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Moving On: Kosovo’s Future After Independence

By Deirdre Dlugoleski

War-torn Pristina, Kosovo

To the inhabitants of Pristina, bursts of gunfire and the glare of explosions in the night sky must have been nothing new. The chaos of February 17 2008 probably looked familiar from a distance – except for the surging, celebrating crowds thronging the streets. Kosovars flocked to unveil new monuments to independence as news networks around the world scrambled for coverage. The parliament of the small UN-administered province of Kosovo had, to the noise of celebratory gunfire and fireworks, declared independence from Serbia.

But reality has quickly set in. In spite of its independence, the new state still relies on a combination of international peacekeeping and justice forces to maintain even a semblance of stability on the ground. K-FOR and UNMIK (peacekeeping forces led by NATO and the United Nations respectively) still maintain a significant presence in Kosovo, and EULEX, the long-overdue EU legal monitoring mission, only just arrived in December 2009. Almost two years on, the question remains: Can the new state survive? Can it function?

At first glance, the answer would seem to be yes. Only two months after its independence, Kosovo adopted a new constitution, which then came into force in June. The government has committed itself to protecting minority rights. The state also applied for membership to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And on November 15, 2009, Kosovo successfully completed its first round of elections to the satisfaction of its European monitors – elections that, for the first time, the Serbian community did not boycott. According to the K-FOR report on local elections, participation in some Serb municipalities rose to over 20%. By Western standards, this turnout is dissatisfactory. But consider the context. For communities that have thus far denied the legality of the government responsible for these elections, any participation at all can only be an improvement – especially since, prior to the elections, Serbia called on the Serbian community in Kosovo not to take part. There may be a glimmer of hope for a multi-ethnic democracy.

But in spite of this progress, the government finds itself sorely lacking in one crucial area: It needs the support of its own people. And for that to happen, Kosovo’s political infrastructure needs a serious overhaul. Possibly the worst obstacle comes from the judiciary. A stable legal system forms a particularly critical element in a country working to build confidence in its governing abilities while desperately trying to win at least the approval, if not the love, of its Serbian minority. Kosovo’s judges and prosecutors have not worked for nearly ten years; before independence from Serbia and especially while Slobodan Milošević retained power, Kosovar Albanians were driven from their jobs. But lack of experience is the least of their worries.

Society in this region of the world has, for hundreds of years, revolved around clan loyalty. This tendency does not change overnight, and undermines the reliability of witnesses in any given court, as they are often threatened by, or feel more loyalty to, their clan than to society at large. Local judicial authorities also face threats. In the cases of war crimes, due to organized crime and the almost constant ethnic conflict that Kosovo faces, many local prosecutors and judges find themselves unable to intervene for lack of security. In the meantime, a queue of cases that need attention is building up. According to Transparency International, the Economic Court has a settlement rate of roughly 50%, while in 2008 the Supreme Court apparently resolved more cases than were actually filed.

Many of these unfinished cases are of critical importance. The question of stolen property during the war, for example, will figure heavily into the relationship between the Kosovar Albanian government and ethnic Serbs in the country. The people themselves feel – understandably – skeptical at best toward their judiciary. According to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), the people of Kosovo have less faith in their judiciary than in any other public body. Without effective and lasting judicial reform, Kosovo simply cannot move forward as a state. The EU has attempted to address this problem with EULEX – a judicial mission to Kosovo that describes itself as “a technical mission which will monitor, mentor and advise whilst retaining a number of limited executive powers.”

But this state of affairs drives home another uncomfortable point. Whether Kosovo will succeed or fail has never, in reality, rested with its own policy makers. Kosovo’s future depends, as it always has, on the decisions of other actors.

Take EULEX for example. The EU-directed mission could not even arrive on the ground before Russia gave its approval. Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov demanded that any legal monitoring mission sent to Kosovo be a part of UNMIK, the UN force already in place – and controlled by the Security Council, in which Russia holds veto power – while Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov delivered a “warning” to the European Union not to force the issue without Serbia’s approval. Small wonder, then, that EULEX does, in fact, operate under the auspices of the UNMIK operation, and now advertises that it works “under the general framework of United Nations Security Resolution 1244” – the same resolution to which Russia refers when it argues that Kosovo’s independence was a severe breach of international law. And yet EULEX, as Finnish diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari envisioned it, was supposed to help Kosovo achieve “supervised independence.”

