Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Post-War Kosovo and the International Community

This post was originally published on Diplomatist Online in July 2014.

Even though it is undeniable that in its current state, Kosovo continues to require the presence of the international community, robust international presence in public administration and reform must be scaled back to allow strengthening of local ownership of institutions, maintains Christopher Jackson
Kosovska Mitrovica Bridge
Image Source
It has been 15 years since a NATO bombing campaign ended the decade of ethnic struggle in the
former autonomous Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The revocation of the participatory and educational rights of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority eventually digressed into a guerrilla conflict that became an outright civil war after a calamitous attempt by the Serbian Interior Ministry (MUP) and the Serbian Army (VJ) to capture Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) leader Adem Jashari, which resulted in the death of 63 ethnic Albanians. Under the authority of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1199, US General Wesley Clark directed a campaign of airstrikes against MUP and VJ targets in both Kosovo and Serbia. Initially, the controversial air campaign provided cover for Slobodan Milošević’s government to escalate its own ethnic cleansing campaign underway in Kosovo. Sites of Albanian heritage were razed and Albanian families were forcibly displaced or executed. Hundreds of thousands sought refuge in neighbouring Albania or Macedonia. Eventually, General Clark’s campaign dislodged Milošević’s security forces and effectively ended Serbian dominion over the province of Kosovo.

In the wake of the Milošević regime’s ethnic cleansing of the Albanian population, it was determined that Kosovo could not return to the control of Serbia. The Serbian government in Belgrade had denied a population the right to self-determination and failed to guarantee its citizens’ basic human rights, including life and security. UN Security Council Resolution 1244, passed after the conclusion of the conflict in 1999, placed Kosovo under the authority of the United National Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK). This unpopular administration, with the power to govern autonomously, would be the first actor in a prolonged period of international involvement.

The UNMIK administration ended with the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo in February 2008, not formally recognised by the United Nations, and was replaced by a two-year period of supervised independence. However, 15 years since the cessation of the war with Serbia and six years since the declaration of independence, Kosovo remains an international protectorate. The international community continues to act in a hands-on fashion with tangible impact in all areas of Kosovo’s public affairs, including economic development and social relations, but most prominently in government administration.

Towards a Sustainable, Multi-Ethnic Society

Strong international involvement in government administration is a double-edged sword. Kosovo is actively being guided in the direction of modernisation and Europeanisation with the end goal of accession to the European Union. This has included the writing of the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo itself, which was drafted from the comprehensive proposal by UN Special Representative and former Finnish President, Marti Ahtisaari. The Ahtisaari Plan, as it is known, included the necessary provisions for Kosovo’s independence as a sustainable, multi-ethnic society. There is a disproportionately high representation of minorities in the Assembly of Kosovo. The ethnic Serbs are guaranteed a minimum 10 seats out of 120 (roughly 8% of seats for a population constituting less than 5% of the total), regulations in the representation of women, and the decentralisation of municipalities.

The decentralisation process was to be carried out in accordance with the Council of Europe Charter on Local Self-Government, and was overseen by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Initially rejected by Serbian authorities in 2004, the decentralisation project, which included the creation of six Serb majority-municipalities, began in 2009. UNDP was responsible for the training of municipal authorities and creation of municipal-level administrations, including municipal cadastral offices. The success of this project is a product of the dialogue between officials in Belgrade and Prishtina, which has been stably facilitated by the European Union. Currently in a stage of political dialogue, it has already yielded results. As per an agreement reached on April 19, 2013, Serbian MUP (Interior Ministry)-trained officers were incorporated into the Kosovo Police in Northern Kosovo. Better trained and better trusted by Northern Kosovo Serbs, this EU-facilitated agreement has tangibly benefited the rule of law. And prior to the political dialogue currently being facilitated, which commenced in October 2012, the EU had facilitated a year of technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. This resulted in seven conclusions in the process of implementation on civil registry, freedom of movement, customs stamps, cadastral records, university diplomas, regional representation and cooperation and integrated border/boundary management.

The Flip Side of International Involvement

However beneficial all of this has been to the advancement of Kosovo as a country, the other side to the international community sword has stunted the internal development of Kosovo. Heavy-handed international involvement has prevented the local ownership of public institutions and allowed for the entrenchment of neo-patrimonial practices in public administration. As a result, trust is lacking in local domestic institutions, as change is a product of international prescription rather than democracy. This is nowhere more evident than in the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX KOSOVO). The EULEX structure is divided into two separate divisions – strengthening and executive – with the strengthening division devoted to increasing the capacity of local authorities, while the executive division handles rule of law functions including prosecution, judiciary, and policing. While the new EULEX mandate passed this year and valid through 2016, places more of a focus on the strengthening of local counterparts, EULEX still maintains a strictly executive presence in the Serb-dominated North and the divided city of Mitrovica. Here judiciaries and prosecutions are strictly international, despite the efforts of the Kosovo Judicial Institute to integrate Serb judges. EULEX still actively practices hard policing, while also maintaining two formed units – one for riot intervention and one for breaching.

