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Tear Gas and Throwing Water at the PM: Just Another Day in Kosovo’s Parliament

Opposition lawmakers released tear gas in parliament for the ninth time since September.

Security officers inspect the Parliament after the opposition lawmakers release a tear gas device in the Kosovo's parliament in Pristina, March 10, 016, in the latest eruption of a long-running protest against agreements made with Serbia. 
Kosovo government reached a deal with Serbia in 2015 to grant more powers to the Serb minority. Opposition fears the plan will deepen Kosovos ethnic division and increase the influence of Serbia. / AFP / STR        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Security officers inspect the Parliament after the opposition lawmakers release a tear gas device in the Kosovo's parliament in Pristina, March 10, 016, in the latest eruption of a long-running protest against agreements made with Serbia. Kosovo government reached a deal with Serbia in 2015 to grant more powers to the Serb minority. Opposition fears the plan will deepen Kosovos ethnic division and increase the influence of Serbia. / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Just how bad are things in Kosovo’s government? Members of parliament now keep gas masks on hand for inevitable occasions when opposition party lawmakers release tear gas into the chamber. The latest incident came Thursday, when a tear gas attack shut down an unfazed parliament for a mere half hour.

And the opposition didn’t stop there: Lawmakers also threw water at Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, attempted to block the podium, and pointed a laser light at an unidentified minister before leaving the chamber.

Tensions have been running high in Kosovo’s legislature over a planned deal with Montenegro to change the border between the two countries. Opposition lawmakers claim the border change would benefit only Montenegro. They are also frustrated by a plan to expand local power to Kosovo’s Serbian minority, which makes up about 4 percent of the population. Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008.

In December, Kosovo’s Constitutional Court ruled part of the deal with Serbia unconstitutional, and opposition lawmakers repeatedly have demanded the current government step down. Both of those factors fueled Thursday’s outbursts, and tensions have only been exacerbated by the fact that 60 percent of young people and 35 percent of the general population are unemployed.

Besides Thursday, lawmakers have disrupted proceedings eight times since September, including by throwing water bottles and blowing whistles to prevent debate. One of these incidents attempted to block February’s presidential election, which was decided by parliament.

On Thursday, lawmakers reacted to the plumes of gas almost as if they were in the middle of a routine fire drill. One calmly drank a cup of water. Others stood and put on their gas masks or began moving slowly toward the chamber doors.

These outbursts aren’t limited to the government. In early January, civilian protesters angry about the deal with Serbia set fire to government headquarters in Pristina.

“Today we showed the government that we are at war, and war is what we shall see,” a masked protester told Vice News at the time.

Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert

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