SPECIAL REPORT: IS KOSOVO UP TO STANDARD?
Unfinished political business, minority rights concerns and economic
stagnation feed Albanian anger at apparent inaction on status talks.
By Stacy Sullivan in Pristina and New York
This summer, Kosovo faces a critical review in the UN standards
process that the Albanian majority hopes will pave the way for talks
on independence. But will the province meet the conditions necessary
for real negotiations to begin?
Despite some signs of progress, underlying political and economic
problems facing Kosovo will make it difficult to satisfy the
requirements, and to move out of the state of limbo the protectorate
has been in for the last six years, neither ruled by Serbia nor
independent from it.
Economic depression coupled with signs of growing radical nationalism
and hostility toward the UN administration mean that the current
status quo may not be tenable for much longer - yet the signs of
incipient crisis do not seem to be reflected in the sluggish approach
taken by the international community.
SMOOTH EXIT BY HARADINAJ BELIES SMOULDERING PUBLIC ANGER
Several influential policymakers have suggested that recent
developments, most recently the manner in which prime minister Ramush
Haradinaj resigned and turned himself in to the Hague tribunal to face
a war crimes indictment, prove that Kosovo's political institutions
have matured sufficiently to allow discussions on independence to
In the weeks preceding the Hague's announcement that Haradinaj was
wanted for war crimes, local and international officials feared that
the indictment might provoke a violent backlash similar to the
disturbances of March 2004, when 19 people were killed – 11 Albanians
and six Serbs - and thousands displaced from their homes in several
days of rioting.
The NATO-led peacekeeping mission, KFOR, reinforced its ranks with two
additional battalions of troops in anticipation of unrest, but it
The prime minister was praised for submitting to the war crimes
court's summons without a murmur.
In a March 11 article for the London paper The Guardian, former
British foreign minister Robin Cook said, "Haradinaj has done a
greater service to Kosovo by encouraging his people to accept the rule
of international law than any action he could have taken by staying in
office. As a result, Kosovo may now be nearer to international
acceptance of eventual independent status."
But Haradinaj's smooth exit belies a grassroots sense of anger and
frustration among Kosovars that the international community remains
unwilling to confront the issue of status and possible independence.
Add to this a stagnant economy, an international administration
perceived as arrogant and out of touch, an intransigent local
political leadership - and a similarly stubborn administration in
Belgrade - growing radicalism on the university campus and in the
villages and a heavily armed populace could yet result in renewed
violence, especially if talks to resolve Kosovo's status do not get
underway as planned.
This is a crunch year for Kosovo as its international mentors set
about reviewing how successful it has been in meeting the set of
standards the United Nations has laid down as preconditions for talks
on final status. Among the most important criteria are the extent to
which the rights of Serbs and other minorities are respected,
democratic institutions operate, there is a viable economy, and rule
of law is followed.
Most experts agree that Kosovo has little chance of meeting the
standards set out in a detailed 120-page UN document.
"I don't think there is anyone who thinks Kosovo is going to meet the
standards," said a United States diplomat involved in the Balkans.
"It's just not going to happen."
The diplomat said it is not solely the fault of Kosovo's political
leaders that they would fall short of what was required.
Responsibility for running Kosovo is divided between the provisional
government and UNMIK, and although the local leadership has not
performed as well as hoped, the UN has also failed to live up to its
end of the bargain.
TALKS WITH BELGRADE COULD RESUME
Haradinaj's departure from the political scene brought a modicum of
hope that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina could be
Until last month, Belgrade refused to meet with Albanian leaders in
protest at Haradinaj's appointment as prime minister. The former KLA
commander had been charged with war crimes in Serbian courts long
before the UN indictment was issued.
The day after Haradinaj resigned, Serbia's government agreed to meet
some of Kosovo's leaders to discuss the fate of each others missing
Yet Haradinaj, who by all accounts was a dynamic, hard-working and
effective leader, managed to do more to accommodate the Serb minority
than any other Albanian politician had done, pushing through a
controversial pilot project granting limited autonomy to a
Serb-dominated area near Pristina.
