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The Kosovo crisis and the release of Hashim Thaci raise questions about his political future and the role of Geoffrey Nice and Nevenka Tromp.

Introduction – the Recent Release of Hashim Thaci

In late May of 2023, NATO troops once more clashed with the Serbs in Kosovo. The Serb protesters were staging a sit-down protest in the town of Zvečan against the installation of ethnic Albanian officials in municipal buildings following elections that were boycotted by the Serb population and thus have zero legitimacy. Kosovo police officers and NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) arrived at the scene and surrounded the demonstrators, who refused to disperse. KFOR used stun grenades and tear gas, leading to a riot. The Serb demonstrators threw rocks at the NATO troops, who responded with baton strikes and rubber bullets. Around 50 protesters were injured and taken to a nearby hospital. Additionally, around 40 KFOR soldiers were hurt as well. The images of bare-handed Serbs fighting off the heavily armed NATO force, in some cases using their own captured weapons, quickly went around the globe, sparking new interest in Serbia’s ill-fated region.

Against the backdrop of the emerging crisis, the fact that the former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, who is currently on trial in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, was allowed to “visit his sick mother” in Kosovo barely made the news. The visit was approved by the Trial Panel of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers on humanitarian grounds. Thaci, who has been in custody in The Hague since November 2020, remained under detention and the custody of the Specialist Chambers during his visit, with support from the EU’s rule-of-law mission EULEX and Kosovo Police. Thaci is being tried alongside three other former senior leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army for offenses committed during and after the 1998-99 war for independence from Serbia.

Aside from being the last high-profile Albanian leader to be tried in The Hague, Thaci is known as a very adaptable and pragmatic politician, far off from his days as a paramilitary leader. This puts him at odds with the current Kosovar government of Albin Kurti, a hardliner Albanian nationalist, regarded as the culprit for rising ethnic tensions in the province, as well as the most recent eruption of violence.

Could Thaci’s return be more than a family-related visit? Is he, perhaps, used as a point of pressure on Kurti and a possible replacement for the ever more isolated Albanian leader?

The unfolding of the crisis in the north of Kosovo will probably give us the answers to those questions in a relatively short time. But the background of Thaci’s release cannot be examined fully and thoroughly without exploring his connections with Geoffrey Nice and his assistant/partner Nevenka Tromp, and delving into the long history of their on-and-off friendship.

Paradise Lost

The Adriatic island of Ugljan, not far from Zadar, Croatia, is dotted with picturesque Mediterranean villas and high-end tourist facilities. Settlements are concentrated mainly on the eastern side of the elongated isle. In its northern part, almost any point is no more than a thousand meters away from the coast in a straight line.

The first settlement you come across from the north of the island is called Gornje Selo, through which Ivana Brčića Street stretches almost its entire length. On this street, not far from the intersection with the Way of All Saints, named after the nearby church, there is an inconspicuous villa. This object is not registered in the available cadastral documents, but the three plots that make up a total area of 2,313 square meters, recorded under the numbers 3882/1, 3882/2, and 3883/1, are owned by a certain Nevenka Vrkić. Vrkić is the co-owner in the unusual share (2,007 square meters out of 6,855 square meters) of two nearby plots (3887/1 and 3887/2), which cover a total area of 6,856 square meters, as well as the co-owner of half of plot 3880 with an area of 1,138 square meters. It is difficult to determine the market value of these properties from publicly available data. From the villa, along the Way of All Saints, you can reach the sea after six hundred meters, while the rest of the land is some three hundred meters away from the beach. Real estate agencies offer houses in the nearby village of Muline for 1,200,000 euros and upwards, and plots of land ten acres in size are sold for between 150,000 and 200,000 euros.

The co-owner of the land and villa in question, Nevenka Vrkić, was a frequent topic of reports by certain Bosniak media last year – she was accused of sabotaging the Bosniak legal effort to get the charges against Serbia for genocide renewed. As the portal wrote, Nevenka Vrkić, also known by her Dutch surname Tromp, together with Geoffrey Nice, offered wide legal services to the Bosniak government for a generous fee of one million euros. Vrkić-Tromp and Nice are very close associates and, according to some information, co-owners of the mentioned properties. By looking at the Google Maps site, it can be seen that the villa has undergone a thorough renovation in recent years – the current appearance and the one recorded by the Google service are very different.

