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Articles on the Kosovo Conflict


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 observes.

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 fields, either.

“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 apartheid”.

“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 opposition.”

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 trust.

“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 status.

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 Serb municipalities.

“After all, the [2013] 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 significantly”.

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.

Originally published here. (Subscription required)


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