Based on an Albanian American Civic League fact-finding trip to Kosova,
June 29—July 6, 2008
Although Kosova’s independence has been recognized by the United States, it lacks genuine sovereignty. With five entities competing for power, Kosova is drifting.
Since Kosova declared its independence on February 17, 2008, it has been recognized by 43 countries; it has a constitution with a majority of laws based on the criteria outlined in the Ahtisaari plan; it has its own multiethnic flag and national anthem; it has established its foreign ministry; it has prepared new passports; and it is currently in the process of establishing security forces with the assistance of NATO experts.
Nevertheless, it is hard to envision how Kosova is to achieve full economic and political independence with five entities competing for power and reporting to their own chains of command. The United Nations, which should have handed over its mission to the European Union on June 15, became increasingly reluctant to pass on its mandate in the face of Russian pressure, invoking UN Resolution 1244, and the objection of Serbia and seven EU members. On June 12, UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to Kosova President Fatmir Sejdiu and Serbian President Boris Tadic, stating that he wanted to “reconfigure UNMIK” and “to place the EU under it.” EULEX, the 2,200-member body led by General Yves de Kermabon that is supposed to supervise the police and the judiciary, has yet to fill its ranks (there are only 300 in country) and deploy to the north. The International Civilian Office (ICO), the 1,800-strong administrative body led by Peter Feith, reports to a steering group of representative powers, and individual members actually report to their individual home countries. KFOR reports to NATO command, and the troops participating in the Kosova mission report to their home countries.
Then there is the Kosova government and parliament, which is being cautioned by the international community to remain patient and which, under the new constitution, must respect the power of the ICO to “sanction and remove any public official and annul any decision or legislation that violates the letter or spirit of the settlement.” And finally, there are the Kosova Serbs, who are being manipulated by Belgrade to refuse integration into the new state of Kosova.
The alphabet soup of “internationals” seems to lack a clear plan for solving the serious political and economic problems that Kosova faces. In addition, the ICO, the new lead body, is now in competition with UNMIK. This makes it highly unlikely for decision making to coalesce and that any robust response will be made to Serbia’s efforts to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosova. Until this changes, Kosova will be independent in name only.
Serbia, with the backing of Russia, is working to undermine Kosova’s sovereignty and to destabilize the region. The United States must again stand up to both.
Serbia has not accepted independence, international supervision, or the Ahtisaari principles. Through its intensive lobbying efforts challenging Kosova’s sovereignty, there has been a slowdown in the recognition of Kosova as a new state. Serbia is simultaneously changing the realities on the ground. They are using money to control Kosova Serbs, 40 percent of whom live above the Ibar River in northern Kosova and 60 percent of whom live below in enclaves throughout Kosova. Since the declaration of independence, Belgrade has strengthened parallel structures, including police, judiciary, border control, transportation, telecommunications, and cultural heritage sites. On February 20, Kosova Serbs, with support from Belgrade, blew up two border crossings in northern Kosova, Gates 1 and 31, and the border checkpoints of Brnjak, Jarinje, and Mutivode. Last month, on June 28, they established a parliament in the north.
Tom Yazdgerdi, political and economic section chief of the U.S. Embassy, with whom we had an excellent meeting, told us that the United States is sending a clear message to Belgrade that it cannot embrace the European Union and its future admittance to it and at the same time object to EULEX and maintain control over Kosova Serbs. (More than any other Western factor, the United States is pressing Serbia to accept the independence of Kosova and to get on with its own democratization.) As a lawyer working for the international community stated, “There will be a full blown political crisis in the European Union if Tadic pursues both tracks.”
Nevertheless, Serbian cooperation of any sort is highly unlikely while the Serbs feel that
they have Russian backing. Very few want to join the European Union—most have the right to travel anyway–and certainly not if it means “losing Kosovo,” as they see it. Russia, calling the independence of Kosova “illegal,” continues to invoke UN Resolution 1244, even though 1244 neither allows nor disallows independence. Nevertheless, if 1244 is not removed, Serbian parallel structures will get concretized. The United States must again stand up to Russia. As has historically been the case, until the United States does so, the European Union will remain divided and Kosova’s status will not be resolved once and for all. With 25 percent of the financial responsibility for EULEX and a troop presence in Camp Bondsteel, the United States cannot afford to take a back seat to Europe at this critical juncture.
The de facto partition of Mitrovice is a reality. The Kosova government and internationals have not yet been able to take the north under their control, partly because most of the West is once again appeasing Serbia.
The north of Kosova, beginning with Mitrovica, has effectively separated itself with Serbian support, and is utterly lawless. Serbia’s end game has always been the partition of the north. A high-ranking member of the ICO told us that EULEX will eventually deploy, but the timing remains to be seen because of concerns about EU forces coming under attack. As Tom Yazdgerdi rightly told us, “If EULEX does not deploy into the north, we will have problems.” But it remains to be seen if the ICO and EULEX have any idea about how to regain control of the north other than by waiting and hoping that Tadic’s government’s desire to join the EU will yield greater cooperation from the Serbs. The UN and the Contact Group member also seem to be taking this wait and see approach. The result is that Belgrade is seizing the opportunity to fulfill its territorial ambitions, continuing Slobodan Milosevic’s quest for “Greater Serbia.”
