Pitting Democratic Standards against Sovereign Rights: The Nature of International Rule in Kosovo


Four years after NATO’s military intervention, the final status of Kosovo is still undecided. While officially part of a vanished Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - recently renamed the State Union of Serbia and Montegro—it has been a de facto United Nations protectorate since 1999 in accordance with UN Security Resolution 1244. Kosovo is neither a state nor part of any European structures. The official rationale for maintaining the status quo is the notion that institution-building and democratization are needed before Kosovo’s state-identity is determined. Some political progress has been made: three elections-two municipal elections and parliamentary elections-have taken place since 2000 as part of the "international community's" democratization effort. And the United Nations and KFOR have, to a large extent, succeeded in ending ethnic violence in Kosovo. The Serbian minority-living in scattered enclaves in Kosovo-is still in need of KFOR protection. But the crime rate in Kosovo has decreased dramatically and no inter-ethnic murder has been reported this year.[1]

Nobody denies that the lack of judicial structures was-and still is-a major problem in Kosovo. The court system being set up is in its infancy, and the government and parliament have not proved efficient, especially in the fight against crime and widespread corruption. The "democracy deficit," however, is only part of the reason for the reluctance of the "international community"-essentially, the United States and the European Union-to deal with the future status of Kosovo. If the same argument were applied to East Timor, where political, social, and economic conditions were far worse, it would never have been granted independence. Unstated geopolitical interests are more important here: namely, the fear of a potential spillover effects on the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia, if Kosovo is granted independence.

Indeed, the charge that the United Nations Interim Administration for Kosovo (UNMIK) has the trappings of a neo-colonial structure-with the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General (SRSG), Michael Steiner, at the helm-is by no means farfetched. Despite the existence of institutional structures with a president, government, and parliament dominated by the majority Albanians, Kosovo is ruled by the United Nations and NATO. Steiner is in total control, with veto powers, whereas President Ibrahim Rugova is more of a symbol, and the government, led by Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, and parliament are fully subject to the authority of the UN. The Albanian political leadership speaks the language of the "international community" and its discourse on "democratization." But to them, there is no other final settlement than independence.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the uneasy relationship between the global and the local in Kosovo-a symbiosis that is in danger of disintegrating without clear ideas about the end-station of the democratization process. Apart from the unresolved final status, there are other outstanding issues that have not been forcefully addressed, such as Kosovo’s territorial integrity, its prospects for economic viability, and its relationship with Europe. The majority Albanians will never accept some sort of a federalist solution involving Serbia, whether in the form of a state led by Serbia or of a revamped Yugoslav model based on political autonomy within a Serbian-Montenegran federation. The current UN agenda of emphasizing democratic values instead of institutions, or-in the catchphrase of Steiner-"standards before status," has, up to now, not been seriously contested by the Albanian political elite. But it will be argued here that as a de facto mechanism to postpone difficult questions about final status, it runs the risk of creating a backlash against the international presence in Kosovo.

The Nature of the International Presence in Kosovo

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At present, there are around 50,000 "internationals" in Kosovo as part of the peacekeeping mission, including 30,000 KFOR personnel. It is estimated that the KFOR contingent will be cut to about half this year.[2] It includes personnel from all 19 NATO countries and about 20 non-NATO members. The huge UNMIK machinery in Kosovo has been led by three UN Special Representatives since 1999: Bernard Kouschner, Hans Haekkerup, and Michael Steiner. Kouschner’s job was basically to establish political control and security in Kosovo, to begin economic reconstruction, and to do the preparatory work for eventual local participation in government. In February 2000, UNMIK established the Joint Interim Administrative Structure (JIAS) to provide Kosovars with quasi-governmental responsibilities. Haekkerup established, in 2001, the Constitutional Framework, which defined provisional governmental institutions to replace the Joint Interim Administrative Structure?the first step toward self-government?paving the way for the general elections and managed to persuade the Albanian political elite to grant the Serb minority a minimum of 10 parliamentary seats out of 120?irrespective of their actual numerical make-up or of voter participation?and 10 to the other minorities (Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians, Bosniaks, Turks, and Gora). A quota of 30% was set aside for women?a major progressive step in view of the patriarchal traditions in Kosovo, where women had minuscule political influence. As one Albanian intellectual put it: "Haekkerup did the dirty work. He was universally disliked, but he did the necessary thing by allowing the Serbs to vote."[3] While the Constitutional Framework was a step toward self-determination, UNMIK retained, in effect, full political control in Kosovo"[4] Steiner achieved two tasks in the spring of 2002: to establish a "multi-ethnic" cabinet with ten ministries and get Ibrahim Rugova, the symbol of non-violent resistance to Serbian rule, elected as President. In March 2003, Steiner also promised to transfer more power, especially with respect to the economy, health, and public services, to local political structures. But the SRSG will keep its sole authority over security, judicial affairs, minority communities, and foreign affairs. In short, this devolution move is one of degree, not substance.

