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Confronting the Roots of Kosova’s Downward Spiral

Six years after “supervised independence” began in Kosova and fifteen years after NATO airstrikes brought an end to Serbia’s genocidal war in Kosova, December 2014 marks a disappointing turning point in Kosova’s recent history. The six-month stalemate in Kosova’s political process, following the general elections on June 8, and ending with the breakup of the coalition that opposed the return of Hashim Thaci as prime minister and his ruling Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), has deepened Kosova’s democratic deficit. With the election in the Kosova Assembly on December 8 of Isa Mustafa as Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and Kadri Veseli, the former head of Kosova’s shadowy secret service, SHIK, as Speaker of the Parliament, along with the appointment of an excessive number of ministers and deputy ministers, the political elite that has prevented Kosova from flourishing and prospering for the past decade has returned to power.

While Belgrade has taken every measure possible since war’s end to maintain its dominance over Prishtina and to destabilize Kosova and the region, and while the West has yet to grant Kosova full sovereignty and admission to international institutions, the majority of Kosova’s political elite bear responsibility for the nation’s political and economic deterioration because they have failed to engage seriously in state building. Instead of upholding the rule of law, they have lined their pockets by seeking kickbacks and appointing unqualified family members to important positions. Instead of fostering economic development, their privatization activities have led to questionable projects that have enriched them and their foreign partners. As a result, unemployment in Kosova is now at least 40 percent (it is over 60 percent in the 18 to 30 age group) and Kosovar youth have been leaving the country in droves, more often than not illegally.

Contrary to their statements that they played no role in ending the post-election political deadlock, both the European Union and the United States exerted significant pressure on LDK, which won 30 seats in Kosova’s general elections, to abandon the larger coalition and to form a coalition with PDK, which won 37 seats in the 120-member Assembly. The West preferred the political status quo in order to advance their policy of appeasing Serbia, which they wrongly view as the future economic and political engine in Southeast Europe.

The European Union has failed Kosova’s people by giving lip service to ending corruption and organized crime in Kosova and strengthening the rule of law, while simultaneously siding with the corrupt members of Kosova’s political elites. The EU has become part of the problem with the recent revelation by a British whistle blower that judges and prosecutors representing the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) have shielded powerful politicians by covering up evidence of their corruption. The EU has also turned Kosova into the last European “ghetto” by rewarding Serbia and not granting Kosova visa liberalization—something that the Kosova Assembly should call for immediately.

Visa liberalization is essential not only for economic development, but also because Kosova’s isolation has given rise to the unprecedented and dangerous incursion of radical Islam. While Kosovars are prevented from traveling to Western Europe and the United States, they are free to travel east to Turkey and beyond. Islamic fundamentalists from the Arab world have been financing political movements, building mosques where none ever existed before in Kosova, and giving money to poverty-stricken women in exchange for their wearing the veil and sending their sons to religious schools. For the first time since 1912 (when the 425-year occupation of Albanian lands by the Ottoman Turkish Empire was overthrown), Islamic fundamentalists, widely rejected by Albanians all over the Balkans, have managed to infiltrate a population of secular Muslims, who have lived side by side their Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Christian, and Jewish neighbors in harmony for centuries. Radical Islam is counter to the Albanian model of Islam, the core of which is interfaith tolerance, respect, and understanding.

The U.S. government has also failed Kosova’s people by joining the European Union in propping up Kosova’s corrupt political elites. In the process, America has abused its clout among Albanians, the most pro-American, pro-democratic ethnic group in Southeast Europe. By handing the reins of power after the war almost exclusively to those political leaders who would comply with Western mandates, the West failed to harness the education and expertise of many Kosovar professionals. By continually taking a backseat to Europe, US Administrations have enabled Belgrade to move into the vacuum created by the lack of unity and resolve of the EU’s twenty-eight member nations, five of which refuse to recognize Kosova as an independent state.

At the same time, too many Kosovars think of themselves as an oppressed minority, subject to the whims of Serbia, Russia, and the European Union conspiring against the newest country in the world.  The reality is that Albanians are the overwhelming majority of a new state and instead of lamenting genuine and imagined threats to Kosova’s existence, elected officials need to get down to the business of governing, of policing, of providing energy, water, adequate education, and healthcare to all of its citizens, and of introducing anti-corruption measures in every public body, both local and national.

The Kosova government has the power to alter the future of the Prishtina-Belgrade talks by taking control of relations with Serbs in northern Kosova. It also has the power to resist the creation of a special war crimes tribunal for Kosova, when so very few Serbian paramilitary and military troops have been brought to justice for the ten-year occupation of Kosova, the expulsion of a million Kosovars, and the murder and rape of thousands with seeming impunity from 1998 to 1999. The Kosova government could concentrate on bringing this injustice into the international spotlight. It is simply a matter of political will.

Kosova can succeed, but it cannot do so unless Kosovars rise up in the face of adversity and become the masters of their own destiny. It is time for Kosovars, especially the youth, to seize the moment and initiate nonviolent action to bring international attention to Kosova’s downward spiral. It is also time for capable men and women in the Albanian diaspora—too many of whom have turned their backs on Kosova since independence was declared in 2008—to help Kosova move out of the desperate social and economic situation that the country finds itself in. Otherwise, Kosova will continue its drift into a state of economic and political limbo, and it will be at the constant mercy of external powers.

Ossining, New York

December 29, 2014

Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, a foreign policy analyst specializing in the Balkan conflict, is

Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League.

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