"The irony of his indictment is that Kosovo has made more progress
under him on key standards such as minority rights and condition for
the return of Serb refugees than in the previous five years," said
KOSOVO ADMINISTRATION STILL LAGGING ON ETHNIC RIGHTS
Respect for minority rights is one of the key conditions Kosovo has to
meet in order for status talks to take place.
But few would argue that the Albanian leadership has done enough to
foster tolerance of Serb and other minorities, to facilitate their
return to the province, or to guarantee their safety, let alone make
them feel at ease.
Cyrillic street signs have all but disappeared in Kosovo, and the few
that remain are often covered in derogatory graffiti. Outside the
enclaves, the Serbian language is not heard.
Memorials and statues of soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA,
dominate intersections in nearly every town.
In 2004, Albanians in the Kosovo Assembly arranged to have
nationalistic murals painted in the foyer, which resulted in a
predictable boycott by Serb members of the legislature.
The sports stadium in downtown Pristina is draped with an enormous
portrait of Adem Jashari, the man many Albanians view as the chief
martyr of their independence struggle. Serbs, however, regard him as a
Jashari's home, site of the gruesome massacre that transformed the KLA
from an obscure force of rural militants with little popular support
into a full-fledged insurgency, has been turned into a museum and
virtual shrine. Albanian pupils are taken there on school trips and
exposed to propaganda about the Jasharis' heroic struggle to free
Kosovo from Serb oppression.
There has been little discussion in the Albanian media about abuses
committed by the KLA during the war, and little public acknowledgement
that Serbs and other minorities have been victimised since the
In a poll published in December by the Kosovo-based Institute for
Development Research, RIINVEST, one-third of respondents in Pristina
said they opposed the right of refugees to return to Kosovo.
Graffiti proclaiming "No return for Serbs" is prevalent across the province.
In the absence of high-profile Albanian voices advocating Serb rights,
or any serious discussion of Albanian crimes against Serbs, it's not
surprising that few Serbs have returned to live in Kosovo and that
those who remain harbour fears for their safety.
SERBS RETAIN SENSE OF VULNERABILITY
In western Kosovo, Serb enclaves are still guarded by NATO troops and
harassment is still commonplace.
Even in the area around Gjilan, where relations are said to be better
than elsewhere in the protectorate, in part because the region was
spared much of the fighting and destruction, tensions are blatantly
Serbs and Albanians have separate outdoor markets, with the former
allocated a tiny space in an alleyway far from contact with any of
Gjilan's Albanian population.
"There are only about 20 Serbs left in this town," said one
disgruntled man standing next to a lone stand of wilted vegetables.
"The space we get is smaller than the bathroom in my house. But if we
went to the Albanian market, we'd be beaten up."
An elderly Serb manning the vegetable stand, 78-year-old Velibor
Zivkovic just shook his head. "I live here in town. I never touched
anyone and nobody ever touched me until March ," he said.
Zivkovic was at the market when the rioting spread to Gjilan. He was
surrounded by a mob and pushed around before he was rescued by his
Albanian neighbour, Feti Xhemaili, who sheltered him in his house for
a couple of days.
As riots spread through the city, crowds broke the windows of
Zivkovic's house and kicked in his door. Municipal authorities
repaired his windows and got him a new door and although he says he
hasn't been bothered since, Zivkovic is clearly uncomfortable.
His son left Kosovo and resettled in Serbia, boarding up his house,
which is situated a couple of doors down from Zivkovic's. Children
passing by on their way to school often pound on his door and yell
insults at him. "I wish their teachers would tell them not to do
this," he said.