Steiner has also placed enormous emphasis on Serbian refugee returns consistent with the philosophy of preventing ethnic cleansing in reverse. In practice, this agenda obscures several obstacles. First, there is no reliable statistics available on displaced Kosovo Serbs. Numbers from 150.000 to 350.000 have been flouted, with 200,000 the most quoted one. It is, however, deceiving to include those Serbs who Slobodan Milosevic brought from Croatia and Bosnia in the wake of the civil wars in the mid-1990s. Those Serbs have no ties to Kosovo, and their influx resulted in increased discrimination against the Kosovo Albanians, such as property seizures and job dismissals. The Kosovo Serbs have shown little willingness to be integrated into a society dominated by the majority Albanians. The October 2002 municipal elections basically confirmed their refusal to take part in the political process; to the great disappointment of UNMIK and Steiner, they boycotted the elections in some places and their turnout, in general, was extremely low.[5] Before the elections, Steiner had appealed directly to those Serbs, living in areas where the Albanians are in a majority, by promising them more influence in municipal government through a mechanism dubbed "decentralization." But after the elections, he basically shelved the idea, stating that the "Serbs had shot themselves in the foot" by not taking part in the elections.[6] The Serbian reluctance to accept new realities in Kosovo can, to a large extent, by explained by external factors. The Serbian Government has much sway over the Kosovo Serbs and claims to represent their interests. This means that Belgrade has been in a position to manipulate them?more or less openly?in the political sphere. It is only in small communities, where tensions have been reduced, for example, in Gijlan that local Serbs want to distance themselves from the Serbian Government. For them, it is a waste of time to engage in obstructionist politics since they feel that Belgrade will never dictate things in Kosovo again.

Relying on his close relationship with the German political elite, Steiner has?in some areas?been effective in attracting financial resources to deal with day-to-day economic problems in Kosovo. But his mission is basically to guard the status quo. What he has termed "logical necessity"?"standards before status"?can be summed up in his own rhetoric: a multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo on its way to membership in an integrated Europe. This is, of course, a euphemistic expression—to put it mildly. It does not address the question of majority rule and self-determination. It also ignores the crucial question of whether Kosovo will become a state and be independent if and when these "standards"?in the form of eight generally worded democratic benchmarks?have been achieved. When Carl Bildt, the former UN High Commissioner for Bosnia, warned?in an influential article in the International Herald Tribune in the summer of 2002?against deferring the issue of final status because it could lead to instability,[7] Steiner responded by saying that "Kosovo's final status cannot be considered in a meaningful way until its institutions, economy and political culture have evolved so that it can administer itself without extensive outside support or interference." He was far less clear, though, about final status: that it would not be "what is was before NATO's intervention" and that it will not be "based on partition."[8]

This sounds more like a code for non-action based on wider geopolitical considerations. There are, of course, many states that are dependent on the outside world for theirsubsistence or that fail to meet the democratic standards demanded of the Kosovo Albanians. Part of the reason for the unresolved status of Kosovo is that the European Union fears that if Kosovo gets independence, it could destabilize the whole region politically: it could, for example, renew calls in Montenegro for severing its newly created constitutional ties with Serbia; it could shatter the peace accord brokered by the European Union in Macedonia in 2001, and it could give rise to demands for territorial revisions in Bosnia.[9]

It is widely reported that the Clinton Administration gave key Albanian political leaders in Kosovo assurances of American support for independence in 1999. According to the failed Rambouillet Agreement of February 1999?which preceded NATO's bombing campaign and was ratified only by representatives of Kosovo Albanians?there was going to be a referendum on Kosovo's future status within three years. In private, American officials claim that they support Kosovo's independence, while the official position is to support the “status before standards” approach. They are also highly critical of the European Union, arguing that the EU's inaction is motivated by self-serving interests: that is, the need to limit the number of European states joining the EU in the future. In short, so the argument goes, the EU is against small states; it wants to promote federations of states in the Balkans, such as Serbia and Montenegro.[10] Indeed, it was instrumental in forcing Serbia and Montenegro to agree to the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, which came into affect in February 2003. It is neither a confederation (the Serbian position) nor a loose federation (the Montenegrin wish), but something in-between. The agreement consigned the name of "Yugoslavia" to history. Serbia and Montenegro will share a common foreign and defense policy, while maintaining separate economies, currencies, and customs. The republics also share a UN seat and are set to join the European Council Fearing that the possible breakaway of Montenegro could encourage secessionists in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Republika Srpska, the EU vigorously opposed Montenegro's independence.