While on one hand, the presence of EULEX (and OSCE advisors prior) has aided in the development of a well-regarded police force, and shielded rule of law organs from potential political interference, it has also decreased public trust in such organs through its prolonged presence. Upon deployment, EULEX pronounced its aims of pursuing high-level corruption and organised crime as well as neutrally approaching ethnic war crimes, goals for which the public had high hopes. The failure to produce results on such pronounced goals during its prolonged mandate has resulted in a plummeting of public opinion about the rule of law and a perception of EULEX and local organs coexisting in corruption and ineptitude.

Reception in Northern Kosovo is another story. Still a beacon of robust ethnic division, only recently did the Serb majority municipalities in the North abandon their parallel structures and accept participation in the decentralised Kosovo system – at Belgrade’s urging. Despite this, the Ibar River, running through the mining city of Mitrovica, remains a formal ethnic divide, with the city’s main bridge having been barricaded for years. Much of the Serbian population north of the Ibar continues to reject Prishtina’s reach. Disdain for EULEX limits its capabilities and necessitates pugnacious policing tactics, usually involving armoured vehicles and long-barrelled weapons, the practice of which compounds the disdain for its presence. Ultimately, its presence in Northern Kosovo is delaying the acceptance and local ownership of the rule of law, a delay that has fostered increased criminal activity, not necessarily along ethnic lines.

Delaying local ownership by prolonged international involvement is not a phenomenon strictly characteristic of the field of rule of law. It is evident in other sectors of public administration as well, including the privatisation of state-owned enterprises. The privatisation process, overseen by the EU since the UNMIK administration, has been slow and largely unsuccessful, and has become a rich source of corruption. More damaging, however, is the shielding and legitimacy the international community has provided for Kosovo’s political elites. The protection afforded them in the interest of stability, which includes the dialogue with Serbia, has allowed time for neo-patrimonial and corrupt practices to become entrenched in the government, especially in the field of public procurement. Despite abundant reports of corruption at the highest levels, cases are rarely pursued and rarely closed against high-ranking government officials.

The international community has furthermore been responsible for legitimising any possibly illegitimate political elites. The 2010 elections in Kosovo, the first since independence, are widely believed in Kosovo to have been fraudulent. Strongholds of support for the victorious Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) recorded voter turnouts as high as 95 percent, while concerns arose about inadequate polling facilities, security, and consistency of voter registration lists. Despite such irregularities and inadequate provisions in the constitution to deal with them, the international observers declared the election legitimate. Such statements as US Vice-President Joe Biden’s labelling PDK Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi as ‘Kosovo’s George Washington’, have further lent international legitimacy to Kosovo’s political elite. And this coupled with the common practice of political allegiance to former KLA commanders, and heroes in the public eye, such as Thaçi and other notable political elites Ramush Haradinaj and Fatmir Limaj has fostered a system of political impunity. Local authorities are deterred from pursuing cases against such elites due to the unconditional wartime allegiances, and cases brought by international authorities result in mass public outcry.

Impasse in Kosovo Assembly

The current inability of the Kosovo Assembly to form a government is a product of these practices. Multiple arrests of former KLA commander and Minister of Transport, Fatmir Limaj, at politically sensitive times since 2010 prompted his split with ruling PDK in February, the party in which he had served as the vice-chairman. Mr Limaj himself had stated the political nature of the cases brought against him and had the support of other officials including one parliamentarian from the self-determination movement Vetevendosje, who stated in an interview that Limaj was the victim of the ‘elimination of the Prime Minister’s political opponents’. Joining Mr Limaj was sitting chairman of the assembly Jakup Krasniqi, whose claims of tyrannical party dealings within PDK had driven him out. Together Limaj and Krasniqi formed the Initiative for Kosovo (or NISMA), taking with them six members of the assembly and roughly five percent of the popular vote, and bolting themselves to PDK’s opposition.

Without a PDK voting majority, the assembly was unable to agree on the issue of a national defence force, resulting in the call for a snap election in early June. Unable to form a coalition out of this election, PDK remains just a plurality, while its opposition, comprised of vastly differing parties remains unable to form a coalition of its own on conflicted ideological grounds. The Kosovo Assembly is at an impasse. Consequently, the current dysfunction in the Government of Kosovo highlights the inability of democracy to naturally exist in the political atmosphere that has been fostered. Years of uncouth dealings, shielded and legitimised by the international community, has resulted in the rift in the controlling party, while it was the neo-patrimonial, semi-tribal allegiances to ex-KLA commanders and their public impunity that magnified this rift.

It is undeniable that in its current state Kosovo continues to require the presence of the international community. Having never possessed a sufficient economy, it remains dependent upon its neighbours for imports, while it likewise remains dependent upon such Western European firms as Raiffeisen, BNP Paribas, and Sigal to form its financial sector. The presence of KFOR remains a necessity to deter any resurgence of ethnic violence such as the one it suppressed in 2004, and the more recent bout this year targeting the barricade in Mitrovica. Robust international presence in public administration and reform, however, must be scaled back to allow strengthening of local-ownership of institutions. The EU already has in place Instruments for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPAs), which aim to strengthen rule of law capacity through twinning – embedded training, consultation, and advising in local institutions. This model of international development must be allowed to expand broadly as EULEX is reduced over its next two-year mandate, and be allowed to expand into other fields including national governance and international relations. Deprived of the ability to function without international scaffolding propping it, Kosovo as a state and its government cannot be globally accepted as legitimate.

Christopher Jackson is a Graduate Assistant at the European Union Centre at the University of Illinois, USA.


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