 million euro. In cooperation with Montenegro and North Macedonia, illegal roads have been closed along the respective borders. 24 illegal roads have also been closed in North Mitrovica which were used for smuggling, trafficking and illegal border crossing by organized crime structures.[85][86][87]

Kosovo Security Force edit

The Kurti government has increased the budget for the Ministry of Defense. In 2017, the budget for the Kosovo Security Force was 51 million euros. In 2022, the budget increased to 102 million euros and in 2023, it increased to 123 million. 153 million euros have been allocated for 2024. The Security Force has purchased six drones from Turkey, known as Bayraktar, and has concluded several other agreements for the purchase of armaments. New recruits have also been added to the Kosovo Security Force, increasing the number of soldiers.[88][89][90]

The U.S. government approved a potential sale of hundreds of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Kosovo for an estimated cost of $75 million

Kosovo has requested to buy 246 Javelin missiles and 24 lightweight command launch units, among other items[91][92][93]

Meanwhile Serbia says it is disappointed with possible US sale of anti-tank missiles to Kosovo[94]

President Aleksandar Vučić, said that Kosovo should not have an army because this violates international law. Serbia continues to consider that Kosovo is part of its territory[95]

International relations edit

In 2021 the Government of Kosovo and the Government of Albania signed an agreement for the construction of the Pristina-Durrës railway line. A feasibility study is expected to be carried out for this railway line.[96][97][98]

The Government of Kosovo and the Government of North Macedonia have signed an agreement for the construction of the Prizren-Tetovo road. The Government of Kosovo has started the procedures for the expropriation of the land for the construction of the road which is expected to have a length of 45 kilometers.[99][100][101] They have also signed a cooperation agreement with Montenegro for the construction of the Peja-Rožaje and Deçan-Plava road.[102]

The Government of Kosovo has allocated 2 million euros for the Albanians who live in the Preševo Valley and financed the purchase of school textbooks for students, along with providing scholarships.[103][104]

Kosovo-Serbia tensions edit

Kurti has claimed that Serbia is threatening Kosovo's security because it has allegedly built 48 military bases along the border with Kosovo.[105][106] The government of Kosovo has requested that the United States turn Camp Bondsteel, where KFOR troops are stationed, into a permanent American base.[107]

In June 2023, the Government of Kosovo declared the "Civil Defense" and "North Brigade" organizations as terrorist organizations as they allege that they have been responsible for attacks against Kosovo Police and KFOR members in North Mitrovica and have support from the state of Serbia.[108][109] Kosovo's allies have stated that the Government did not consult with them before taking this decision.[110]

On September 24, 2023, a group of armed Serbs attacked the Kosovo Police in the village of Banjska, Zvečan, killing a Kosovo policeman. The Kosovo police killed three of the attackers, while the rest of the group managed to escape and enter Serbia.[111][112][113] The European Union described the attack on the Kosovo Police as a terrorist attack and asked that Serbia bring the perpetrators who were in Serbia to justice.[114][115] Th United States has also requested that Serbia extradite the alleged mastermind of the incident, Milan Radoičić, to Kosovo.[116][117] Serbian Aleksandar Vučić, stated the justice system in Serbia will deal with Milan Radoičić and that he would not be extradited to Kosovo as Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state.[118]

Kurti has accused Russia of encouraging attacks by Serbs against institutions in Kosovo with the aim of destabilizing the region.[119]

Dialogue with Serbia edit

While he was a member of the political opposition, Kurti was known for his strong opinions on the dialogue between the governments of Kosovo and Serbia. He has criticized Kosovo's stance in its negotiations with Serbia, saying that dialogue should be based on conditions and reciprocity. He had further criticized the government for not conditioning the dialogue with Serbia with a return of the bodies of missing persons from the Kosovo War buried in mass graves in Serbia, Serbia paying war reparations to Kosovo, along with the return of allegedly stolen pension funds and artifacts.[120]

Following the 2019 election, Kurti said that "solid dialogue" and "reciprocity" was needed in the process of normalizing relations with Serbia. Kurti stated that Kosovo needed to first negotiate with its Serb minority and the European Union, before negotiating with Serbia. He considers future dialogue with Kosovo's minorities and the EU "a top priority" going forward.[121]

During his second term as prime minister, in 2023, Kurti participated in a series of talks mediated by the European Union with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, leading to the Ohrid Agreement. Based on Kurti's policy of reciprocity in dialogue with Serbia, the agreement obliges both parties to recognise the national symbols and official documents of the other party (among other clauses). However, it stops short of mandating the formal recognition of Kosovo as a sovereign state. The implementation framework for this accord is still pending.