When it comes to discussing the nature of international rule and the future of Kosovo, American and European officials offer different perspectives. While the U.S. share of international aid allocated for Kosovo's economic reconstruction is only 15%, the American political and military presence in Kosovo is amply felt. In the wake of the Kosovo War, the U.S. military constructed Bondsteel air base?purportedly the largest U.S. military base constructed outside the United States since the Vietnam War. About five thousand U.S. soldiers are based in Bondsteel, where the Americans, among other things, conduct reconnaissance missions outside Kosovo. In an interview, one U.S. official asserted, no doubt correctly, that just the sight of the base would convince anybody that the Americans were in Kosovo for the long haul.[11]

The Americans have tremendous influence over the Kosovo Albanian leadership given their high standing in Kosovo as a result of their instrumental role in NATO's military intervention. Yet, despite their criticism of the EU’s support for a federalist solution, the Americans themselves have seized no initiative on the final status question.[12] As noted, the Bush Administration has supported the EU's position on institution-building before the future of Kosovo is decided.[13] Apart from taking into account Kosovo's geographical position in Europe, the Americans are keenly aware of the EU's leading role in the economic reconstruction of Kosovo.

But what about the potential geopolitical spillover effects, if Kosovo is granted an independent status? This is, of course, the main concern of the EU. To equate realities in Kosovo with those of Macedonia or Bosnia is a misleading exercise. Given the large Albanian minority in Macedonia, future developments in Kosovo undoubtedly will have an impact on the Macedonian domestic political situation. But Macedonian accusations of Albanian irredentism?the notion of a Greater Albania?are unsubstantiated. There are no indications that Kosovo Albanians have such pretensions; to them, Kosovo is far more an integral geographical term. That the Kosovo Albanians want to have friendly relations with the Albanians of Albania, with whom they share a common language, is a well-known fact. Yet, there are deep cultural differences between Kosovo and Albania, and few Kosovo Albanians have ever been to Albania.[14] During the Kosovo War, Kosovar refugees were shocked to witness the social conditions and poverty in Albania.[15] What is more, there are no signs that the Albanian Government harbors any irredentist or expansionist plans. There is far more to the contention that exaggerated notions of a Greater Albania serve as a political device to counter potential moves by the West to grant Kosovo independence.

To compare Bosnia with Kosovo is misleading on similar grounds. One detected this tendency in the Kosovo War: the United States and the major European powers believed a few days bombing campaign would force the Serbs to the negotiating table like in Bosnia. Slobodan Milosevic had far more at stake in Kosovo: he had started his political career as the head of the Serbian Communist Party by depriving Kosovo of self-determination in 1989, ruled it, more or less, as a colony for a decade, and invited Serbs?many from Bosnia or Croatia?to settle in Kosovo as a counterweight to the far more numerous Albanians. The population of Bosnia has always been far more mixed than that of Kosovo, where Albanians have constituted the vast majority of the population for a long time. Instead of playing the game of analogies in the Balkans, the arguments in favor of addressing the Kosovo problem on its own terms and not by holding it hostage to a wider regional agenda are far more convincing.

The Domestic Domain: Playing the Democratization Game

No major changes have occurred in Kosovo politics since the first municipal elections in 2000. The OSCE has supervised the election process and written the election rules. Three Albanian parties currently occupy the bulk of the political space—the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) headed by President Ibrahim Rugova, the Party of Democratic Kosovo under the chairmanship of Hashim Thaci, and?the far smaller?Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) chaired by Ramush Haradinaj—even though the elections have been contested by over 20 parties and alliances. The Serbs were represented by a single, multi-party list, the coalition Povratak (“Return”) in the Kosovo-wide elections, but were fragmented in the last October 2002 municipal elections. After much haggling and pressure on the part of Steiner, a coalition government under Prime Minister, Bajram Rexhepi (PDK) was formed in the spring of 2002, with representatives from the largest Albanian parties, including one portfolio for the Serbian minority (agriculture).

At this point, it is too early to judge its work. There are no major ideological divisions within the government, even if individual ministers jealously guard their turf.[16] Some ministers have—correctly—been criticized for inefficiency, and parliament has been slow in passing laws. In general, the political parties have taken up Western notions of free market capitalism mixed with social responsibility. But their agenda has?and will be?dominated by their quest for independence. A recent suggestion by Thaci to “freeze” the question of final status or to put a “moratorium” on it has caused much surprise. The motive is unclear: he certainly has not changed his view on Kosovo’s future independence. But he claims that given the differences between the Albanians and Serbs on how to deal with the issue, it would be better, at this stage, to focus on developing the structures needed for a democratic Kosovo. Not unexpectedly, this view has been vigorously rejected by Rugova and Haradinaj and has been roundly criticized by many Albanians. At first, Steiner welcomed Thaci’s initiative—suggesting that he had a hand in this move—but he seems to be distancing himself from it out of fear of becoming embroiled in Kosovo’s domestic politics. It remains to be seen whether this new development is of real political significance, which is doubtful, or just an attempt to approach the issue of final status in a different way.

Voter turnout has declined steadily since the first elections; in 2000, it was 79%; in 2002, it was 65%, and in 2002, it was only 54%.[17] What partly explains this trend is undoubtedly voter fatigue; moreover, it is unlikely that voters see their representatives as effective in delivering on their economic and social needs. This does not only pose a problem for the local political parties; the "international community" is also inviting criticism of its record. Even if UNMIK and Steiner have sought to shift the burden of responsibility for governing Kosovo on the shoulders of local politicians, it is doubtful that they will succeed. Local politicians will most likely respond by blaming UNMIK for the lack of progress on many economic issues and on the future status of Kosovo. If the leadership of the three largest Albanian parties lend their support to such views, it could easily—and quickly—undermine the legitimacy and authority of UNMIK and KFOR among Kosovo Albanians.