One Long and Close Cooperation

Tromp and Nice are part of the international legal activist establishment. In recent months and years, Nice has been known to make appropriate statements for the Western media in which he accuses various geopolitical opponents of the West of various different crimes. The last in the series of his targets was the Russian political leadership. After his role as a prosecutor in the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where he was the prosecutor in the case against Slobodan Milošević, his role is primarily that of civil activism. Tromp is a part of the same milieu. A lecturer of “Eastern European Studies” at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam, she has been moving through these circles for a long time. In the early eighties, she met Hilke Tromp, a Dutch intellectual and researcher of polemology, i.e., “war studies.” Mr. Tromp wrote several papers on war and international relations while working at the Law Faculty of the University of Groningen, and then, after the Institute for Polemology was shut down, he became the director of the Interuniversity Center for Postgraduate Studies in Dubrovnik.

The content of the lectures is easy to guess – everything is focused on making the practice of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia a normative framework for determining future actions in the field of international law and making the term “genocide” a powerful political weapon directed against the geopolitical opponents of the West.

Nevenka Vrkić studied for four years in the Netherlands, from 1985 to 1989. Two children were born from her marriage with Tromp, a daughter named Mara in 1989 and a son, Hilke junior, five years later. After completing her postgraduate studies, Nevenka Tromp started working at the University of Amsterdam in 1992. It was the right time for all academic researchers who had contact with the former Yugoslavia – the Western public and the media ecosystem there were eager for commentators who could weigh in on the war-torn country on the European periphery. In the second half of the 1990s, Nevenka Tromp was employed at the Institute for War Documentation while her husband worked on the renovation of the Dubrovnik building that housed the aforementioned center for postgraduate studies.

The Hague Connection

There is a certain irony in the fact that the rise of Nevenka Tromp’s academic career was facilitated by a Dutch intellectual who devoted his studies to avoiding war, while cooperation with a British lawyer, a prominent figure of transitional, post-Yugoslav “justice,” marked the last twenty years of her career. She became a researcher at the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Hague Tribunal). Her work there lasted until the death of President Slobodan Milošević on March 11, 2006. Nice left The Hague Tribunal a few months after the conclusion of the case, while Tromp remained engaged in other court cases until 2012.

The end of her engagement in The Hague actually marked the beginning of a wider activist career in the sphere of international criminal law. In February 2014, the non-governmental organization called Geoffrey Nice Foundation was founded and officially registered in Tromp’s apartment. In the Dutch registers, this foundation is named Geoffrey Nice Foundation On Law, History, Politics, And Society In The Context Of Mass Atrocities, at Antonie Duyckstraat 127 2582TG, ‘S-GRAVENHAGE The Hague, Netherlands (company registration number: 59990937, and the date of registration is February 12, 2014). The public profile of this organization is rather sparse. It has three permanent collaborators. In addition to Nice and Tromp, there is also the Serbian human rights activist Sonja Biserko. The main activity of the organization is the holding of seminars within the framework of the international Master Class program entitled “The International Criminal Court in the Context of Transitional Justice.” The content of the lectures is easy to guess – everything is focused on making the practice of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia a normative framework for determining future actions in the field of international law and making the term “genocide” a powerful political weapon directed against the geopolitical opponents of the West. In its summer schools, the Foundation gathered students of law, history, political science, and sociology from various countries in Europe and the USA. Among the lecturers were some prominent names in the field of international justice, and about two hundred participants went through these courses. The Foundation’s courses are supported by the Erasmus program of the European Union. According to the statements of some participants, the content of the course was not excessively rich; however, simply attending such schools had significance for the CV of aspiring future lawyers.

The Foundation’s presence on social media is modest as well – its profiles on social networks are followed by no more than dozens of people, and the Master Class courses were last mentioned in 2020. The Foundation’s financial reports are available for the period from 2014 to 2021. Over several years, it received donations in the amount of 361,551 euros. The Foundation’s operations are quite hermetic to an outside observer, but the absence of a report for 2022 and a narrow management and supervisory structure all suggest that the financial aspect of the Foundation’s work needs to be further examined. Monitoring and auditing the use of funds, according to available information, is performed by Nevenka Tromp.

The Hague years gave Nice an extremely high international credibility in the West and in the pro-Western post-Yugoslav states. He became an unavoidable interlocutor of the Western media on Yugoslav wars and post-war events. In December 2010, Swiss lawyer Dick Marty published a report on suspected crimes and organ trafficking of prisoners in northern Albania, which was linked to some of the leading figures of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army terrorist organization. Some data on the crimes committed by KLA leaders in the north of Albania were collected by the chief investigator of The Hague Tribunal, Patrick Lopez, and then followed up on by the Serbian investigative authorities. Nice addressed this report in a February 2012 article in the London Literary Review, “Who Is K144,” in which he disputed the credibility of the relevant witnesses. According to him, it was all a construct of Serbian media propaganda. Dick Marty’s report also served as a basis for further investigations. The chief prosecutor of the European Union Special Team for the crimes committed in Kosovo in 1999 was American investigator Clint Williamson. In 2014, Williamson and his team determined that the main allegations of the Dick Marty report matched the findings of his research team, although the allegations of organ trafficking were not strongly substantiated to warrant an indictment. The allegations put forward by the report and the investigative commission served as the basis for the establishment of the Special Court for Crimes in Kosovo, based in The Hague, whose role is to prosecute the war crimes suspected of having been committed by the KLA leadership.