Kosovo-Albania disagreements edit

Kurti had opposed the "Open Balkan" project which consisted of the three countries such as Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia. The Open Balkans project envisioned that there would be no borders between these countries and goods would move tax-free. Kurti, like other politicians in Kosovo, had opposed this regional initiative because they believed that Serbia was trying to extend its economic and political influence through this initiative. Kurti had estimated that Serbia was the largest regional producer and opening borders for their goods would harm the economy of Albania and Kosovo.[122] During a visit to Tirana in 2020, Kurit held a press conference with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama where he argued that the economic project should be based on the interest of the Albanians and that it was necessary to increase commercial cooperation between Albania and Kosovo. Rama opposed Kurti, saying that opening the borders was in the interest of the region.[123][124]

The European Union has held a neutral stance regarding the initiative. They have stated that the initiative would be successful if other countries such as Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina were also integrated.[125] In June 2023, Rama announced that his country had withdrawn from this initiative because "Open Balkan" had fulfilled its mission and that it was time to focus on the processes for integration into the European Union.[126] The Serbian government were surprised with the decision, with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić stating that she would talk with the Albanian Prime Minister, adding that she did not think that the "Open Balkans" project was dead because, according to her, this initiative was in the best interests of their nations.[127]

Unification of Kosovo and Albania edit

Albin Kurti is a strong supporter of direct-democracy and he has often criticized the Constitution of Kosovo for not allowing direct referendums. One topic that he has stated should be decided on through a referendum is the potential unification of Kosovo and Albania.[128] Kurti has continuously criticized the third article of the constitution for not allowing the referendum to happen. In a rally with Vetëvendosje supporters in 2018, Kurti stated that "We want to have the right of Kosovo to join Albania, but we would not start the third Balkan war for this goal."[129] Following the 2019 election and LVV's electoral success, Kurti stated that Kosovo Albanians were not after territorial and political unification with Albania but instead seek "integration with Albania and the EU, through the success of Kosovo as a state."[121] Kurti has however stated that if a referendum would be held on possible unification, he would vote in favour of it.[130]

Relations with the United States edit

 
Kurti (right) with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani in 2022

During his first term as a prime minister, Kurti had a poor relationship with Donald Trump and his administration. Kurti accused the special envoy sent by Trump, Richard Grenell, of discussing the Kosovo–Serbia land swap.[131]

Kurti's opponent Hashim Thaçi had been supported by Grenell who demanded that Kosovo must unconditionally lift punitive tariffs imposed on imports from Serbia so that a "deal" he has championed, namely the establishment of direct rail and air connections between Kosovo and Serbia, could have been enforced as soon as possible. Kurti countered by saying that Kosovo could only lift the tariffs if Serbia, for its part, also abolished trade restrictions.[132]

In October 2020, Kurti endorsed the Democratic nominee Joe Biden for U.S. president.[133]

The government of Kosovo had accepted the request of the US to shelter the refugees from Afghanistan in Kosovo. Kosovo has sheltered only Afghan citizens who were at risk due to their collaboration with the United States and NATO. An agreement between the United States and Kosovo allowed the U.S. to temporarily shelter a limited number of Afghan citizens whose applications (for visas in the US) required additional processing. About 700 refugees were sheltered in Camp Bondsteel, located in the municipality of Ferizaj.[134][135]

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External links edit

Political offices
Preceded by Prime Minister of Kosovo
2020
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of Kosovo
2021–present
Incumbent