bosnia report
New Series No. 15/16 March - June 2000
Kosova's status: the key issue
by Janusz Bugajski

Since the liberation of Kosova by NATO forces last summer, expectations about state development and economic reconstruction have been severely shaken. Decreasing trust in the ability of the international community to deliver on its pledges and ever-present fears that Western leaders still harbor illusions about the preservation of Yugoslavia are fueling frustration and anger among the Albanian population. Such conditions plainly suit Belgrade even while they increase Kosova's dependence on unreliable outside institutions.

After Milosevic's attempt to expel or murder Kosova's Albanian population, NATO's military intervention had some direct positive results. It eliminated Serbian forces from the territory. It allowed for the successful return of over a million refugees and displaced persons to their homes. And it enabled some basic humanitarian work to be accomplished, especially in providing shelter, food, and medical aid to the bulk of the destitute population during the harsh winter months.

Beyond these constructive achievements, however, Kosova faces a number of serious long-term problems. Some of these are indigenous and stem from long-standing conflicts within the Albanian community. But the most damaging failures are the responsibility of international organizations who have proved unable to heed the lessons of post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina. Indeed, we are witnessing the creation of another permanent ward and dependant of the United Nations.

The first major indigenous problem, with close and ominous similarities to Albania, is a destructive form of political polarization in Kosova. There is an absence of a single legitimate Kosova Albanian authority that can mobilize citizens for the crucial task of national reconstruction. Deep divisions remain between Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) and the political parties that have emerged from the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA).

Neither side recognizes the other and each seems to believe that it has the God-given right to govern the territory. Ultimately, both sides may fear national elections and the will of voters. Procrastination in disbanding the pre-war `parallel state' institutions paralyses the development of political institutions and dissipates the emergence of a civic society that can participate in the emerging political process.

But in many respects, the stalemated political situation actually suits the United Nations bureaucrats. Officials can argue with some credibility that the Kosovars simply cannot govern themselves, that they are incapable of working together for national goals, and that they must therefore be closely controlled and shepherded by the interÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ national community within some future Yugoslav framework.

The second debilitating problem inside Kosova is one of criminalization and the lack of the rule of law. Corruption and crime are expanding in Kosova, resulting not only in a lack of security for residents but also in the corrosion of economic and political institutions that are controlled by vested interest groups. This phenomenon also serves those officials who argue that the Kosovars are simply not prepared for self-government, let alone for full statehood.

Crime and insecurity are compounded by the presence of Serbian special forces and paramilitaries in parts of Kosova. They receive instructions from Belgrade to provoke violence and inter-communal clashes in order to help discredit international institutions, the NATO mission, and any possibility of Kosovar sovereignty. The violent situation in Kosovska Mitrovica is a clear case in point. Continuing violence between Serb and Albanian civilians keeps Kosova tense and deliberately discredits the notion that Albanians are interested in creating a pluralistic multi-ethnic state.

The third severe problem is a legion of failures by international institutions engaged in stabilizing Kosova. This is visible in a lack of serious reconstruction resources from the Europeans, an insufficient number of international police officers, the absence of a working legal system, turf battles between international organizations (for example, between the UN and the OSCE over future election procedures), the undercutting of embryonic Albanian local authorities, and the creation of local deliberative councils without any real authority or decision-making powers.

In effect, we are witnessing the creation of a dependency relationship between Kosovars and international institutions that will become more difficult to overcome the longer this situation is allowed to continue. To prevent a downhill slide toward permanent guardianship, Kosova needs to start an election process, through voter registration, political party development, and civic education. This can help establish structure and legitimacy for elected Kosovar leaders. Following the ballot, local and central Kosovar authorities must obtain the authority and resources to govern and not simply to `consult'.

The fourth and most important failure is the absence of final legal status for Kosova as an independent state. This should be the primary and openly stated objective of the international community and not just a privately voiced assumption by Allied officials.

Open support for statehood by Western governments will have several positive symbolic, political, and security ramifications. It will restore sagging Kosovar confidence in the international community, it will help remove the threat of a new Serbian takeover, it will further de-legitimize Belgrade's incessant provocations in the province, and it will give both the internationals and the locals a concrete goal toward which political, institutional, and economic reconstruction can be directed.

Without a fundamental change in international policy, Kosova's future will remain unstable and unpredictable. Unfortunately, Washington seems to be increasingly disengaged from the issue with a sometimes naïve assumption that the European Union will deliver on its promises of Balkan stabilization and reconstruction. Furthermore, President Clinton's office expires later this year and his officials are inevitably focusing their attention on their post-election employment prospects.

With new crises brewing in Montenegro and Serbia, with Bosnia and Macedonia far from secure, with Albania continuing to slide into chaos, and with the threat of economic failure hanging over several other Balkan states, this is not an auspicious time for Washington to step back from the region and to hand the reins to an immature and squabbling European community and a UN Security Council beholden to Russia. Kosova is proving that leadership in peacetime can be even more demanding and important than duringÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ a war.

This article appeared in Nacional (Zagreb), 11 February 2000


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