A few kilometres outside Gjilan, in the village of Kamenica, relations
seem more relaxed. The marketplace is multi-ethnic, and Serbs,
Albanians and people from other groups regularly visit each other's
At Café Zuca, which is Serb-owned, a group consisting of two Albanian
men, a Serb and a Roma, sat drinking beer together during their lunch
break from the Arbana mini-market, alternating between Serbian and
But even Kamenica's tolerance was shaken during the March riots.
Sinisha Milenkovic, a priest whose Orthodox church was surrounded by
an angry crowd, said the police did nothing to help him.
"They were on the mob's side," he said. "They directed their
spotlights on Serb property to show the mob where to go."
LOCAL SERB LEADERS FAIL TO ENGAGE
Serb leaders in Kosovo must also bear some responsibility for the lack
Belgrade supports parallel structures in the Serb enclaves and
provides financial support to Kosovo Serbs, draining them of any
incentive to participate in the Pristina government.
The strategy adopted by the Serbs appears to be to opt out of top-tier
political processes; this was seen when the community boycotted the
October 2004 elections to the Kosovo Assembly.
Serb representatives in the Kosovo government have consistently
refused to participate in the working groups established to implement
the UN standards. Instead, local Serb authorities have continued to
insist on that Kosovo be divided into separate entities, along the
lines of those created by the Dayton agreement for Bosnia.
The two sides remain as far apart as they always have been regarding
Kosovo's future status. According to numerous RIINVEST polls, 85 per
cent of Albanians questioned said they favoured an independent Kosovo.
The remaining 15 per cent said they preferred unification with
Albania. None wanted autonomy within Serbia.
Among Kosovo Serbs, all wanted Kosovo to remain a part of Serbia.
Six years after independence, the snail-like pace of progress towards
substantive talks on the legal status of Kosovo is increasingly poorly
received on the ground.
Albanians are especially impatient of UNMIK, which they perceive as
standing in the way of their independence claims. As they begin to
view the international presence as an obstacle rather than saviour,
there are fears that some may decide renewed violence is the best way
to drive their own agenda forward.
In the last week of March alone, a hand grenade was lobbed at a UN
vehicle, an anti-tank mine was found underneath another, there was a
blast outside UN headquarters in Pristina, and shots were fired at the
UN's satellite dish.
Kai Vittrup, the Danish head of the 3,000-strong UN police force in
Kosovo, said he thought the attacks were intended as a warning to the
internationals as to what might happen if they do not press ahead with
status talks with greater urgency.
More radical elements such as students and war veterans are a
Faik Fazliu, president of the Society of War Invalids, an organisation
that has been instrumental in demonstrations against Hague indictments
of former KLA members, acknowledges that he would like the
international community to pull out.
"We are grateful for the international assistance, but now they must
leave. We want to reach our goals," he told IWPR in a recent
interview. "Kosovars don't trust UNMIK."
On the ground in Kosovo, UN officials say they can sense the
hostility. "The Albanians are turning against us. They are fed up and
they are really starting to lose their patience with UNMIK," said a
German police officer serving with the UN force.
The abundance of weapons available to any would-be insurgent is a
major worry. It is estimated that more than 300,000 small arms remain
in the hands of Kosovo Albanians. In 2003, the UN launched a
month-long disarmament campaign, offering money and an amnesty to
anyone who turned in a gun. The plan was to take tens of thousands of
arms out of circulation, but only 155 were surrendered.
When UNMIK arrived in 1999 to administer the protectorate, it had a
fourfold mandate: to set up a civil administration, build a police
force and judiciary, establish democratic institutions and oversee
On the last of these issues, progress has been particularly
disappointing. Even though Kosovo has experienced positive growth
rates typical of post-conflict economies, most of that is attributable
to injections of foreign assistance – unsustainable in the longer term
- rather than domestic production, where the outlook remains gloomy.
The substantial agricultural sector tends to amount to little more
than subsistence farming, and there is little sign it will succeed in
replacing obsolete technologies and methods to compete in an
increasingly tough, internationalised market.