Before the Kosovo War, Rugova and LDK were losing support because of the armed insurrection by the UCK. The party lost control of many municipalities in the aftermath of the NATO military intervention. But it regained sufficient ground to win decisively in the October 2000 municipal elections. This was largely due to Rugova's enduring symbolic appeal and a rapid alienation from the main inheritor of the UCK legacy, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). The LDK took 58% of the vote in the 2000 municipal elections, and it also won the November 2001 Kosovo-wide elections, capturing 46%.[18] What accounted for the resurrection of the LDK was visible dissatisfaction with the way the UCK gained political and economic spoils (often through violence) after the war.[19] To be sure, the LDK lost more than 10% of its support in the Kosovo-wide elections, probably because of its inactivity and lack of visible economic progress. In the October 2002, municipal elections, it retained its place as the largest party without posting any gains. Rugova's "imperial presidency"?his tolerance of corruption (for example, in the Prishtina municipal government), and his penchant for luxury have probably put a dent in his popular standing. Many educated Albanians see him as no more than a figurehead.[20] What is more, his ambivalent stance toward the armed struggle against Serbian rule in Kosovo in the late 1990s has always been a political liability. And his post as President of Kosovo is largely a ceremonial one, with no real power or authority, even if he uses it to maintain a grip on the LDK.

Hashim Thaci, the former head of the UCK and "Prime Minister" of the self-declared provisional government of Kosovo, is the second most important politician in Kosovo. In 2000, his party changed its name to PDK, and until the emergence of other former UCK-leaders on the political scene, the party seemed to be the sole inheritor of the UCK legacy; it enjoys overwhelming support in former UCK strongholds. The party was in a predominant position after the war, playing a central role in the Joint Interim Administrative Structure, with Thaci being one of the three Albanian political members. But the party lost support as it came to be seen as abusing its position of power. In the municipal and Kosovo-wide elections, the PDK came second to the LDK, with 27% and 26% of the vote, respectively. In the October 2002 elections, the party slightly increased its share of the vote. The PDK's solid electoral performance can be explained by its campaign in support of civilian rule and coexistence between different political forces.

Because of Thaci's militaristic past, he could not be selected for the post of prime minister in the spring of 2002. Instead, a little-known physician from Mitrovica, Bajram Rexhepi?a former member of the LDK, who switched to the PDK after the war—assumed this post. Rexhepi was the provisional mayor of Mitrovica until the LDK gained control of the city in the municipal elections in October 2000. He enjoys high standing among Albanians as well as by key players of the "international community," such as Steiner and representatives from the United States and the European Union.[21] He is considered a pragmatist and willing to work with the UN, but he has also shown that he is no puppet. Nonetheless, the legacy of the UCK remains a problem. The Kosovo Protection Force (KPC)?a civilian emergency preparedness service agency?was established to incorporatate disarmed former fighters of the UCK after the war; it trains and develops response skills, while undertaking humanitarian projects throughout Kosovo, such as relief work in connection with an earth quake in Kosovo. The demobilization of the UCK has been largely successful, even if UNMIK plans to reduce the KPC in size in the future. Many Albanians see the KPC as the core of a future army?either acting independently or, as Kosovo's Prime Minister has suggested, under NATO control.[22] But no such schemes have been approved by the international organizations running Kosovo. Indeed, there is widespread reluctance to involve the KPC in any military projects because of its roots in the UCK.

Prior to Thaci’s “moratorium” initiative, the clarification of the question of statehood was of paramount importance to the government. Rexhepi has stated that there is no rush to independence, but made it clear that there is no alternative. He feels—correctly?that the United States is more in favor of granting independence than the European Union, suggesting that it was a question of establishing a two or three year time frame for full sovereignty.[23]The EU, however, has shown no willingness to discuss that possibility. The Bush Administration was the first government to invite Rexhepi to Washington after he became Prime Minister; he met Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials, even if these meetings did not square fully with diplomatic protocol. He also went to Germany, where he me with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and other German diplomats. Thus, the "international community" is slowly and inconspicuously granting Rexhepi a measure of legitimacy, even if these meetings are not highly publicized.

