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Kosovo - current situation and
bleak prospects



Biljana Vankovska

Prof. Dr. & TFF Associate
Institute for Defence and Peace Studies, Faculty of Philosophy,
University of Skopje, Republic of Macedonia


July 23, 2009

Q: NATO is scheduled to reduce its KFOR peacekeeping presence in Kosovo from 14,000 troops now to 10,000 over the coming months.  The force may even fall to about 2,500 personnel over two years if the right security conditions are in place. 
Do you think Kosovo is on track for this to occur while ensuring a peaceful environment?  If not, what actions need to be taken to ensure stability there? 

A: Indeed, at glance, it seems as if the security in Kosovo has improved so much that it is unnecessary to keep a robust military presence any longer. On a second thought, however, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung rightly reminds that KFOR, as a NATO-led mission, has already been at place ten years longer than originally envisaged. Furthermore, according to many experts, this reduction, no matter how ‘dramatic’ it looks, is far from a point at which there will be no need for an international military presence in this region. To put it bluntly, the international community is being stuck there for a very long time.
The current moves are resulting from two main factors. First of all, there is relative stability in Kosovo (a stalemate, if you prefer) and balance of power(s), as Kosovo is in the weird situation of being governed by a number of actors: Kosovo ‘sovereign’ government, Serbia’s presence in the north, UN and EU forces.
The second factor, however, has nothing to do with Kosovo: the military forces are badly needed elsewhere (Afghanistan). After Kosovo’s declaration of independence nothing much has changed on the ground, or better few problems have been resolved in order to be able to speak about “peaceful environment”. Indeed, the Americans and their European allies (though not all of them) have indeed succeeded to create a nation, a new state, but it is a weak, or better a failed, state since its very birth.
Ten years after the deployment of the robust international administration and military forces, Kosovo is still unviable state.
Let me mention some of its major problems: de facto division of the territory and lack of sovereign control over the territory and the population exercised by the Kosovo authorities, weak institutions that cannot deliver any of the basic services to the citizens without international support, corruption is “distressingly high” (according to the latest report of Transparency International), enormous presence of illegal arms and weapons, high level of poverty, disrespect of the basic human rights, and especially of minority rights, absence of viable economy, etc.

Q: Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu has appealed to Kosovo's Serbs to take part in November's local elections.  However, there is already resistance by the Kosovo-Serbs to participate.  Milan Ivanovic, president of the National Serb Council for northern Kosovo, says Serbs won't take part "in the Kosovar, that is to say Albanian, elections because they recognize neither the illegally declared Kosovar state nor the would-be Kosovar institutions."  
What are the prospects for garnering Serb participation in the elections?

A: Realistically speaking, with a share of only 7% of the Kosovo population, Serbs are really not a political factor, despite the mechanisms of “reserved seats” in the Parliament or equitable representation in the state bodies. Having lived for a decade in so-called enclaves surrounded by KFOR soldiers who are the only guarantor for their physical safety, one can hardly expect these people do accept the real-politik logic, forget the past and only look ahead. It will take a very long time for such changes to happen, if ever, but in the meantime they are caught in “no man’s land”, between Pristina and Belgrade.
The Kosovo authorities are often unable or unwilling to provide for basic human needs of these people, despite all rhetoric to the opposite. So far there is a culture of impunity for those who were responsible for assaults, arsons, etc. On the other hand, Belgrade still sends strong political messages on “not giving up the cradle of Serbdom” and gives promises to provide for these people (which they practically do but only in the north part of Kosovo, not being able to reach the other Serbian enclaves). My point is simply that political (electoral) rights are luxury and farce when one does not have human security.

 Q: Human Rights Watch is expected to publish a report critical of the situation of the Romas' living in the camps Northern Kosovo.   What do you think should be done about the situation?

A: The minority rights of all non-Albanians in Kosovo is probably one of the major failures of the ten-years long international presence in Kosovo. I would agree here with a statement given by the International Commission on the Balkans that “a multiethnic Kosovo does not exist, except in the written pronouncements of the international community”. Despite all those tens of thousands “internationals” present in the region for a decade, it is truly shocking to read, for instance, the latest HRW’s report that indicates the tragic plight of Romas in Kosovo.
Let me remind you that this report speaks about “death camps” and lead poisoning among Kosovo’s Roma, but the truth is even much deeper.
First of all, originally these camps were build by the UNHCR, though as a temporary solution. So one wonders, how can now anybody there be scandalized by this situation? Let alone the fact that only Romas suffer from the lead, but the whole Kosovo population suffers from the remnants of the cluster bombs and depleted uranium ammunition since the 1999 NATO bombing.
Romas has been “cleansed” systematically for more than a decade: today it is believed that almost 70% of them have fled Kosovo: most of them to Serbia, there are some still in Macedonia, but many of them face expulsion from Germany, or other Western countries. For those still in Kosovo, probably most indicative fact is that the unemployment rate among this population reaches 90%.


Q: What steps are being taken to curb organized crime and corruption in Kosovo?  What needs to be done?

