Brawl Erupts in Kosovo Parliament After Opposition Lawmaker Throws Water on Prime Minister

The Kosovo parliament erupted in a melee on Thursday after a lawmaker from the opposition party approached the podium and threw water on Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who was giving a speech about reducing tensions between Serbs and Albanians.

Kurti took the podium on the third day of a heated debate over the situation in northern Kosovo, where Serbs rioted after an April election in which ethnic Albanians swept most of the mayoral races. Serbs largely boycotted the elections because their demands for greater autonomy have been ignored. The main political party in the region, the Serbian List, plainly told its voters to stay home.

The president of neighboring Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, praised the Serbian voters of Kosovo for boycotting the vote, describing their action as a “peaceful political uprising” against Albanian “occupiers.” One predictable consequence of all the Serbian voters refusing to cast ballots was that Albanian candidates ended up winning almost all of the races, even though northern Kosovo is heavily Serbian. Overall turnout for the election was less than four percent.

The political uprising stopped being peaceful after the Serbians realized they had saddled themselves with near-total political domination by Kurti’s left-wing Albanian nationalist party, Vetevendosje.

Watch: Multiple NATO Peacekeepers Injured in CLASHES with Serb Protesters in Kosovo

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty via Storyful

Dozens of police, international peacekeepers, and civilians were injured in the ensuing unrest. Serbian Kosovars became even angrier when Kurti sent in special police units to restore order. In mid-June, three of the special police officers strayed close enough to the border for Serbia to arrest them for ostensibly illegal possession of weapons and explosives.

The three officers were released after two weeks, although Serbia is still threatening to press charges against them. Kurti said on Wednesday he will withdraw a quarter of the special police force protecting municipal buildings in northern Kosovo to reduce tensions with Serbia.

Shaken by unrest in the North and strident calls from Serbia for the elected Albanian mayors to step down, Kurti said in June he would be willing to redo the election, provided at least 20 percent of voters sign a petition requesting it. On July 11, the Kosovar government said steps for a new election would be “finalized within a two-week period.”

The United States and European Union said Kurti was not moving fast enough to restore peace, urging him to withdraw all of his special police from the Serbian-majority region, recall the mayors installed by the April election, hold new municipal elections, and move forward on decade-old plans to grant the region greater autonomy.

Opposition lawmakers accused Kurti of dithering and “experimenting” for months while Kosovo’s relationship with its Western allies deteriorated, then caving in and doing what the U.S. and EU wanted him to do all along.

Before the prime minister addressed the legislature on Thursday, someone snuck a picture of him photoshopped to have a long Pinocchio nose onto the podium. Kurti’s deputy, Besnik Beslimi, removed the photo and tore it up. The opposition shouted, “Liar!” at Kurti while Beslimi ripped up the Pinocchio picture.

Lawmaker Mergim Lushtaku of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo then approached the podium and threw a glass of water on Kurti, with enough left over to sprinkle on members of the prime minister’s party seated behind him.

This triggered a brawl on the floor, with dozens of politicians shoving each other and shouting. Kurti was escorted from the chamber during the melee.

brawl erupts in kosovo parliament after opposition lawmaker throws water on prime minister

Lawmakers push each other as a brawl breaks out in Kosovo’s parliament in Pristina, Kosovo, on July 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Ridvan Slivova)

Balkan Insight offered a play-by-play breakdown of the action:

PDK MP Ganimete Musliu placed a photo-montage of Kurti with an elongated liar’s nose on the parliamentary podium, which was removed by Deputy PM Besnik Bislimi.

Soon after, PDK MP Mergim Lushtaku approached Kurti and threw water at him and Bislimi. The Minister of Finance, Hekuran Murati, then placed himself in the middle, moving a file in the air.

But he was pushed by Lushtaku, who was then hit by Bislimi with a bottle of water. Lushtaku then had a physical collision with Minister of Justice, Albulena Haxhiu, and more MPs from the PDK and government ministers joined in the fight, while speaker Konjufca called for the police.

The parliamentary session resumed four hours later, but opposition lawmakers held up posters mocking Kurti and physically blocked members of his party from taking the floor, so another scuffle broke out but was quickly suppressed by police and parliamentary security officers.

“This what happened at Kosovo parliament is unacceptable and use of violence in punishable,” declared parliament speaker Glauk Konjufca.

The Kosovo parliament is no stranger to theatrics. In March 2018, opposition lawmakers threw tear gas grenades to prevent a vote on ratifying a border agreement with Montenegro:

Western officials are understandably concerned that unrest in northern Kosovo could trigger another regional confrontation like the one in the 1990s — a blast from the past that would be especially unwelcome while Russia is making war against Ukraine. 

Another reason the atmosphere in Parliament was so tense — according to Balkan Insight, the main reason pitchers, punches, and Pinocchios flew on Thursday — was that a Kosovar newspaper called Nacionale on Monday published audio recordings of an alleged June conversation between the chairwoman of Kurti’s party, Mimoza Kusari-Lila, and a former MP from the Serbia-backed Kosovo Serb party, Slavko Simic.

In the recording of what sounded like a relaxed chat over coffee, the two discussed a third politician named Milan Radojcic, a former Kosovar official who now lives in Serbia. Kusari told Simic she had recently spoken with Radojcic, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for links to organized crime and is the subject of an arrest warrant in Kosovo.

Simic told Kusari that Radojcic is “not a destructive element,” and in fact, was secretly running Simic’s party, Srpska Lista.

The recording also captured Kusari and Simic speaking about other Kosovo politicians in very insulting terms. Outrage boiled across the Kosovar political scene all week as Kusari denied speaking with Radojcic while Kurti scrambled to portray the recorded conversation as having been “mutilated” and “edited” to create negative “partisan interpretations.”

Authored by John Hayward via Breitbart July 14th 2023