Monday, May 02, 2005

Politics & Policies: Kosovo still disconnected


WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) -- In some ways my idle laptop, unable to connect to the outside world, offered an appropriate analogy to the current political situation in Kosovo. The usual flurry of e-mails -- about 400 a day -- were not trickling into my computer, leaving me frustrated -- as many Kosovars I am sure must feel about political stagnation in their region. Both of us were waiting for something to happen. And in both instances, it felt as though the world was passing us by.

The direct Internet connection promised in every room of my hotel in Pristina, the not-so pristine capital of Kosovo, offered a fitting window into the state of affairs of the rebellious former Yugoslav province, now seeking independence from Serbia.

Last week found me back in Pristina to lecture Kosovar journalists and police officers on ethics at a seminar arranged by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE is one of the main international bodies that manage Kosovo's day-to-day government, police, security and judicial affairs, among other duties. Although the province has an elected president, parliament and prime minister, they are answerable to the U.N.-appointed administrator; "an international," and one of the many thousands who make Kosovo run, or sometimes, not.

For the uninitiated, Kosovo is the disputed region over which ethnic Albanians and Kosovar Serbs have been fighting since, well, suffice to say several hundred years. And the conflict is still unresolved.

The region, now administered by the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo -- UNMIK -- which since its inception in 1999 has been trying to solve the issue of "final status." Acting under the authority of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, the international community is trying to solve the longstanding issue and decide whether Kosovo should be granted independence from Belgrade or stay part of Serbia and Montenegro, the two remaining republics of the once larger Yugoslavia.

Kosovo's population is largely ethnic Albanian, who makes up about 92 percent of the region's population of roughly 2 million, according to one estimate. Kosovar Serbs, the largest minority in the autonomous region, make up about 7 percent of the population. Before the war their number was higher, but many fled and others killed. The rest are comprised of a mix of Rom (Gypsies) and other smaller groups. A whopping 70 percent of the population remains unemployed.

Back in the Kosovo hotel room the porter handed me a new, shining red cable that he pulled out of the night-table next to the bed, telling me it would connect my computer to the Net. He handed me the cable with great pride, as though offering me the keys to the city. But once plugged into my laptop and to the outlet that hung precariously on two razor-thin wires sticking out of the wall, nothing happened. The computer idled. Just like the province I was in. The red cable taunted me, just as the idea of statehood taunts Kosovars. Both are there, within easy reach, but somehow still unattainable and waiting for something to happen.

Repeated calls to the front desk were answered with vigorous promises of looking into the problem. Twice the front desk dispatched a "technician" to "fix" the problem. But again, mirroring the political situation in Kosovo, as an "international" (meaning a foreigner) I knew far more about the problem than he did. Or at least I pretended to, and he, a Kosovar, accepted my pretense. In the end, it mattered little, as we were both unable to solve the problem.

Promising he "would work on it," the technician sauntered away. Still the problem remained unsolved. Three days later and just hours before my departure from Pristina, the hotel manager showed up at my door with a long cable in his hand. One end of the wire ran out of sight, under a door at the far end of the hallway from where three other similar cables, but of different colors, snaked their way under other hotel room doors.

The manager, explaining that he had "just been apprised of the problem," laid the coiling cable across my room, connected it to my laptop. As if a magic wand was suddenly waved, I was finally connected to the world via the wonder of the World Wide Web.

The manager laying down cables across his hotel floor was Kosovo's own way of fixing the problem.

Again, one can draw on the analogies of the two situations. It was not until the manager took it upon himself to act that the issue was resolved. Similarly, all the international help from the United Nations, the European Union and the plethora of internationals working in Kosovo will help the province limp along, with promises of the problem being addressed, but without any real resolution. Meanwhile unemployment remains at frightening levels.

Like my Internet cable, it will only be when the managers of the province -- the people of Kosovo and their leaders, Serbs and Albanians alike -- take their future into their own hands, lay down the cables connecting them to the outside world -- that Kosovo can get on the road to nation building.

Until then, it will sit idly as my computer did in a room in Kosovo, as the line from the great film Casablanca goes, "waiting, waiting, waiting."

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