A: In order to talk about organized state crime and corruption, there must be a state or, at least, state-like entity. These two phenomena are believed to be impossible without involvement and “blessing” from the officials. In this very case, unfortunately, the internationals were at the same time “state-builders” and responsible for the quality of this state, including its corrupted elites.
Artificial products, such as protectorates, remain dependent on their creators. But the dependency creates precisely the problems it was supposed to eliminate, such as corruption.
It is well known that international representatives, even the highest ones did not remain immune in this respect. Paradoxically, it seems as if the impunity refers both to the “internationals” and the “locals”. As long as there is profit, the local elites either don’t want or they can’t fight against the corruption.
It is not a secret that the EU has been seriously implicated in Kosovos’ endemic crime and corruption. Funds for “economic reconstruction” were so far involved in 12 cases of alleged criminal activity and 27 examples of alleged breaches of rules on the awarding of contracts. For instance, the EU and UN have abandoned investigations into serious fraud and corruption allegations involving €80 million worth of funding for the Pristina airport and the KEK electricity company.


Q: In June 2009, Kosovo was admitted to the World Bank.   In spite of this, Kosovo currently has an unemployment rate of about 40 percent with unemployment among the younger generation around 60 percent.  How effective has foreign aid been in assisting development in Kosovo? 

A: Kosovo’s admittance to the WB would have been a non-event under any normal circumstances. However, it is seen as an important event, but mostly in the light of its struggle for international recognition. In other words, Kosovo’s accession to the IMF and World Bank is just a further blow to Serbia’s ongoing case before ICJ. Having in mind that the WB and IMF are controlled by Kosovo’s main friends and protectors, this is to be seen as a direct message to the international justice system as well (that’s why the WB did not even mind to wait for the ICJ to rule on Kosovo’s status).
But if we focus on the economic dimension of this event, it’s prudent to remember Rothschild’s quote of 1790: “Let me issue and control a country’s money and I care not who writes the laws.” Kosovo might be now eligible for getting international financial loans, but there is no such thing as a free lunch in these matters. The money will have to be paid back, and it is impossible to imagine how this can happen with a country that practically has no economy?
Kosovo may have gained (although incomplete) political independence, but the economic dependency is going to last for many, many decades. In my view it is important to note that due to the global financial crisis and recession that engulfed the most developed states, the WB and IMF are a part of the (global) problem, not a solution. So it seems Kosovo is hardly going to benefit under these circumstances.
Let me further point out that according to the second baseline report of the United Nations, released in Geneva in early July 2009, the Kosovo institutions are far from achieving the Millennium Development Goals, including poverty and unemployment control. Almost 44% of the population lives in poverty, while 14% live in extreme poverty. The unemployment rate among the youth of the age between 15 and 24 is 66.5 percent. The mortality rate has been reduced in Kosovo since 2000, but it is still the highest in Europe.
Having in mind these figures that relate to the aspects of human security in Kosovo (regardless the ethnic affiliation), it seems that the international community has wasted a lot of money in this province without creating an environment favourable to development and satisfaction of basic human needs. Now with the looming global economic crisis and emergence of a new military crises, one can say that Kosovo is soon to be forgotten. Till a new wave of violence and unrest occurs...
If these indicators are not taken in the context of early warning and conflict prevention, the future looks neither good nor prosperous.

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Q: What do you see as the prospects for Kosovo to join the European Union?

A: I have just pictured the situation on the ground. Does it look as a prospective member of the EU? Especially, if countries like Croatia or Turkey are still far from the full membership, then Kosovo is a mission impossible. Also, the EU is in a deep crisis and obviously the enlargement process is among its priorities on the current agenda. The question is how much has the EU retained its power of attraction for many of the countries in the Balkan region? In any way, the EU prospects are far away, and Kosovo has problems that have to be resolved now, not in a distant future.

Q: U.S Vice President Joe Biden recently visited the Balkans, including a visit to Serbia. How do you view the current U.S. administration's role in facilitating a peaceful Balkans?
According to the US Ambassador to Serbia, Biden’s visit was evidence of a “deeper interest” on the part of the new US administration. The goal of his visit was to reaffirm US support for Kosovo independence declared and to press Serbia to stop undermining it by encouraging non-cooperation by the Serb minority.
Obviously, the new administration in not happy with the way the EU is dealing with the problems in this region. According to some analysts, Brussels is indifferent at best, and divided at worst, when it comes to the pressing issues in the Balkans. Five EU states still do not recognize Kosovo. The US have invested too much in the cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, so they don’t want to see their projects falling apart (let me be direct, Bosnia, Kosovo or even Macedonia have never truly been EU’s projects).
Yet, the US is today overburdened and preoccupied with more burning crisis in the world, including the domestic economic crisis, so it is hard to see how can they provide for a peaceful Balkans under these circumstances. USA may be good in playing chess but not in peaceful conflict resolution. A part of today’s problem in this region are a legacy of the way the US was “resolving” problems predominantly by military means.
I am not an optimist, unless the local elites finally see that they have a serious homework to do for the best interest of their own citizens. But with elites amnestied of war crimes and “ordinary” crime, this remains a distant possibility.




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