The bulk of private-sector economic activity is focused instead in the
service sector, for example cafes and small shops, plus cross-border
trading (and a lot of smuggling).
To kickstart the economy, it was generally agreed early on that
factories, the bigger farms, mines and other enterprises, most of
which were state-owned, needed to be privatised.
But denationalising assets in a place whose very existence is in
contention proved difficult. As a result, manufacturing and other
industrial-scale activities are moribund.
For 18 months, lawyers argued over the legality of privatisation, with
many claiming that the UN had no authority to take possession of
Kosovo's enterprises since its territorial status was not resolved.
The Serbian state, meanwhile, asserted its right to the same assets on
the ground that there had been no formal change to its borders.
Eventually, UNMIK created a body to make privatisation happen, the
Kosovo Trust Agency, KTA, and delegated oversight of the process to
the European Union.
A year and a half after the UN arrived, the KTA finally began work.
Responsible for privatising 500 state-owned enterprises with potential
debts to the Yugoslav authorities, the KTA had a considerable task in
front of it.
It quickly organised a first public auction of several enterprises.
Although the properties were not worth much, they did find buyers,
mostly well-to-do Albanians in the diaspora who were keen to invest in
But each time the KTA found a buyer, Belgrade challenged the sale,
claiming that Serbia was the rightful owner. The resulting ownership
disputes were referred to a special legal
chamber consisting of local and international judges. However, in the
two years since the chamber was created, it has only rendered one
decision, leaving privatisation more or less at a standstill.
Worse was to come, when a Romanian national who claimed to be the
rightful owner of a factory that had been sold off filed a law suit
against the KTA in a New York court. Although the case fizzled out, it
terrified KTA officials, who feared they might be held personally
liable in future lawsuits.
They soon suspended privatisation altogether, claiming that they could
not move forward until Kosovo's final status was determined.
Eight months later, after numerous legal battles, bickering between
the EU and the United States office in Pristina, and allegations of
nepotism within the KTA, the process resumed, though still at a
"The UN could have simply taken control of everything in Kosovo and
dealt with it. Instead, they created the KTA and handed it off to the
EU. Now the whole process has been hijacked by lawyers and isn't going
anywhere," said one disgruntled official at the KTA.
KTA's inability to get state-owned enterprises - or SOEs, as they are
known - off its hands has had tremendous ripple affects for the
economy a whole. First, the SOEs account for about half of the total
real estate in the protectorate, meaning none of it can be developed.
Second, the SOEs include the electricity utilities, which in their
current state of near-collapse are unable to maintain a steady
electricity supply. Power cuts are almost daily occurrences across
virtually the entire territory, creating serious obstructions to
These practical and legal impediments, taken together, make it
well-nigh impossible to attract significant foreign investment.
Florin Krasniqi, an Albanian businessman who runs a construction
company in Brooklyn, New York, and is trying to build a multi-million
dollar hydroelectric power plant in Decan, is one of the many
frustrated investors. "It took me two years of navigating the UN
bureaucracy to almost get a contract to build the plant," Krasniqi
said during an investment conference in New York last year.
POOR PROSPECTS FOR INCOME GENERATION
It is clear that neither the manufacturing capacity of the SOEs, nor
subsistence farming or low-intensity service industries, is in a
position to soak up a growing labour pool. Kosovo's demographics are
against it: it has the youngest population in Europe, providing a
constant expansion in the available labour. The result is an
unemployment rate estimated at nearly 60 per cent, although some of
these people are clearly working in the grey economy.
Household incomes are at a sustainable level only thanks to
remittances from the far-flung and successful Albanian diaspora.
The lack of employment prospect has a direct contributory effect on
the protectorate's social and political dynamics.
Economic problems were undoubtedly an aggravating factor in the
violence that gripped the province in March 2004.