The position of Ramush Haradinaj's party, the Alliance for the future of Kosovo (AAK), is much weaker than that of the LDK and PDK. The party was founded in 2000 as a political vehicle for Haradinaj and other former UCK elements not satisfied with Thaci. The Alliance has a strong base in Haradinaj's home patch in Western Kosovo, but it did not have time to establish itself politically in the 2000 municipal elections, receiving only 8% of the vote. To Haradinaj's disappointment, his party did not do better in the Kosovo-wide elections, and the poor showing of the party led some hard-line, radical elements to leave it. He did no better in the October 2002 municipal elections. A former UCK commander, who?in his autobiography?has written graphically about his role in the armed uprising against the Serbs in the 1990s, he has turned into a Western-style politician, with all its familiar trappings. He is very cautious and diplomatic, when he talks about the role of the "international community" in Kosovo and he subscribes to the "democratization agenda." But like other Kosovo Albanian politicians, he is focused on the final status guest ion.[24]

The way the "international community" in Kosovo deals with Albanian politicians is marked by contradictions. KFOR and OSCE representatives are often critical of Rugova and the LDK; they blame the President for blocking efforts to promote democracy and transparency within the LDK in an effort to maintain autocratic control over the party. The LDK is seen as being stagnant and a relic of a Communist Yugoslav past?by its chronic unwillingness to embrace new political realities. Thaci and, especially, Haradinaj are being projected in a much more positive light. [25] But the acceptance of Thaci and Haradinaj is not universally shared within the "international community." One could expect a major backlash, if there is anything to rumors that the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague is contemplating bringing charges against Haradinaj and even Thaci. Some KFOR officials have forcefully stated that both men should be charged for war crimes.[26] Steiner has admitted that it would create a major disturbance, if they were arrested, but argues that in such an eventuality, the International War Crimes Tribunal would surely make a credible case for its decision.[27]

There is absolutely no doubt that their arrest would cause a domestic political explosion; so far the main political parties have refrained from associating themselves with demonstrations in Prishtina in 2002-2003 against the arrests of former UCK member (even if the PDK and the AAK argue that these arrests are politically motivated). But there is overwhelming likelihood that Thaci and Haradinaj would mobilize their supporters, if they were extradited to the Hague. They are, after all, supported by at least 35% of the electorate. In other words, the dilemma facing the "international community" is this: while legitimizing the leaders of the UCK at the local level, they are keeping open the option of criminalizing them at the international level. What could ensue is major political instability in Kosovo and a serious domestic political backlash against the UN and KFOR.

The Challenge to the Territorial Integrity of Kosovo

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The United States and the European Union have rejected any notions of partitioning Kosovo, leaving Northern Kosovo under Serbian control and granting the Albanian-dominated majority independence in the rest of Kosovo. Steiner has consistently made the point that partition is out of the question.[28] Yet Kosovo was partitioned for over three years or until late November 2002: Mitrovica in Northern Kosovo was a divided city, with the Serbs controlling the northern part with the direct political and economic support of the Serbian Government.[29] Despite promises of ending the partition and establishing UN control in Mitrovica, UNMIK did not act until after brokering a deal with the Serbian Government. But the fact is that apart from establishing a UN office in Mitrovica very little has changed. The Serbian Government still wields effective control over Northern Mitrovica as well as within Serbian enclaves in Kosovo. What is more, ironically, the EU and other Western countries are indirectly subsidizing this arrangement.[30] The Serbian Government allocates money from the treasury (70% of which financed by the West) to Serbs in Mitrovica, thus providing them with financial support and taking care of their energy needs in addition to other type of assistance.

Despite objections by Steiner, some OSCE officials think that everything will be on the table when the question of final status will be settled, including that of partition.[31] That partition is the goal of the Serbian government has been clear since Milosevic launched his drive to expel the Kosovo Albanians during the early phases of the Kosovo War, especially from the areas next to the borders of Serbia. Serbian Government officials have repeatedly expressed the view that partition would be the desirable solution for Kosovo.[32] For the Serbs, the goal has been to establish Serbian control over the northern parts of Kosovo to prepare Kosovo for an eventual partition.[33] Nebojsa Covic, the head of Belgrade's "Coordination Center for Kosovo and Metohija" stated that Belgrade is prepared to accept the creation of "entities" in Kosovo following the Bosnia and Herzegovina model.[34] Covic has further hinted that if the Serbs are not able to live among the Albanians, they will have to live alongside them?a code for segregation. All this talk of preemptive partition is an attempt to shape the final settlement.

The status of Mitrovica is not the only instance of failure on the part of UNMIK and KFOR to ensure the territorial integrity of Kosovo. The "international community" did not prevent Serbia and Macedonia from unilaterally deciding to alter the Kosovo-Macedonian border, leaving tracts of land?which had always been part of Kosovo?in Macedonian hands. UNMIK and KFOR officials admit that this was a blunder,[35] but did not reverse the decision. Apart from the fact that most conflicts involve border disputes, the inaction of the "international community" has undermined its credibility on the question of territorial integrity.

