Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Poverty and violence are still commonplace in Kosovo

By Timothy Kenny

September 25, 2005

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro -- The unremarkable province of Kosovo remains solidly on the back burner of international news. Six years after a U.S.-led NATO bombing attack ended its war with Serbia, Kosovo is still poor, far away and largely unimportant in the greater geopolitical scheme of things. All that is likely to change in coming weeks.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns upped the ante on Kosovo in May when he declared 2005 would be "a year of decision for Kosovo." The United States--like the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and much of the international community that is keeping Kosovo economically afloat--wants to leave. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has commissioned Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide to write a report that outlines whether Kosovo is ready to begin "final status" talks with Serbia; that is, how and whether it can achieve independence.

Eide's report is expected this fall. What it says--or doesn't say--could serve as a catalyst for much change, including bringing always-simmering violence once again to the fore, as in March 2004, when two days of Albanian-triggered riots left at least 19 dead, 550 homes burned and 4,100 minority Serb citizens displaced, according to Human Rights Watch and the UN.

Violence has not cropped up on a similar scale since, but low-level trouble continues on a regular basis.

Andrew Kirkwood, deputy head of the UN's Department of Crime in Pristina, said in an interview, "We get grenades thrown on a regular basis. Back home somebody might throw a bottle through a window. Here it's a hand grenade. There's a surplus of ordnance here from the war."

Usually, said Kirkwood, a policeman from Glasgow, Scotland, "There's no motive for these attacks. We had one a couple of days ago. It's very, very common."

An early-July explosion struck for the first time in the United Nations compound here, despite its 10-foot-high concrete barriers, gates and guards. The blast stands as a stark reminder that security remains fragile in Kosovo.

During a late-June visit it was clear that in this dusty, hardscrabble province where daily life is still punctuated by random cuts in water and electricity and soaring unemployment, good news remains hard to come by. Violence is common, from a second assassination attempt against President Ibrahim Rugova in March to a political party office bombing in April that injured three schoolchildren nearby.

Economy stumbling

Just as common is poverty. Kosovo's economy stumbles along, supported by donations from relatives abroad and an illegal black market.

"People are starving in Kosovo," said Ali Rexha, an unemployed Kosovar Albanian. "People are tired of the situation here. It's all economics, in my view; 95 percent of this country [Kosovo] is Albanian and expects independence. It comes down to economics and jobs. But for now, it's about hanging in, so to speak."

The streets of Pristina are filled with daily reminders of tough times. Young men walk from one cafe and bar to another, selling cigarettes and cell phone time cards that U.S. Army officials and UN police say are mostly illegal knockoffs, smuggled across the border from Macedonia and Albania. Younger children sell candy and gum the same way.

"There is no economy here if you're not in the bigger cities where there are jobs or unless you work with the government or for one of the many international organizations here," said California National Guard Brig. Gen. William Wade, commander of Kosovo's Multinational Brigade (East) at Camp Bondsteel, a U.S.-built Army base outside Pristina. "Mostly, you're unemployed."

"Look," said Ibrahim Rexhepi, chief economics editor for Koha Ditore, Kosovo's leading newspaper, "we have alcohol smuggling, . . . we have cigarette smuggling, arms smuggling, the transit of drugs through Kosovo, gasoline smuggling and the trafficking of people. This is the underground economy."

The Kosovo Office of Statistics pegs the province's unemployment rate at 50 percent but says it's likely higher--perhaps 20 points higher--among people age 15 to 30 who make up an estimated half of the population. Organized crime is widespread, according to UN police. The picture does not bode well for Kosovo's immediate future.

"Everybody is expecting troubles here," Evliana Berani, a documentary filmmaker, said in an e-mail from Pristina. "Some people believe that social unrest might be caused by the huge poverty and the lack of economic perspective. If I am sure of something, it is that people are more and more unhappy with lack of investments, the huge percentage that live in poverty and high unemployment. This is a climate that can be easily used by somebody who doesn't want a stable Kosovo."

Downsizing has begun

Stability, already hard to come by in Kosovo, could get worse if the UN leaves. The United Nations mission in Kosovo "is not going to stay here very long," UN spokesman Neeraj Singh said. "The downsizing has already begun. We're in the middle of restructuring UNMIK so it more accurately reflects the changed circumstances."

A draft plan to hand over the police and justice systems to complete Kosovar control is under way, he said, even if it's unlikely to happen by June 2006, the proposed deadline.

"The whole downsizing plan is flexible," Singh said.

Politicians, both Serb and Kosovar, are not happy with the push to resolve the province's "final status."