Father Milenkovic, the priest whose church and home in of Kamenica
were damaged by an angry mob, blames the dire economic situation more
than intolerance. "If the young people who participated in the riots
had jobs, they would have remained calm and this wouldn't have
happened," he said, as he gave IWPR journalists a tour of his church.
Glogovac, known to the Albanians as Drenas, a mining town situated in
Kosovo's heartland, not far from the Drenica region where the KLA
first took shape, illustrates how profoundly Kosovo has been affected
by the economic stagnation.
Before the war, some 2,000 families in the Drenac municipality earned
their living from the Feronikili mine just outside town. The town also
had a garment factory and a poultry farm.
In the conflict, about 85 per cent of the houses in Drenac were
destroyed, as was the mine, the factory and the farm – either burned
by Serb forces or bombed by NATO.
Most of the homes have since been rebuilt, and in anticipation of the
mine and other enterprises being rebuilt, a giant shopping complex
called Qendra Zejtare has been erected in the centre of town.
The Feronikili mining complex was put up for auction by the KTA last
September, but has yet to be taken over by anyone, so it remains
With no mining or other major concerns operating, the shopping centre
has been a flop. Most of the shops are still unoccupied, and the few
that are open do not get much custom because prices are too high for
the locals. The mall's owner was reported to be struggling
financially, in part because he had to pay taxes on a building
generates little income.
Over the road from the shiny shopping complex, a family of five lives
in the squalor of what used to be someone's garage, with no
electricity, no water supply, and no means to pay for the drugs to
treat their sick baby.
The KTA official says that given the economic context, the demands
placed on Kosovo are unattainable.
"It's an absurd situation," he said. "To talk about Albanians having
to meet standards like rebuilding churches that were destroyed in the
March riots when there is 70 per cent [sic] unemployment, and when
they can't vote for the officials in charge of economic development,
DIPLOMATIC ENGAGEMENT NEEDED
Experts agree that the only way to avoid another outbreak of violence
in the protectorate – which would likely be directed against UNMIK –
is to reinvigorate the lackadaisical diplomacy that has thus far been
brought to bear.
"It made sense in 1999 to delay the decision about Kosovo's future
status, but for the past six years, nobody has dared address the
question," said an American diplomat who has been involved in Balkans
policy for the past decade.
The UN appears unlikely to take the lead role. The new head of UNMIK,
Soren Jessen-Petersen, has proved an effective leader, but there are
years of inaction to make up.
Proposals to introduce another senior post at the UN itself to oversee
Kosovo affairs have stalled repeatedly.
Last month, the Washington Post called on US president George Bush to
appoint a special US envoy to catalyse the process. But securing
Washington's attention, let alone engagement, at a time when America
is preoccupied with events in Iraq is proving difficult.
US policy makers say they are looking to the EU to take the diplomatic
lead in Kosovo.
That may be not be a desirable outcome for Kosovo's Albanians, because
policymakers in Washington have shown themselves to be more inclined
to granting Kosovo independence than their European counterparts, who
have resisted even mentioning the word.
"In the US, the attitude is that it's not fair to hold Kosovo
Albanians responsible for things they can't control," said the
American diplomat. "Basically, we think Kosovo should be waved through
to engage in status talks even though it's going fall short on the UN
The diplomat, who did not want to be named, added that it was time
stop trying to seek Belgrade's acquiescence over Kosovo, "The fact is,
the Serbs are never going to agree to let Kosovo go, so what we need
to do is minimise their obstruction."
The Europeans don't see it that way. "In Europe, Kosovo's independence
is far from a forgone conclusion. Nobody will say in Europe that
Kosovo will be independent," said an EU representative in Washington,
who also asked to remain anonymous.
One thing is clear: the UN, the Americans or the EU have to take the
initiative, because if they don't, the task will once again fall to
the men with the guns.
Stacy Sullivan is Senior Editor with IWPR, based in New York. IWPR
contributor Camilla Algerheim contributed to this report from Kosovo.