On 17 February 2008, the Assembly of Kosovo adopted a declaration of independence. Since then the country has been trying to gain international recognition and to becomea sovereign state in its own right. More than three years after this process, Bilge Yabanci answers our questions about Kosovo’s evolutions.
Bilge Yabanci is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Bath, UK. Her research is titled ‘Legitimacy of European Union Conflict Resolution’ with a special focus on ethno-political secessionist conflicts in Kosovo and Northern Cyprus. Previously, Bilge has had her Bachelor (BSc) degree from Middle East Technical University (METU) Ankara, Turkey in International Relations in 2006. She has completed her Master’s (MSc) degree in European Affairs at Lunds Universitet, Sweden in 2009 with a thesis titled ‘Assessing the Impact of the European Union in Kosovo Conflict Resolution: Building States and Societies upon tabula rasa?’.
The progress report for 2011 showedthat Kosovo still has a long way to go to play its role in the planned integration processes. Ms Çitaku -Minister for European Integration of Kosovo- stated that “Kosovo has not had enough time to identify and address the challenges that emerged from last year's progress report." According to you, what are the challenges that Kosovo still faces, even after three years of independence? What are the problems that Kosovo will have to overcome in the future?
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 after nine years of international administration handled by UNMIK. Previously, before NATO military intervention in 1999, the territory experienced years of discrimination against the majority Albanian population under Milosevic regime. Kosovo’s socio-economic and political problems and ethnic hostilities date back into decades. Long-term international peacebuilding efforts in Kosovo unfortunately did little to overcome these problems. Kosovo is still the most underdeveloped country in Europe given its lowest GDP among the Balkan countries, lack of infrastructure and extreme reliance on foreign aid. Due to its internationally contested statehood, it cannot establish normal relations with the international community which leaves the country’s production and export levels very low. Unemployment is still the biggest concern for the local population which is considered around 45%. On the political front, the Kosovo’s democratic institutions are far from being intact. Although democratic elections are held since 2001 and the political culture has improved towards a better functioning democracy, political institutions and elections are inefficient to create trust and democratic legitimacy as proved during last elections in December 2010. The polls had to be recounted, voting was repeated at some polls and the international observers including high ranking EU officials reported many fraud cases during ballot casting and counting. Main parties of Kosovo are still organised around clientelist lines and ethnicity.
Another major problem facing Kosovo is corruption even at the highest levels of state structures. For example, in April 2010 EULEX Police has raided Ministry of Transport, Post and Telecommunications and arrested Minister Limaj and the head of the Procurement Office Krasniqi for charges of corruption. There are many other similar examples. The other one is the lack of rule of law in Kosovo. In terms of courts, applicable law and judiciary staff there is a huge ambiguity in Kosovo. First of all Kosovo Serbs do not recognize the authority of Kosovo courts. They run parallel institutions supported by Belgrade. The implementation and decision on applicable law is the most daunting task in Kosovo. Usually, while Albanians are subject to Kosovar Constitution and EULEX legislation in Albanian dominated areas, Serb regions reject the authority of Kosovar institutions and the parallel courts in the North apply a mixture of Yugoslav codes or UNMIK law issued between 1999 and 2007.
How would you explain Kosovo Government's efforts during the last three years for Ahtisaari Plan and EU requirements? Does this implementation remain a challenge for the current government and how does the current government intend to tackle the reform of the public administration and judiciary?
The Ahtisaari Plan envisaged a ‘limited independence’ supervised by the EU based on the principles of multi-ethnic and democratic statehood and society for Kosovo. The was rejected at the UNSC due to Russian veto nevertheless Kosovo unilaterally committed to its implementation. Since the early years of provisional local governance, Kosovo authorities committed to the international agenda of democracy promotion and multi-ethnic society building. In order to identify priority areas of the Commission Progress Reports, Kosovo prepared there Action Plans so far. In reality, the implementation and Kosovo government’s actual commitment should be questioned. Usually, what is seen is a commitment to European conditionality but implementation is still very low in the areas of economic development, minority protection, fight against corruption, customs and border control and judiciary.