Kosovo's Economic Viability and Its Relationship with Europe

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During the existence of Yugoslavia, a minuscule amount of money was invested in industry and infrastructure in Kosovo; most investment went to housing construction and agricultural development. In the 1990s, the main economic activity took place in the "gray areas“ of the economy, and the level of foreign investment was?and still remains?extremely limited. Before the NATO military intervention, key industries had been closed in Kosovo, including mining, metallurgy, and related manufacturing enterprises. The construction sector has become the strongest economic sector after the war. The agrarian sector has improved, but has not reached prewar levels.[36] The underground economy is obviously a major factor in today's Kosovo. Organized crime centers on such items as petroleum and cigarettes, and smuggling and trafficking in human beings is one of the most profitable businesses. There are reported to be 1400 gas stations in Kosovo, even if it estimated that despite the widespread ownership of cars, only about 250 are really needed. There is no doubt that the mafia is involved in the gas business, and it is suspected that key politicians?like Thaci?are supported by shady gas interests.[37] There is little precise data available about the extent of trafficking in women, but evidence has been produced to suggest that such activity is an example of a coordinated effort between ethnic Serbs and Albanians, like in other areas of organized crime. The presence of a large "international community" has also contributed to the increase in the number of brothels that are involved in trafficking.[38] Indeed, it is estimated that "internationals" make up around 30% of the clientele frequenting the brothels.

The infrastructure is generally very bad in Kosovo, and road repairs are not a priority in urban centers like Prishtina. The EU provides?as noted?the bulk of economic assistance to Kosovo, with the European Agency for Reconstruction financing and managing the reconstruction and development programs, and the EU pillar of UNMIK in charge of spurring economic activity by creating the conditions for a market economy and by overseeing the reparations of war damages.[39] But Kosovo is totally dependent on international donors. At a donors' conference in late 2002, a total sum of 500 million Euros was promised for the next three years for economic development in Kosovo. In view of the huge reduction in economic aid by the EU in the next few years (even though this will not be felt right away because reconstruction programs financed by earlier allocations will not be finished), this additional support will ease the economic burden. But the fact remains that the economic outlook is bleak, with no concrete economic opportunities at hand. At present, the unemployment rate is about 60%.[40]

When the future of Kosovo is discussed, one of its assets is usually considered to be its young population under deep Western cultural influence. Kosovo has the highest birth rate in Europe, and 60% of the population is under 24. But in order for small businesses to thrive, they will need better structural conditions. For one thing, electricity shortages in Kosovo are a major obstacle to any meaningful economic development. Three years after the war, Kosovars are still subjected to blackouts for several hours a day. Apart from the social implications of these ruptures, it will, of course, have a major detrimental impact on plans to attract foreign investments to Kosovo. The "international community" has been far too slow to respond to what can be termed a crisis.[41] The privatization program sponsored by the UN has also been slow in the making.[42] A new mechanism, the Kosovo Trust Agency, was formally created, in the summer of 2002, to oversee the privatization of several hundreds of formerly "socially-owned companies". The Trust Agency is, however, off to a bumpy start. Only 20-30 "socially-owned companies" out of several hundred are expected to be viable.[43]

What captures the economic dilemma of sticking to the constitutional status quo is that there will be no real private capital entering Kosovo, if ownership cannot be fully guaranteed. Without loans or major private investment, Kosovo has been forced to rely completely on international aid, remittances, and local taxes, which will?in the long ruin?make it very difficult to stand on its own feet. In short, Kosovo runs the risk of becoming a donor dependency. Without statehood, it can neither borrow money internationally (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) nor attract large scale Diaspora money from abroad?especially the largest Albanian emigre communities in Switzerland, the United States, and Germany.

In September 2001, a confidential proposal by German foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, on creating structural links between various Balkan states and "sub-state entities," on the one hand, and the European Union, on the other, was leaked to the press. Fischer's idea was, among other things, to promote regional cooperation by creating an "EEA II,” a second European Economic Area Treaty modeled on the first one negotiated between Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein and the European Union in 1993. This was obviously an attempt to create something more effective than the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, which had clearly failed to live up to its promise. But it was also an original way to break the institutional deadlock of the European integration process in the Balkans. It is unrealistic for the EU to expect that a Stabilization and Association Agreement be signed with the new state of Serbia and Montenegro. What should be done about protectorates such as Kosovo or Bosnia both of which are expected to enact EU legislation? Perhaps an EEA II might serve a bridge-building function, because the prospect of full EU membership for any of those states and sub-states is distant. If Bulgaria and Romania cannot expect to join the EU before 2007, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo will have to wait far longer. Whatever will come of this idea, which was rejected by most Balkan leaders as too exclusionary, the EU needs to develop structural links with Kosovo if it wants to manage political and economic developments there.


Despite the success of the "international community" in securing peace in Kosovo, there are areas where limited or no progress has been made. In this article, it has been argued that a key weakness in the current "standards before status" approach is that it marginalizes the question of what will become of Kosovo when "democracy standards" have been achieved. Even though Kosovo Albanians have adopted the political vocabulary of the "international community" and participated in the election process, they have been united on independence and they expect to achieve that goal within a time span of two or three years. The UN has sought to put the burden of government responsibility on the Kosovo government and parliament. But despite the rhetoric of "transparency," "accountability," "sustainability," and "minority rights", the fact is that Kosovo is not ruled by its elected representatives but by the UN and NATO, with the European Union and the United States, setting the agenda. When local politicians are unable to keep their election promises, they will most likely blame "the international community" for the lack of progress on many economic and social issues.