As a USAID representative told us off the record, “efforts should be made to gain control over the Serb majority in the south by giving them carrots, while giving Belgrade the stick by challenging the lawless of the north on a daily basis and publicly bringing attention to Belgrade’s intransigence in the international media.”
Without intervention by the United States to accelerate the deployment of EULEX in the north, with support from KFOR, the partition will become a reality, and this will open the way for renewed discussion of making the Presheva Valley a part of Kosova, as it was before the Serbs illegally annexed it in 1956. We met with leaders from several political parties and NGOs in Presheva, Medvedgje, and Bujanoc in Gjilan and received a chilling portrait of the apartheid-like conditions for Albanians there. The Serbian police and military are engaged in a silent ethnic cleansing in the Presheva Valley. They are deliberately using violent and oppressive tactics in an attempt to drive the Albanian people out of the region, while simultaneously blocking refugee returns. The problems of Albanians in the Presheva Valley amount to the worst human rights situation in Europe.
The economy is negatively impacted by Kosova’s lack of sovereignty and the lack of a steady supply of energy. Unaddressed, this will pave the way for a social crisis.
As Muhamet Mustafa, the president of RIINVEST Institute for Development Research, emphasized, until Kosova can control its territory, there will be no fair competition. Several businessmen that we interviewed supported this statement and said that no one is taking action to deal with the Serbs. The porous borders in the north have meant that there are no duties and taxes on Serbian imports, while Albanian businessmen and women are paying these fees. As a result, the new Kosovar state is likely to be rapidly bankrupted by tax free goods, including gasoline, smuggled in from Serbia, unless immediate steps are taken to introduce checkpoints throughout the country. Laws must be enforced across the board. Right now there is no way to introduce economic rules in the Serb enclaves. For example, Kosovar Serbs are driving cars with licenses from the Yugoslav era and refusing to register with the Kosova government, and no one takes action against them.
Riinvest staffers, Kosova political officials, and the U.S. Embassy all stressed the inability to attract economic investment in the absence of a reliable supply of energy. Riinvest stressed the fact that the country cannot wait for the extension of its lignite-mining operations and the building of the new high-capacity power plant known as
“Kosova C.” In the short run, they recommend installing new capacity at Kosova B and building new, smaller (1,000 megawatts) plants throughout the country.
Kosovars still depend on expatriate earnings being remitted and on donor funds. But with the deteriorating world economic situation, remittances are half of what they were after the war and most European countries are sharply tightening controls on legal and illegal immigration. The July 11 donor conference in Brussels brought 1.2 billion euros of assistance to Kosova, but a large part of the total will go to serving Kosova’s share of the Yugoslav debt that it inherited from Serbia on independence. Meanwhile, at least 50 percent of the population is unemployed and 30,000 students graduate and enter the job market each year, but only 3,000, according to Riinvest, find jobs. The black economy is growing and corruption is increasing. Unless change comes soon, the potential for widespread social unrest is real.
The Kosova government is bowing to the international community, when it should be pursuing internal solutions.
The present Kosova Government appears to be principally concerned with holding on to power. It has yet to put forth a proactive strategy for solving the country’s problems and is not moving energetically and systematically in areas where it can exercise power (i.e., obtaining recognition through active lobbying). In some political circles, there is an air of self satisfaction (“we can sit back now that we have independence”). In others, the atmosphere is one of dispirited paralysis (“only the internationals can solve this”), when in reality the international community has little idea of how to move forwards, and, in some sectors, is actually encouraging drift. The only way that Kosova can succeed is if its government and its people take charge. Otherwise, it will be permanently dependent on the international administration. As former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said, “We need local solutions with international assistance.”
Until the international community is willing to establish a properly independent Kosova state, stability in Southeast Europe will be at risk.
Serbia has been able to slow the process of recognition of Kosova with the abiding help of Russia. Through vigorous diplomatic actions in the international arena, on the one hand, and by consolidating political and economic control over the Serb community in Kosova, on the other, Belgrade is working to weaken Kosova’s February 2008 declaration of independence. On a daily basis it is raising questions in diplomatic circles and in the press about whether Kosova is capable of functioning as a sovereign, multiethnic state. Belgrade has been helped, to a great extent, by the fact that the international community was unwilling to establish Kosova as a properly independent state.
Much has been made of the Ahtisaari plan as the key to Kosova’s independence. While it established the basis for recognition, its operation at a technical level (building a functioning society) depends for its workability on Serbian agreement and cooperation, none of which is forthcoming. Several commentators told us that, in the absence of cooperation from Belgrade and Kosova Serbs, the Ahtisaari plan should be regarded as null and void and replaced with a system in which there is one vote for each of Kosova’s citizens, equal protection for all, and with no special privileges on the basis of ethnicity. No matter what decision is made about Ahtisaari, it is clear that the international community and Kosova need a plan that genuinely protects and consolidates the achievements of Kosova and prevents any partitioning of the north and internal separation across ethnic lines.
Ossining, New York
July 13, 2008
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League.