Kosovo elected reformist lawyer Vjosa Osmani as its new president in early April. President Osmani will serve alongside Prime Minister Albin Kurti as part of the ruling Vetëvendosje party, a reformist social-democratic organization. However, Kosovo is currently facing several challenges, ranging from a public health crisis to unresolved disputes with Serbia. If Osmani hopes to steer her country in the right direction, she will have to do more than simply propose solutions.
Osmani graduated from University of Pittsburgh School of Law and, Politico E.U. reports, “was already serving as interim president after Hashim Thaçi’s resignation last year to face charges of crimes against humanity.” She is Kosovo’s second female leader. While the president will collaborate with Prime Minister Kurti and other parliament members on domestic and foreign affairs, she will take a prominent role in foreign policy and as the commander of the armed forces.
Osmani was a popular candidate, but her election has faced boycott from “representatives of the Serbian ethnic minority and members of Thaçi’s party of former guerilla fighters.” “In two rounds of voting on April 3rd, 78 and 79 deputies participated [respectively],” RFE/RL said. 80 votes are required to form a quorum. On the third vote, Osmani won 71 out of 82 votes cast.
Before Osmani can advance her political priorities, however, there are major crises at hand.
Among the most pressing concerns is the COVID-19 pandemic. Kosovo has a deficit of adequate resources to keep its population safe from the virus and a high degree of skepticism about the pandemic and vaccines. Perhaps due to these issues, the nation’s vaccine drive has been lagging compared to that of its regional neighbors. The country has previously received vaccines through the COVAX international program, which is meant to assist countries, like Kosovo, which may not have all resources available to vaccinate its population.
Given Kosovo’s economic and political situation, collaboration with local and external partners will be key in devising solutions to the pandemic. For example, having talks with the heads of COVAX or vaccine manufacturers may help address the issue of vaccine supplies. Osmani will also need to look into the roots of her country’s skepticism and address citizen concerns. She and Prime Minister Kurti should meet with health officials and local leaders to develop plans to take on the health crisis and understand how Kosovans will react.
Another major issue is Kosovo’s ongoing political conflict with Serbia. In September, both Kosovo and Serbia signed a deal focusing on economic cooperation. The deal was a step forwards but did not address many of the broader issues both countries dispute. There must be more work on this front in order to prevent an increase in tensions between the countries. Having more dialogue with Serbia will also be important in terms of normalizing relations and addressing longstanding political issues.
Additionally, domestic issues of corruption and media freedoms have plagued Kosovo for many years. A recent report from Amnesty International found that governments in several countries in southeastern Europe, including Kosovo, “took insufficient measures to protect journalists and whistle-blowers, including health workers, at times targeting those who criticized government responses to COVID-19.” Other research in this report indicates that “investigative journalists in Kosovo, including those from BIRN [the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network], faced threats, slurs and attacks.” Osmani will have to address these issues and promote legislation that promotes transparency in the media and discourages violence against journalists. This can be done via her work with Parliament.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of items that Osmani will need to consider and address. However, given recent developments and changes, these are items that will be high on her agenda.