The EU assumed the major responsibilities of conflict resolution in Kosovo after the independence. In my view, that means the implementation of international agenda on democratic development and minority rights is equally a responsibility and a challenge of the EU because the EU replaced UNMIK exactly for this reason. In the post independence period, enlargement process has served as the main driver and the value-added of the EU in terms of creating an atmosphere for conflict resolution more than ever before. Nevertheless, because of five EU member states’ rejection to recognize Kosovo, the EU had to renounce the initial responsibility to implement Ahtisari Plan in an independent Kosovo. Disagreement among the member states hindered future integration of Kosovo into the EU. Kosovo has not yet signed Stabilisation and Association Agreement, has not allowed starting visa liberalisation process, and has not secured trade agreements due to five member states blocking the path of further integration of Kosovo with the EU. For Kosovo public, government and the EU are both responsible for the lack of progress in democracy and economy. Kosovars know that membership is not possible in the near future but they expect some tangible steps to confirm the political commitment of the EU. The local public is already convinced that the EU member states do not have an agenda to resolve the recognition of Kosovo and allow Kosovo integrate into the EU. Accession perspective has been little more than an empty promise for Kosovars.
It is also worth mentioning Kosovo government is dominated by Albanians. Little progress has been achieved on the front of multi-ethnic society and protection of minorities. After de facto separation of Kosovo from Serbia, majority of Serbs were subject to revenge attacks and forced to leave Kosovo. The remaining opted for the strategy of non-recognition and boycott of local and general elections. They set up parallel institutions and except a few representatives Kosovo Serbs have no impact in Kosovo government and Kosovo Serbs reject an independent Kosovo.
There has lately been some criticism aimed at EULEX’s activity in Kosovo. How would you assess the role of EULEX'S activity on the judiciary investigations, corruption cases and constitutional reform?
In the aftermath of independence, Russia’s and Serbia’s resistance to Ahtisaari Plan blocked deployment of EULEX in Kosovo entirely until November 2008 when a deal was stroke between UNSG and Serbia. Named as Six-point Plan, the agreement has reversed EULEX’s status, instead of being a supporter of rule of law in an independent Kosovo, EULEX would ‘fully respect Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) and operate under the overall authority and within the status-neutral framework of the United Nations’. The deal ensured deployment of EULEX in the entire Kosovo. In return Serbia is given direct control over Serb populated areas of Kosovo. EULEX’s new status neutral position was justified by the EU claiming that this would allow effective collaboration and deployment in the north of Kosovo where Serb population maintains close relations with Serbia. That means from the beginnig the role and authority of EULEX were subject to local challenges. For Albanians the neutral status of EULEX is against sovereignty of independent Kosovo.
In practice, with the deployment of EULEX, nothing has been altered. Kosovo is still a protectorate which exercise sovereign rights within the limits allowed by EULEX. Parallel Serb police and courts are still intact. The weary public opinion regarding EULEX also stems from the perceived inability and unwillingness to intervene into politically sensitive issues. Besides the lack of clear mandate in the field of judiciary, EULEX police and customs units are not able to take control at the Serbia border. Whenever there is a clash in North Mitrovica, EULEX needs to hand in control to KFOR units to ensure stability in the area as repeated in latest clashes over customs checkpoints in last July.
Overall, EULEX is urgent need to prove its efficiency by effectively assuming its executive responsibilities. Kosovo public expects EULEX to act decisively and in the interest of Kosovo public. Otherwise, the credibility of EULEX, the biggest mission of EU in terms of its staff, budget and mandate, is at serious stake. Kosovo for sure will remain as a test case for the EU’s foreign policy, its international role in resolving ethnic conflicts and the credibility of enlargement policy as an effective instrument in sustainable conflict resolution.