There are, of course, no easy answers to the Kosovo question. The NATO military intervention in 1999 was not authorized by the UN Security Council. The Russian factor plays a far less important role now than three years ago. Yet, the "international community" has been unable and unwilling to take decisive action on the question of the future status of Kosovo. One reason is, of course, that they do not want to generate political instability given other foreign policy priorities, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, there is no doubt that the United States and the European Union approach the Kosovo problem differently, even if they seek to present a united front in public.[44] Hence, the emphasis on this lowest common denominator?institution-building in Ksovovo?which, in effect, serves the purpose of postponing the question of constitutional status.

It is clear, though, that the Americans are less keen on the federal solutions envisioned by the Europeans; they also have problems with the European concern for involving Serbia in the Kosovo question, even if they share with the Europeans the need to stress minority rights (partly to fend off charges of ethnic cleansing in reverse). Apart from fearing regional repercussion if the future of Kosovo is decided on, the Europeans are thinking in terms of integrating the Balkans into the EU at a later stage. For the EU, the status quo is, therefore, the preferable option at this point; it will not destabilize Serbia and the union with Montenegro. The problem is that the Albanians will never want to live under Serbian rule?whether in the form of a widespread political autonomy or not. The possibility of forced institutional identification with Serbia has not been ruled out by UNMIK or the EU based on the hope of Serbian-Albanian reconciliation and a democratized Serbia. But it must be stated forcefully that any such schemes have little chance of succeeding and they could easily play into the hands of extremists on both sides.

The unresolved constitutional status also raises important questions about the chances of "sustainable economic development" in Kosovo. It is most unlikely that foreign investors will place their bet on Kosovo, if the issue of property rights is not fully clarified. UNMIK has made refugee returns a cornerstone of its policies in Kosovo. While it serves humanitarian purposes to support the reintegration of internally displaced Serbs (many of whom live in squalid conditions in Serbia), the plan is based on wishful thinking. Steiner has made it clear that he is using the refugee returns argument to secure more money for Kosovo internationally. It is certainly a politically correct strategy to adopt, but it is unrealistic. The experience in Croatia and Bosnia suggests that only a small group of Serbs will return to Kosovo (probably only about 10% at the most). The memory of Serbian despotism and atrocities before NATO's intervention is still fresh in the minds of Kosovo Albanians. The "international community" should not expect that ethnic reconciliation will take place any time soon. Of course, the process of international principles based on the notion that the returns should be voluntary, safe, and secure should be upheld. But UNMIK is concentrating too much on numbers and discounting risks.[45] What is more, there is every indication that Kosovo Serbs have not reconciled themselves to the principle of majority rule and expect to maintain their hegemony in Kosovo. Finally, Belgrade uses the Kosovo Serbs as pawns in their quest to influence the Kosovo question. Serbian behavior in the Kosovo parliament echoes the opinions of the Serbian government and its plans for partition.

That the "international community" was unable to maintain the territorial integrity of Kosovo shows clearly how deeply the "culture of force protection" had ingrained itself; it does not only apply to the heavily armed KFOR personnel, but also involves the work of the international police force in Kosovo. However, the competence of "internationals" working in Kosovo is very uneven; the international policemen often come from places where there are no democratic traditions (Nepal and Zimbabwe come to mind) and their goal is to stay clear of any risks during their six-month stay. The establishment of the Kosovo Police Force is a positive sign, but they have been given far too little responsibility so far. The many non-governmental organizations working in Kosovo have started the process of outsourcing projects to local NGO's. But often they jealously guard their competencies and compete with other international NGO's or organizations for work that should be left to local groups. Another source of dissatisfaction with international rule is that "internationals" are immune from prosecution in Kosovo (there are several instance of crimes committed by internationals that have gone unpunished). This double standard sends, of course, the wrong message to the Kosovars, whose judicial system needs to be built from scratch.

One of the main conditions placed upon the Albanian leadership is that they start a dialogue with Belgrade to resolve bilateral issues. That is, of course, a worthy goal. Up to now, Steiner has side-stepped the Kosovo Government when he deals with the Serbian Government" on substantial issues, such as refugee returns. Again, it all boils down to the question of authority and legitimization. In this paper, the argument has been made that the status quo is no guarantee for stability. The "international community" and the local Albanian leadership are engaged in a process?an uneasy symbiosis?under the banner of democratization. On the surface, the question is about instrumentalizing universal norms and values in Kosovo. It involves institution-building (democratic structures) and behavior (attitudes toward human rights). It involves sharing responsibilities and?no less important?risks in local settings by using troops and police forces from various UN member countries, international and local NGO's, and locals; and it involves making use of images of Otherness in an effort to Europeanize the Balkans." What is absent is a discussion of the option of self-determination in the form of state sovereignty. Not even statehood without sovereignty?a kind of Taiwanization?seems to be on the "international community's" agenda in Kosovo. The notion of democratic benchmarks with no firm timetable lacks credibility. For the stateless, this state of affairs poses acute problems. The Kosovars have been identified with a recently vanished?and always a fictious?Federal Republic of Yugoslavia along with the Serbs and the Montenegrins, even if Kosovo is a UN protectorate. The line between international administration over a territory and neo-colonialism is a thin one, especially when Kosovo runs the risk of becoming a donor dependency. But more important, the uncertainty associated with the open-ended mandate of the "international community" in Kosovo is itself destabilizing locally and regionally.


