Kosovo Weighs Balance of ‘20 Years of Freedom’
By Blerta Begisholli, BIRN
July 1, 2019
This spring, Kosovo Albanians, the overwhelming majority
of the population of Kosovo, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the former
province’s liberation from Serbia’s harsh rule.
But the long road to independence and international
acceptance has been littered with obstacles, errors and challenges.
A new generation has also grown up, born just before or
after 1999, who do not personally remember the war of independence at all -- or
what life was like under the old regime.
They include youngsters like Albin, aged 19, who finds
all the commemorations of massacres, battles and martyrs in his hometown of
Ferizaj/Urosevac “interesting” but doesn’t, obviously, remember anything about
the war directly.
“It is interesting to learn what happened back then, but
I experience it all differently from my parents who lived through it,” Albin
The Western powers, in the form of NATO, intervened
directly in Kosovo’s increasingly bloody conflict in 1999.
After peace negotiations held in Rambouillet, France,
broke down -- after Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic refused to sign a proposed
agreement -- NATO decided to use force to get Serbia to end its military
campaign against a local guerilla force, the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, which
had involved mass ethnic cleansing and killings.
While Serbia called it an illegal invasion, NATO
insisted it was a more than timely “humanitarian intervention”.
It was also the first time that NATO had intervened in a
third country without the approval of the UN Security Council, as Serbia’s close
ally, Russia, was strongly opposed to any action against Belgrade.
After 78 days of targeted air strikes from March 24
until June 10, 1999, NATO ground forces moved into Kosovo on June 12, which is
now remembered as liberation day.
Which it was, for the 90 per cent of the population who
were ethnic Albanians -- though not for Kosovo's Serb minority, many of whom
fled, or were forced to go, to Serbia.
Since then, Kosovo has to go through the tough process
of state building, while also trying to normalize relations with Serbia, which
still refuses to accept the loss of its former province.
Edita Tahiri, 62, who has played an important role in
Kosovo politics since the early 1990s, says the country’s biggest achievement in
the last 20 years was the declaration of independence in 2008.
After that, she adds, it was “the confirmation of its
legality by the International Court of Justice in 2010. With that, Kosovo
legally and legitimately became an independent and sovereign state with
recognized international state borders.
“For me, it is a big achievement also that we pursued a
liberal democratic concept, founding a democratic country with a clear Western,
Euro-Atlantic, perspective,” Tahiri adds.
The Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU
in 2015 -- the first stage to EU membership -- and making a start on the road to
NATO membership are also key achievements, according to her.
But she is not blind to the lack of progress in other
“The main setback is that we did not develop the economy
and couldn’t create employment opportunities, or Kosovo as a country of hope and
perspective for the young,” she says.
“I worry that young people are looking for their future
abroad as a consequence of the failure of rule of law and the fight against
corruption,” she adds.
She fears that, since the war ended, the leadership of
the country has lost the values of idealism it had held during the liberation
process. “After the war, narrow interests replaced the common or national
interest, which has hindered our development,” she maintains.
“The biggest challenge is to know how to love our
country because we have corrupt politicians who don’t love the country. Today’s
patriotism is not [fighting for] liberation because we liberated the country in
1999,” Tahiri recalls.
“Today’s patriotism is to stop corruption and negative
phenomena and empower the rule of law. That would open up perspectives for
economic development and bring in foreign investors.”
Agon Maliqi, 34, a policy analyst and co-founder of the
Sbunker blog <https://sbunker.net/>, says the single biggest achievement in the
last 20 years has been “peace and security, which for post-conflict societies is
no simple task”.
Other key achievements, according to him, are defining
Kosovo’s political and legal status, building institutions, democratization and
the rebuilding of the national infrastructure.
“To recall, Kosovo had very poor conditions in terms of
its energy, water supply and roads, where some significant improvements have
been achieved,” he notes.
Like Tahiri, he sees the economy as an area of deep
disappointment. “In economic and social issues, less progress has been made ...
since the end of war compared to other countries,” he says.
Far too little investment has been made in health and
education, he fears.
“There is a lack of progress also in other areas, such
as justice, urban planning, research, environment and more. In some of these
areas, we can even identify a regression over the last decade,” he adds.
“The biggest challenge is to build trust in institutions
and hope for a better future, particularly among the young. Because of
corruption, the patronage system, high unemployment and poor social-economic
conditions, there is widespread pessimism and distrust in the state and its
future,” he remarks.
“It is crucial for society to engage actively in finding
political alternatives that will install better government, which can undertake
structural and personnel reforms in public institutions and so offer better
opportunities for economic prosperity,” he concludes.
[PHOTO]: Bekim Baliqi, professor of political sciences
at the University of Pristina. (Photo courtesy of Bekim Baliqi)
- ‘We avoided becoming a failed state’ -
Bekim Baliqi, 41, a professor of political science at
the University of Pristina, says the greatest achievement of the last two
decades was “exiting not just a war but also a debilitating decade of
“But we then transitioned to a period of post-conflict
chaos, with ravaged infrastructure and no institutions to deliver services.