The countryside of Kosovo

After Kosovo’s independence, the situations in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Security Council look startlingly similar to the deadlock that Ahtisaari himself attempted to break from 2005 to 2007. The US and Russia are once again facing off over Kosovo’s legality. Serbia has brought the question of Kosovo’s independence to the ICJ on the grounds of a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. But the Security Council Permanent Five (those with veto power) also submit arguments to the Court.

Unsurprisingly, Russia and the United States have submitted opposing arguments; China will no doubt echo Russia (with Taiwan in mind), while Britain and France will almost certainly support the United States. Russia has always defended Serbia – a position that it will hold all the more stubbornly as Serbia’s close neighbors, and even Serbia itself, look toward EU membership. While Russia has repeatedly stated that it has no problem with EU expansion, the veracity of this claim is doubtful at best. Could it possibly have been a mere coincidence that Gazprom took over Serbia’s oil monopoly, NIS, just as negotiations with the EU looked as though they might move forward in January 2008? Russia will do all it can to lure Serbia away from Brussels. In the meantime, Russia contends that Kosovo’s independence does not comply with international law, while the United States maintains that international law does not directly address declarations of independence at all.

The looming questions behind this debate will make it decidedly difficult for Kosovo to gain much ground in terms of recognition or UN membership. States whose concerns echo those of Russia and China – Cyprus, Greece and Spain, for example – cite concerns that recognition will only breath life into breakaway factions elsewhere. Spain in particular has cause for alarm; the Basque regional government has already given its praise to Kosovo’s success in gaining independence. Spain removed its peacekeeping troops last March. Only 63 of the 192 UN member states have recognized Kosovo’s independence so far. Kosovo may be a reality and a dream come true for some, but in the eyes of the international community, Kosovo itself comprises just another ideological battle.

The European Union, however, will prove the decisive factor in Kosovo’s future. Kosovo has a ways to go before it can even reasonably consider joining the EU. Serbia, however, does not. If Serbia joins the EU, the move will undoubtedly spell great things for that country, but will probably also seal Kosovo’s fate for the worse. With the election of Boris Tadić and his Coalition for a European Serbia, any possible remaining doubts of Serbia’s EU aspirations vanished. In April 2009, Serbia signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU (although it has not yet been ratified), and on December 22, 2009, Serbia formally submitted its application to the EU.

This is a turning point in their foreign policy; the last remnant of Tito’s Yugoslavia, Serbia has been a pariah in Europe since 1991. Traditionally, Serbia has maintained close ties with Russia and shunned the West. It seems Serbia has taken a 180-degree turn – a move that the EU should legitimately welcome. Eastern expansion can only help them in the balance of power with Russia (which incidentally controls the gas supply to literally a quarter of the EU member states). But perhaps we should take a closer look at Serbia’s priorities. Tadić has promised his constituents not to recognize Kosovo. Serbia is now looking at the EU for two major reasons: boosting its economy, and flattening Kosovo. Although 22 of the current 27 EU member states have already recognized the new country, should Serbia join the EU, Kosovo’s chances of success will shrink considerably. A European Serbia would could not only hamper any membership aspirations that Kosovo might have in the future, but also hit their trade. The Netherlands, after all, blocked an EU trade deal with Serbia from April 2008 to October 2009, although many other member states supported the agreement. Surely Serbia, while understandably frustrated, would relish the chance to do the same to Kosovo in the future?

None of these developments, however, seems likely anytime soon. Serbia still needs to capture two more war criminals, including Ratko Mladić, the man behind the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, and deliver them to the Hague before the ascendency process can progress. Serbia also needs time to determine its own willingness to become “European.” The Coalition for a European Serbia won the legislature with 38.9%, but the Serbian Radical Party, a right-wing conservative group that opposes ties with the EU, came in second with 25.9%. And the EU itself needs to handle some of its own issues before it can reasonably start considering expansion again. Budget constraints top that list; with the economic crisis, some member states’ economies still have not rebounded to the levels required to support EU aspirations. The EU probably will not be able to take on any new member states before 2015. In the meantime, the Security Council remains in deadlock.

So, can Kosovo survive? Perhaps it will use these delays to its advantage and at least improve its judiciary. Until these outside actors take further action, however, the question remains unanswered.

Deirdre Dlugoleski is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.


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