[1] Information supplied by the Kosova Police Service, April 22, 2003.

[2] Peter Felstead: ”KFOR could be halved this years,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, January 27, 2003.

[3] Interview with Shkelzen Maliqi. July 11, 2002.

[4] Document: Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self-Government, UNMIK, May 15, 2001.

[5] Steiner Comment to the Press, October 30, 2002. http://www.unmikonline.org/

[6] Steiner Comment to the Press, October 30, 2002. http://www.unmikonline.org/

[7] See The International Herald Tribune, July 10, 2002.

[8] Michael Steiner: "First things first: step by step in Kosovo," The International Herald Tribune, July 24 2002.

[9] Interview with an unnamed EU official in Kosovo, July 14, 2002.

[10] Interview with an unnamed American diplomat in Kosovo, July 10, 2002.

[11] Interview with an unnamed American diplomat in Kosovo, July 10, 2002.

[12] Interview with Ramush Haradinaj, the head of the AAK, July 12, 2002.

[13] Quoted in Dana H. Allin: "NATO's Balkan Interventions," Adelphi Paper 347 (International Institute for Strategic Studies: London, 2002), p. 73.

[14] Interview with an unnamed Albanian intellectual, August 15, 2002.

[15] Interview with an unnamed Albanian refugee, July 25, 2002,

[16] Interviews with local and international representatives in Kosovo, July 18, September 20, 2002.

[17] See the OSCE web side. http://www.osce.org/kosovo

[18]See the OSCE web side. http://www.osce.org/kosovo

[19] See Veton Surroi: "Ehrgeizige Ziele - Unrealistische Erwartungen," Internationale Politik, 3, 56 (March 2001).

[20] Interviews with unnamed Albanian intellectuals, July 10, 12, and 14.

[21] Interviews with unnamed American and European officials in Kosovo, July 10 and 11, 2002.

[22] Interview with Bajrem Rexhepi, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, July 12, 2002.

[23] Interview with Bajrem Rexhepi, July 12, 2002.

[24] Interview with Ramush Haradinaj, July 12, 2002.

[25] Interview with an unnamed American diplomat in Kosovo, July 10, 2002.

[26] Interview with an unnamed high-level KFOR official, July 18, 2002.

[27] Interview with Michael Steiner, the Special Representative to the Secretary General of the United Nations, July 18, 2002.

[28] Interview with Michael Steiner, July 18, 2002.

[29] Mitrovica has currently a population of 100.000. North of the Ibar River, there are 12,000 Serbs (5,000 internally displaced, 3,000 Albanians, 2,000 Bosniaks, 600 Turks and 500 Roma). South of the Ibar, fewer than twenty Serbs remain; almost all of the 300 Serb families who lived there before 1999 have moved north. Before the conflict, half of the population in the North was Albanian, but around 9,000 of these former residents are now displaced in south Mitrovica or elsewhere in Kosovo. Unemployment is very high. See OSCE: "Mitrovica Municipal Profile," August 2001. See also International Crisis Group: " UNMIK's Kosovo Albatross: Tackling Division in Mitrovica," Balkans Report No. 131 (Prishtina, Belgrade, Brussels: 2002), p. 2. http://www.intl-crisis-group.org/.

[30] International Crisis Group: " UNMIK's Kosovo Albatross: Tackling Division in Mitrovica,"see fotnote 34, p. 7.

[31] Interview with Carolyn McCool, head of the OSCE democratization office in Kosovo, July 12, 2002.

[32] International Crisis Group: " UNMIK's Kosovo Albatross: Tackling Division in Mitrovica," see fotnote 34, p. 6.


[34]Ibid., p. 7.

[35] Interview with an unnamed high-level KFOR official, July 18, 2002.

[36] "Human Rights Report on Kosovo" in State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2002. The U.S. Office in Prishtina, http://www.usofficepristina.usia. co.at/hrkos.1.

[37] Interview with two unnamed KFOR-officials, July 29, 2002.

[38] "Human Rights Report on Kosovo" in State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2002. The U.S. Office in Prishtina http://www.usofficepristina.usia. co.at/hrkos.1.

[39] See "Kosovo - the European Contribution," http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/see/frv/kosovo/index.htm.

[40] Michael Steiner: "First things first: step by step in Kosovo," The International Herald Tribune, July 24 2002.

[41] Interview with an unnamed KFOR official, working for the UN, July 29, 2002.


[43] Interview with Michael Steiner, July 18, 2002.

[44] Interview with an Albanian government official, November 5, 2002.

[45] See International Crisis Group: "Return to Uncertainty: Kosovo’s Internally Displaced and The Return Process, December 13, 2003, p. 2. http://www.intl-crisis-group.org/.