Kosovo is not, by itself, a sustainable economic or political entity. Waiting for Serbia to recognize Kosovo as independent (in order to enter the EU) would still leave Kosovo by itself. Even then the international factors would have to remain in place for the conceivable future. But unless they are ready to do so forever, there needs to be some strategy for an eventual exit. Possibilities include partition or association.
By Gerard M. Gallucci
Recently, Kosovo has marked another anniversary of its independence from Serbia (in February 2008), and chosen a new president. The government in Pristina can boast that it has been recognized by over 100 countries. Yet it is also true that Kosovo has been under the supervision of the European Union since the UN turned over its mandate for rule of law in late 2008. The UN itself remains in Kosovo with a key role in maintaining the international presence under UNSCR 1244 in the Serb-majority north. NATO also remains, under the UNSCR 1244 mandate, with a force of a few thousand under command of a major general. Two members of the UN Security Council – Russia and China – are among the countries still not recognizing Kosovo as are EU members Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain. The new president was chosen by the Kosovo parliament through clouds of tear gas thrown by members opposed to the continued international involvement in Kosovo affairs. Once again, it was the United States that decided who that president would be: Hashim Thaci, the empty suit long preferred by Washington over more representative Kosovo Albanian leaders such as Ramush Haradinaj.
Kosovo has not changed much since the EU took on “the pivotal role in realising the European agenda in Kosovo with the aim to promote Kosovo’s approximation to the European Union” and “in the reconstruction and development of Kosovo.” Under the EU, and according to the CIA, “Kosovo’s economy … is still highly dependent on the international community and the diaspora for financial and technical assistance. Remittances from the diaspora … are estimated to account for about 15% of GDP and international donor assistance accounts for approximately 10% of GDP.” Also, while there has been some growth, “Kosovo’s citizens are the poorest in Europe … [with] an unemployment rate of 31%, and a youth unemployment rate near 60%.” This “encourages emigration and fuels a significant informal, unreported economy…. [where] most of Kosovo’s population lives in rural towns outside of the capital [and where] inefficient, near-subsistence farming is common.” The CIA also judges that “high levels of corruption, little contract enforcement, and unreliable electricity supply have discouraged potential investors.” Kosovo continues to use the Euro and has apparently generated not just migrants to the rest of Europe but also jihadists to the Middle-East. Meanwhile, the EU’s rule of law mission – EULEX – has been accused of negligence in pursuing cases of corruption and impunity and of internal corruption.
The EU’s most “effective” recent action was to remove from play the Kosovo Serb leader most willing and able to work within Kosovo institutions for the benefit of his community, Oliver Ivanovic.
In all, Kosovo is going nowhere fast. The Germans and Americans have lost patience with the Kosovo Albanians. In secret, they might admit that perhaps “independence” was a mistake. The EU would love to wash its hands of Kosovo as the US has essentially done (except for keeping the Albanians from sinking into civil war). EULEX itself is up for mandate renewal this year but there is really no choice. Given everything else the EU is facing at the time, it cannot afford to abandon Kosovo to becoming a black hole in the Balkans. So, what to do?
The choices facing the EU and US are few. Kosovo cannot be left on its own. It is not, by itself, a sustainable economic or political entity. Waiting for Serbia to recognize Kosovo as independent (in order to enter the EU) would still leave Kosovo by itself. Even then the international factors would have to remain in place for the conceivable future. But unless they are ready to do so forever, there needs to be some strategy for an eventual exit. Possibilities include partition or association. Partition, in which Serbia retains the area north of the Ibar, would make Kosovo a more exclusively ethnic Albanian entity. Provision could be made for voluntary resettlement for those Serbs south of the Ibar and Albanians north of the river wishing to adjust to the new situation. The resulting Kosovo might be then allowed to enter an association with Albania or to merge with it. A Greater Albania might be more stable than a lone Kosovo. Or, Serbia and Kosovo might form an association of sovereign entities as together they entered the EU. Serbs in Kosovo could retain links to Serbia and Albanians in Serbia the same with Kosovo. The economies of both would function as one (with the Euro) and traffic, travel and business would face no internal barriers.
To move in either of these directions would require bold decisions by all parties and the US would have to play a major role without hiding behind the EU, NATO and UN. (Bizarrely, the US is so out of the game now that its diplomats in Pristina still cannot travel into the north without heavy security.) Whatever the eventual objectives, it remains the case that leaving Kosovo as a barely-contained mess is simply untenable.
Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He has a PhD in political science, taught at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Arkansas, George Washington University and Drake University and now works as an independent consultant.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.