"It's very possible that the internationals see that the status quo cannot hold any more and the process for a final settlement should be there," said Ylber Hysa, deputy leader of the Ora (Hour) political party. "I think there's a risk that things could be pushed toward a faster exit strategy" than Kosovo can handle, he added.

In a telephone interview from the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica in the north, Oliver Ivanovic, leader of the Kosovo Serb political party that won 8 of 10 seats in the last parliamentary elections, echoed Hysa's comments. "This is international people forcing the situation," Ivanovic said. "But neither side is ready for these talks. The Serbian side will never accept independence by any means."

"Mostly," he said, "[status talks are] for the people who are tired of being here and who want to create a way out. It is simply not the right time."

Left unspoken is whether new violence is inevitable. The OSCE ran security exercises recently, including a rehearsal for an evacuation of its staff.

"The March [2004] riots came as a wake-up call to the international community," said Hua Jiang, UN spokesman in Pristina. "The UN would say we can't stay here forever. We also can't leave things as they are. As the date of the completion of Kai Eide's report gets closer, plus the illness of President Rugova [diagnosed recently with cancer], the situation could become more volatile."

There are some 3,500 UNMIK international police in Kosovo, 2,500 of them international civilian officers and 1,000 special support police units. There are also 6,500 UN-trained local Kosovo police and some 7,000 NATO troops. Police were clearly overwhelmed trying to contain the violence of March 2004, police and UN officials say.

Kosovars like Rexha put their worries bluntly: "The next few months are critical. I think it's either going to be good or really, really bad. What we saw on TV in 1999 is nothing."

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Timothy Kenny, a former journalist, is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

So....you want us (the internationals) to leave right ??!

If I where you I would prey that the internationals dont leave.
Kosovars are repatriated from other countries every week = no more money sent.

A few families controls the mafia with huge profits = when we leave you will be in the hands of them.

You want independence = when we leave, about 75% of your money leaves to. What will you sell. Beer from Peja or burned CD´s from Gniljane ? To whom ??

Anonymous said...

Kosovo= poverty, corruption, violence. It's a muslim-dominated, hate fueled hell-hole. Why we intervened there is beyond me. Let the Serb army back there. They will clean it up.

Anonymous said...

BILLIONS of dollars have been poured into that place and for what?

Anonymous said...

For what? So that their albanian mafia dons can get richer.

Anonymous said...

Serbia's debt is billions of dollars. All that money wasted on a country which is preparing to start a new war in the Balkans.

Anonymous said...

Billions of dollars wasted on the creation of more Serb war criminals.

Anonymous said...

When I was in Kosovo, small families used to be mafia. Apparently they have been consolidating recently from what this international reported.
He just forgets the German dude who stole more than 3 million euros from KEK, two UNMIK policeman convicted for human smuggling just recently, other policeman who brought HIV with them, the frequent visits that internationals make to brothels with underage Eastern European girls while they are supposed to be closing them, etc.
I wonder if the commentator will get his $10,000/month salary ever again anywhere in the world while blaming the results of his work on the locals. Iraq is a possibility but that's another thing. Dude, you probably are a college drop-out or running away from the criminal system in your country, so don't come blaming it all on people who until March 2004 had no authority.
Read Marek Nowitcki's (the very respeced international Ombdusman) in Kosova about the failures of UNMIK.
Despite all this, UNMIK has been one of the more successful UN missions ever. For that I salute the UN.

Anonymous said...

Marek Norwiki states that albanians in Kosovo are incapable of moving forward and creating a multi cultural society--that the minorities in Kosovo are subjected to abuse unheard of in Europe.

Anonymous said...

"creating a multi cultural society"

Parts of Kosova that are multi-cultural are still multi-cultural, whereas those that never were (90% of the population is Albanian) cannot be forced to be such.

"the minorities in Kosovo are subjected to abuse unheard of in Europe"

False. I am Croatian and I don't get abused nor any other Croats I know. Serbs close themselves in enclaves, even we don't trust them, including the Bosniacs.

Albanians might be Muslim but Orthodox Serbs showed extremely well who and how to be a criminal.

Poverty = Crime but Kosova has 70% unemployed population, and this is a staggering low crime rate for a country with 70% unemployment.

If you had 70% unemployment in Serbia, they would call for a World War. If you had 70% unemployment in London, everyone would hide their iPod-s even at Picadilly, or King's Cross, if you had 70% unemployment in Big Apple (New York for you Serbs) the good old days of 1980s would be back and even Rudi could not fix it.

If you had 70% of unemployment anywhere people would turn to animals. The Kosovars (both Albanian, Croat and Bosniac) have thankfuly been through enough Serb terror to just be calm enough and not go around murdering and raping (Serb-like).

Bokic svima Kosovarima, Kosova je ljepa nasa za svih koji su za mir!