In a number of media appearances, Nice tried to challenge the legitimacy of this court. Then, in 2015, he was contacted by the Kosovo politician Petrit Selimi, then the deputy minister of foreign affairs in the so-called government of Kosovo. Nice’s role in this relationship was to lobby in favor of Hashim Thaci, the former leader of the KLA, so that he would be acquitted of serious international charges. According to publicly available data, the services provided by the Nice-Tromp duo included the usual lobbying activities: holding and organizing lectures and arranging media and public appearances in favor of the Pristina authorities.

Almost in parallel with the Kosovo-related endeavor, Nice and Tromp dealt with the issue of revising the claim of Bosnia and Herzegovina against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, that is, Serbia, for genocide. This trial ended with a decision from February 2007, which declared Serbia free of responsibility for the genocide. Ever since then, the issue of revising this verdict has had a prominent place in Bosniak political debates. Nice occasionally joined them. Back in 2011, he outlined the possibility of revising the verdict “for aggression and genocide.”

On September 23, 2016, the Belgrade-based Politika newspaper reported from the Forum of Bosniak Intellectuals, where Nice tried to “persuade the Bosniaks to start an audit with a few general guidelines, but he did not accept their proposal to be part of the team that would, in such a case, represent Bosnia and Herzegovina.” The request for revision was rejected at the beginning of 2017 due to the disputed legitimacy of the legal representative of Sarajevo. Fierce accusations were exchanged in the city’s political bazaar concerning the failure of this attempt. In an interview from 2022, Nevenka Tromp said that a million dollars were needed to revise the verdict and that Sakib Softić, Izetbegović’s agent, did not do his job as he should have done. According to her, Softić asked for advice on how the affair should be carried out, with her responding with an email asking, among other things, for the team’s expenses of one million dollars. Tromp was later declared an honorary citizen of Sarajevo by the decision of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly. This caused a negative reaction from a part of the Bosniak public since, according to several different associations, she participated in the preparation of the report of the Dutch Institute for War Documentation from 2002, which states that Serbia did not take part in the events in and around Srebrenica in July 1995. In his public appearances, Nice accused Bakir Izetbegović of not taking the task of revising the verdict seriously. “In July 2015, we were asked to explain our views to President Bakir Izetbegović, the son of the late wartime president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegović, who initiated the process before the ICT. The junior Izetbegovi seemed reluctant to do anything and was advised, in our presence, by someone who seemed very hostile to what we were proposing,” Nice said at a lecture at London’s Gresham College in September 2020, as reported by the Bosnian portal

The situation with Hashim Thaci was completely different from that of Bakir Izetbegovi. At least initially, he was much more receptive to Tromp and Nice’s proposals. According to an Insajderi portal article from 2018, Thaci used lobbying services paid by the government of Kosovo to Alston & Bird in order to write an autobiographical book. The use of budget funds for the personal promotion of Hashim Thaci opened the issue of cooperation of Nice with the Albanian media in Kosovo. He and Tromp were engaged to prepare an archive of materials that would be available for the defense of Hashim Thaci before the Kosovo Specialist Chamber in The Hague, as well as to perform other advisory and promotional services.

Gazeta Ekspres, a Kosovo Albanian medium, obtained two letters sent by Nice to the “Kosovo authorities” requesting payment for his services. It is not known what the total value of the contracted fees is. Nice first wrote to Avni Arifi, the then chief of staff of the “government” president, demanding that he and Tromp be paid. He stated that he was owed more than 327,000 euros, while the debt to Tromp was almost 163,000 – all in all, somewhere around half a million in total. Since the letter sent to Arifi did not yield any result, another one followed, sent in May 2017 directly to Hashim Thaci. On that occasion, Nice complained that he tried to claim the money through the “Kosovo judiciary system” but that someone administratively prevented the execution of the payment. Judging by later developments, these relations somehow smoothed out since Hashim Thaci’s defender before The Hague in July of 2020 turned out to be none other than his old-time friend and the Tribunal staple – Geoffrey Nice.

Even though he is well into his seventies, Nice still plays an important role in the backstage dealings of top Western political circles. There can be little doubt of his and Tromp’s role in brokering the most recent release of Thaci and his possible subsequent political revival.

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