Internal reform in international limbo: Kosovo celebrates its second birthday

Two years on, the Pristina government is on a tightrope-walk to independence. Between the pitfalls of intenational isolation and internal division, it must tread carefully.
Martin Wählisch
17 February 2010

“Uncle, it is done – Bac u kry!” Two years after the separation of Kosovo from Serbia on February 17, 2008, Kosovans recall this slogan in honour of UÇK commander Adem Jashari. Europe’s youngest country celebrates its second anniversary of independence, burdened by a history of war and future challenges.

Secured by 10,000 NATO-KFOR soldiers and assisted by about 2,000 police officers, judges and prosecutors from the Rule of Law mission EULEX, Kosovo embarks on an important new phase with an eye on membership of the European Union and the hardship of expediting economic development.

With regard to international diplomacy, Kosovo remains in limbo. So far 65 countries, among them major Western powers, have recognized its unilateral secession. The rest of the world, including Russia, China and India, still considers the region to be part of Serbia. Belgrade claims that the line in the North of Kosovo dividing both territories is not a border, but just a boundary. Most recently, the International Court of Justice at The Hague was tasked with giving a judgement on this alleged violation of international law.

Towards becoming a free country

Peace within Kosovo is still fragile, but the country is becoming more stable. Recent announcements by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci about changes in the cabinet provoked doubts as to whether the current coalition government can survive, though both leading coalition partners renewed their commitment to cooperation. November’s stalemate, initiated when the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) announced plans to end its partnership with the smaller party Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). alleging it was campaigning  against the government and would run alone in the local elections, has been overcome. The PDK later announced that the partnership in central government remains untouchable and functional.

Following local elections last autumn, complaints about irregularities in the mayoral race in Prizren and Lipjan proliferated.  The ballot in Gjilan had to be recounted.  After the re-voting process in the two municipalities, tensions between the parties have eased and the elections stand as a significant achievement; they are the first municipal ballots since independence.

There are still internal reform issues which need to be tackled, such as the improvement of the judicial system. The difficulty is not a lack of well composed laws – thanks to international consultancy the majority of them are in accordance with what you might call “best practice”. However, courts regularly suffer from a staff deficit. Many posts for judges and prosecutors have not yet been filled because of the ongoing vetting process. Additionally, positions in public service are less well paid than in business or abroad, which makes the prospect of returning and rebuilding the country unattractive to the large Kosovan diaspora. 

Furthermore, the government has to struggle with preserving its single authority in the North, where in regions like Mitrovica parallel structures still operate. Schools, hospitals and other public institutions are funded by Belgrade, which also issues official documents to residents. The International Civilian Office (ICO), which oversees the implementation of the Ahtisaari plan, a newly outlined plan for the integration of the North, faces an immense task. The inclusion of the Kosovo-Serb minority will be a litmus test for the success of an independent Kosovo and will govern how much of the world, particularly Slavic countries, deal with Pristina. There are some hopeful signals. In November 2009, International Civilian Representative  Pieter Feith and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci announced their commitment to establish a Kosovo-wide independent broadcaster in the Serbian language. While Belgrade called on Kosovo-Serbs to boycott the local elections, a larger number than in previous years participated. The Serb Independent Liberal Party dominated the elections in four municipalities, electing mayors in Gracanica, Klokot, Ranilug and Shterpce. Nevertheless, reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs will need long-term efforts if a truly balanced multiethnic society is to be created.

So far, most international organizations have been scaling down their presence. Still, the status and role of the various international organisations is no less complex: KFOR, the UN, OSCE and EULEX have to stay neutral on the issue of Kosovan sovereign status, but somehow need to deal with the official Kosovo government. The UN Security Council’s Resolution 1244, which placed Kosovo under the administration of UNMIK, is valid until the permanent members of the Council reach a collective understanding about Kosovo’s territorial integrity, an unlikely prospect due to Russian and Chinese objections.

Meanwhile, some people say the most powerful man in Kosovo is the US Ambassador. Though he does not officially intervene, he could hardly neglect the US’s foremost interest, which is to keep political balance in the Balkans and incorporate Kosovo into the Euro-Atlantic security apparatus. While such an array of external interests and influences are necessary, the key to the country’s development will be that the people of Kosovo truly put themselves into the driver’s seat without too great a level of outside interference.

Journey and challenges ahead

Seven yellow letters decorate the place right below Jashari's picture at the Palace of Youth & Sports in Pristina: „New Born“. However, the question of 'What makes a country a country?' continues to present itself through a variety of practical problems: Kosovo continues to use the area code of Monaco and Slovenia for its mobile communication network, as the International Telecommunications Union could not reach consensus and designate digits for Kosovo. If you type in Pristina while booking a flight, it is most likely that Serbia will appear as your destination. Lately, activists started a campaign on Facebook to get Kosovo accepted in the list of countries which you can profess membership of. Miss Kosovo was elected as the world's third most beautiful woman, but the UEFA cup refuses to admit Kosovo until it is accepted as a member of the United Nations.

The current currency in Kosovo is the Euro, which indicates where the country’s journey of independence might end up. The country does not mint coins of its own yet, but pushes hard towards membership of the European Union. The call for visa liberalization is an issue constantly brought forward by the Kosovo government. Meanwhile, the European Union is divided; Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania have not acknowledged Kosovo as an independent state. At the same time, Serbia formally applied in December 2009 to join the EU, but is finding its path also blocked by the Kosovo question.

In the first week of February, the Kosovo government announced plans for a major highway running from the south through the whole country to a crossing point with Serbia. Much has to be done to pave the way for this path. There are high hopes that this new road could become a signal for internal reconciliation, regional integration and the local consolidation of peace in the Balkans.

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