Love him or hate him, you have to admire the chutzpah of Hashim Thaçi. As the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) he learnt poker-faced brinkmanship particularly early in his political career. In 1999, following much cajoling from  Secretary of State Madeline Albright, he finally added his signature to the Rambouillet accords – against the wishes and death threats of some of the KLA commanders he represented. Aged just 29, the consequences of adding his name to the other Albanian signatories set in motion the NATO bombing of Serbian targets, the withdrawal of Serbian state forces from Kosovo, the disarmament of the KLA, and, ultimately, to Thaci himself declaring Kosovo’s independence in 2008.


Hashim Thaçi

Thaçi addressing the Nation as he resigned to face war crimes charges


Over the next 14-years Thaci’s power as a leader was often consolidated through coalition governments. His free-market administration began building roads and schools and overseeing privatisation against a background of pervasive poverty and high unemployment, yet still overseeing a steady rise in the country’s GDP. His once unrivalled reputation, however, became tainted with unrelenting accusations of ‘state capture,’ corruption, theft and nepotism. The death knell of his authority eventually arrived when he was ousted from power following consecutive land slide victories to the leftist party Vetëvendosje (VV), led by the current Prime Minister Albin Kurti, in Feb 2020 and March 2021.

But the biggest blow to his status fell like a thunder clap from the skies – when a mid-air phone call caused him turn-around a Washington bound flight to a ‘Trump brokered’ peace summit in June 2020. Summoned to appear for trial at a specialist court in the Hague, Thaci returned home to face charges of murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture of 100 or so war crimes victims.

Under international pressure the Specialist Court had previously been approved, somewhat absurdly, by the Kosovo Assembly and Thaci himself. Initially based on a Council of Europe report that included spurious – now dropped – claims of KLA run organ harvesting charges against Thaci, were compounded by a follow-up investigation under US prosecutor Clint Williamson that found:

“Certain senior officials of the former KLA bear responsibility for a campaign of persecution that was directed at the ethnic Serb, Roma, and other minority populations of Kosovo and toward fellow Kosovo Albanians whom they labelled as political opponents.”

Finding systematic practice in the crimes in question Williamson recommended investigations towards indicting the KLA leadership for alleged responsibility as part of a “joint criminal enterprise”.

It wasn’t until April 3, 2023 that Thaci’s trial, alongside three other senior leaders of the KLA finally opened. In Prishtina thousands gathered the day before for a “March for Justice,” to decry the special court; ironically gathering a comparable crowd to 2015 protests that one cried for Thaci’s removal: “Thaci out!” [of Government].


Thaçi will return a hero, his reputation intact

I write this not as impartial journalism, but as a human being, who, after ten years in Kosovo, has dug into the war record and cathartically changed his mind about the allegations against Kosovo’s former President.

Few in Kosovo, including the defence themselves, refute reprehensible crimes against political opponents, minorities, collaborators and other so-called traitors took place both during and after the war; but linking them to a coherent chain of command may prove a stretch to far.

Hashim Thaci’s defence themselves opened by saying: “Crimes were committed – but were not motivated by the joint criminal enterprise described in the indictment.”

The KLA defence team have presented evidence that they were a disparate group of guerrillas, fighting localised battles without a strong chain of command – and my independent digging into the war record collaborates this.

During the open of the trial documentary film and the recollections of well-known figures from the war period hit home the point. Thaci’s defence team quoted Joe Biden’s memoires:

“I know that you know you do not control the KLA,” Biden said to Thaci.

While a quote from Ambassador Christopher Hill underlined the threats Thaci faced from KLA commanders if he signed for something short of full independence:

“Why can’t you agree to this?” I asked Thaci, truly not understanding whether he comprehended the near-fatal consequences of the Kosovars of a “no” answer.

It is you who doesn’t understand,” he replied. “If I agree to this, I will go home and they will kill me.”

Other documents independently obtained by myself paint a similar, if incomplete, picture of the KLA in the summer of 1998.

One of the strongest was a fax sent by Ex-Royal-Marine and MP Paddy Ashdown from Kosovo to London in June 1998 paraphrasing the “convincing analysis,” of the KLA by Zeri Editor Blerim Shala, as: “damaged and divided but not diminished.” On return to the UK Ashdown wrote to inform PM Blair of the Albanian Government’s opinion of the KLA:

“They believe that the KLA remains a largely dispersed organisation, based on a village defence system, with little or no overall command and control and no political direction. This is on the way to being formed, however and will be established over the coming weeks and months.”

Another document gives Thaci what amounts to a letter of recommendation from President Clinton. During the cessation of hostilities in 1999 he telephoned Thaci to say: “Your statement about respecting human rights and minority rights is very important…We will have a good future. I Iook forward to meeting you and I admire your leadership.”

Meanwhile ex-ambassadors and advisors to Kosovo, including Mark Dickinson, James Rubin and Robert Bosch have popped their heads above the parapet to offer arguments delegitimizing the court and the prosecution. They point out the inherent contradiction in the claim that the court has not been set up to singularly try the KLA, by pointing out the obvious: the people on trial are only from the KLA.

Having personally spent ten years living in Kosovo, immersed in and sometimes believing the constant accusations against Thaci, both from the investigating prosecutors and his political opposition, I have painfully concluded that many of the attacks, though driven by a need for accountability, also project that need onto a convenient scapegoat.

This is not to say he’s a saint, there are few saints in war and politics, but I believe in my bones Thaci will be found not guilty (though I cannot draw the same conclusion for all of the accused).

Should he win his freedom, he will undoubtably return as a mythological hero. Lionised already by the faithful he will be forgiven for the perceived sins of his past, while the perpetrators of the crimes in question will run free. Post war revenge may not have been served cold, but post war justice may not be served at all.

Having already spent three years in detention Thaci’s trial will continue for an undetermined and indefinite period.

Article originally published in Albanian for Nacionale here.

The book “Kosovo: War in Their Own Words” is available here.

Kosovo Specialist Chambers.