Getting from that point to where we are now though all the scars of the past is
not a small feat,” he says.
He says Kosovo has made “some strides, by establishing
the fundamental frameworks of the state and the economy, and has managed to
build a fragile yet quite vibrant democracy while confronting Serbia’s sabotage
in international arena”.
“The biggest achievement is our resilience to the many
forces that wished Kosovo to become a failed state,” he says.
But another challenge, he says, has come from within,
namely from the “assaults that have eaten away the state from within -- the
predatory nature of the political elites and some of the reactionary currents in
Turning to the failures of the last 20 years, he sees “a
contrast between the political situation and the success that Kosovars have
shown in culture, sports or business. Wherever the political class has had less
control over things, progress has been greater,” he says.
“The predatory nature of politics and the rule through
clientelism has over time eaten away critical resources, institutions and social
“It has also created a climate that does not reward
talent and skill and has forced many high-skilled people to leave. It has failed
to build more trust with the Serb minority and draw them away from Belgrade. It
has piled up social frustration by making a hash of the rule of law.
“The political leadership that dominated the past two
decades did not have the kind of vision, political will or talent needed to spur
the kind of development Kosovo needs,” he warns.
He doesn’t see Kosovo taking the kind of leap it needs
to take with the kind of political leaders it has now, either in power or in
opposition -- consisting mainly of people who started their careers in the
liberation movements of the 1980s and 1990s or who were once part of the
Yugoslav communist regime.
“What we are experiencing and seeing right now,” he
says, pointing to the stalemate in talks with Serbia, “is a total elite failure
-- not just in the political class but also in the intellectual scene. New and
courageous moral authorities must emerge from within the political scene who can
disrupt and shake up the system.”
[PHOTO]: Gjylieta Mushkolaj, head of Department for
Constitutional and Administrative Right and former Judge at the Constitutional
Court of Kosovo. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Arianit)
- ‘The future of Kosovo is in question’ -
Gjylieta Mushkolaj, 55, head of the department for
Constitutional and Administrative Rights, and a former judge of the
Constitutional Court of Kosovo, says one of the main achievements of the last 20
years was the initiative of the late president Ibrahim Rugova to set up a “Unity
Team” in September 2005, charged with undertaking the negotiations on Kosovo’s
She highlights that, today, the biggest obstacles to the
state building process are the conflicting relations between the political
parties, groups and fractions.
“Problematic relations between political parties, groups
and factions are seriously putting the future of Kosovo in question,” she says.
She considers that protection of individual rights and
freedoms and rule of law are Kosovo’s prime obligation. Yet, she says, Kosovo
has so far failed to adopt a proper law on religious organizations and
communities, for example.
“This is a serious failure. It not only hinders the
functioning of our constitutional democracy but complicates the relations
between Kosovo and the Venice Commission -- one of the few European bodies where
we successfully managed to become a state party,” she argues.
“The Venice Commission has provided serious assistance
to our country in preparing comments and guidelines for drafting a good law on
registration of religious communities -- and our institutions are for years and
years maneuvering not to adopt the law,” she adds.
She says that Kosovo should also implement the 2013
Brussels agreement, which included the formation of an autonomous association of
“After all, the  agreement also enabled us to
regain control over the entire country, including the north,” she notes.
“It is our obligation to enable the creation of the
Association of Serb Municipalities. This is for the future of our country, and
for the seriousness of our republic.”
- ‘At least the ethnic violence has ended’ -
Tatjana Lazarevic, 49, editor of KoSSev, an information
portal in the Serb-run northern half of the town of Mitrovica, says the biggest
achievement for her community in the last 20 years has been an end to systematic
ethnic violence targeting the Serb minority.
“Since 2004, there has not been any major ethnically
instigated violence with human casualties,” she concedes.
“The Kosovo Serb community experienced an extremely
difficult period of physical attacks against their life, heritage and property
until March 2004, based on their ethnic origin,” she recalls.
Since then, she adds, “freedom of movement has improved
She says that she is well aware of the very different
perceptions of Kosovo Serbs and Albanians when it comes to independence, and
does not feel competent to judge the Kosovo state’s successes or failures,
partly because the Serb-run north of Kosovo has since the war of independence
functioned largely within the orbit of the Serbian state.
But she says poor implementation of the rule of law,
breaches of human, ethnic, civic and others rights, property issues, lack of
economic development and unemployment, and a high level of corruption and
organized crime, are surely key problems.
Kosovo Serbs see the main threat for their future as
Kosovo potentially merging with Albania, she notes.
Another concern is the way Serbs are being integrated
into Kosovar society, without consultation. “Their experience has been bitter
under the current circumstances,” she says of her community.
“Their integration was not done on a voluntary basis,
and they have so far been integrated into a system in which they have not felt
safe, protected and treated with dignity, either as citizens or as an ethnic
community,” she concludes.
here. (Subscription required)