Ron said...

Thanks to all of you Croatian/Kosovars and all the others that want to see an independent and prosperous Kosova.
It is time to let the people of Kosova speak for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a Croat walk down Bill Clinton Blvd. in Pristina and speak Croatian, the albanians will kick your slavic speaking a$$ around like they did to the bulgarian soldierseveral years ago.

Great freedom of movement.

Anonymous said...

He is not a Croat. His IP-number is from Pristina. Croats hate muslims.

Anonymous said...

How do you know his IP number?
Paranoia maybe...

But instead of checking his IP you should read his post bozo!
He said he lived in Kosova, a Croat from Kosova.
And he is getting on just fine with Albanians, just like the rest of minorities.

Exept, of course, the serbs who have isolated themselves, sheltering war criminals, blocking roads, throwing stones etc. Sounds like intifada to me...

So the serbs are the jihadists of Europe, always ready to start a "holy war" for their nationalistic poor excuse of a state.

Albanians are not into religious conflict, and the serbs know that well. We have different creeds within the Albanian community, and they coexist very well. No probs there.
It's only when serb religious fanatism comes into play that you will have massacres (Vukovar, Srebrenica, Racak, Mackatica...)
With serbian orthodox priests blessing the assasins.
If that is not religious fanatism I don't know what is.

Kosova will be independent soon, and we will leave this corruption-rotted, bombed, jihadist state known as Serbistan.


Tosi
Sweden

Anonymous said...

"So the serbs are the jihadists of Europe, always ready to start a "holy war" for their nationalistic poor excuse of a state.


Albanians have contributed foot soldiers to al quaeda, not the serbs, Tosi. Kosovo is rife with muslim charities that are under investigation .... and some have been closed for laundering money to al qaeda. Serbs have been fighting islamic terrorists for centuries....and most recently in Kosovo and Bosnia. Your blatant hatred of all things Serb is pathetic at best.

"Perhaps most telling about the minds of those who trained here(Afghanistan) found at the camp. "I am interested in suicide operations," wrote Damir Bajrami, a 24-year-old ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, on his entry application in April 2001. "I have Kosovo Liberation Army combat experience against Serb and American forces. I need no further training. I recommend (suicide) operations against (amusement) parks like Disney."

http://www.usatoday.com/news/sept11/2001/11/26/cover.htm

Anonymous said...

What was the Spain bomber doing in Serbia?
Having a dinners with Kostunica most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Where did the london bomber by their bombs?

Serbia of course.

Anonymous said...

Who is fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq alongside the USA.
Albania of course.

Anonymous said...

Who had close ties with Sadam.
The Serb government of course?

Who promised soldiers and guns to Serbia for the killing of Albanian children, women and elders?

Sadam of course.

Both of the governments signed a deal on this issue.

Anonymous said...

*Who sold arms to Gaddafi (accused of supporting internationl terrorsim) despite the sanctions by US and EU?

Why, Serbia of course.


*Where did Milosevic go for help with fooling GPS and laser guided bombs when NATO attacked?

Buddy Saddam.


*Where did Saddam go for military jet parts when the Allies were gearing up for Gulf War II?

Why, Belgrade run by the now-wannabe ally of the west, Tadic.

Anonymous said...

"He is not a Croat. His IP-number is from Pristina. Croats hate muslims."

I am a Croat you Srbijanac, and of course my IP is from Prishtina (don't know how you found it!) because I am a Croat from Kosova, thus in Prishtina - often walk down through the center with my very happy Zagrebacki accent, speaking Croat. Croats are people, doesn't matter what religion you are of, stop talking in the name of my people.

Srbijanac, ja sam ti Hrvat, pravi takav od kojih ste vi bjezali. Bruka ste za cjeo svijet.

Anonymous said...

Kosovo has nothing to do with Albania. Kosovo is inside the boarders of Serbia. The albanian goverment's time would be better spent sorting out their dismal little economy, corruption and screwed up social problems.
Unless of course they want a war with Serbia which I wouldn't suggest to them.
There's an old saying in Serbia which basically translates to "The Serbs will tolerate a lot - but push them too far and you'd better watch out".
Stay out of Serbia you Shiptar parasites. It is not your country. Stop trying to create mini albania's in Serbia and Macedonia and go to your own country - albania.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

SERBIA WILL TAKE CARE OF KOSOVO. OUR ARMY WILL RETURN.

Anonymous said...

Croatia is preparing Oluja 2 (Storm 2), plan is take over Belgrade and whole of Serbia and feed them large abounts of anti-depresant drugs to make them happy.

The essence of a Serb, their psyche, revolves around being deeply unhappy about everything in life and blaming others for it.

Vasi voljeni Hrvat!