Kosovo: aspirations and prospects
Someone asked me to talk today about Kosovo’s aspirations and prospects as well as interethnic relations. Here are the notes I used to respond:
1. Kosovo has achieved its greatest aspiration: it is independent and more or less sovereign.
- More or less because NATO still ensures a safe and secure environment, especially in the north, EULEX still provides prosecutors and judges, OSCE still monitors elections.
- Most Kosovo Albanians don’t mind: essential that the Serb police, paramilitaries and army are not coming back and they get to choose their own municipal and national governments.
- The exception is Vetevendosje and its maybe 20% of the population, which insists Kosovo should be able to choose whether to unite with Albania, contradicting its constitution.
2. For most Kosovars today, earning a living is the immediate priority, but joining the EU remains the long-term objective.
- Legislation is already vetted for consistency with EU requirements. The problem is weak implementation, as it is in Serbia and elsewhere in the Balkans.
- There is still a long way to go, even for the visa waiver, because the state is weak.
- The business environment is open to foreign investment but still far from meeting European standards, especially for corruption, the informal sector and electricity reliability.
- Economic growth has been relatively strong, but not fast enough to absorb a rapidly increasing labor force.
- The result is continuing frustration within Kosovo and migration out when the opportunity arises.
- Today that is often to Albania and Macedonia, creating a much wider and distinctly Albanian cultural space.
3. Ethnic tensions and the underlying political issues are a low priority for most Kosovars, as they are for most Serbs in Serbia.
- Albanians and Serbs are more or less content with separate self-governance for the Serb municipalities south of the Ibar.
- The only really strong ethnic tensions are in the north.
4. Those should not be ignored, because they have the potential to unravel the Balkans.
- Partition of northern Kosovo could lead to partition of southern Serbia, northwestern Macedonia, Bosnia and even Cyprus.
- The April agreement shows the way forward through implementation of the Ahtisaari plan, which was already an integral part of Kosovo’s constitution.
- Implementation is spotty, both of the political agreements and the more technical ones.
- Amnesty was only the first step. The key will be municipal elections in the fall.
- A lot depends on whether Belgrade uses all the leverage it has.
- If Serbs not hostile to Pristina win the municipal elections, which is likely if the pro-Belgrade Serbs boycott, there will still be a good deal to be done but it will happen. If not, there could still be trouble.
5. What remains to be done?
- Lots of things, but I will focus on three disparate ones that bear on inter-ethnic relations: the Kosovo army, the business environment and education.
- Kosovo is now entitled to have an army. It has hesitated because of pressure from internationals and the expense, but once NATO starts to draw down the issue will arise.
- How big an army Kosovo needs and its capabilities depend on the threat: if Serbia does not accept Kosovo’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the threat needs to be taken seriously.
- But if Serbia recognizes, or if NATO provides guarantees, Kosovo can do with less, which would reduce interethnic suspicions and tensions.
- As for the business environment, the main issue is the role of political parties, which play too strong a role in hiring and public investment.
- The reported rate of paying bribes (16%) is not especially high, but there is a pervasive sense that political connections are important to getting any major projects done.
- It’s the nexus between politics and the economy that needs to be cleaned up. There is particular dissatisfaction with tendering and contracting, which Kosovars are convinced gets done in ways that block open competition.
- Education is the key to Kosovo’s economic future.
- It should be done at least in part in English, to ease entry into Europe, reduce pan-Albanian sentiment and promote integration.
- Voluntary K-12 education in English would attract both Albanians and Serbs, enable Kosovo to accelerate its preparations for the EU, and vastly increase employment prospects.
6. Even if all these issues are resolved satisfactorily, there will remain the question of distant inter-ethnic relations.
- The missing ingredient, on both sides, is acknowledgement of the harm done and sincere expression of regret.
- Missing people are a particular source of unhappiness.
- Once there is real acknowledgement of harm, that problem will be resolved and there will be many more opportunities for exchange, collaboration and cooperation.
- I’d like to see lots of Serb visitors to Kosovo and Albanian visitors to Serbia. Increasing contact is vital to develop healthier inter-ethnic relations.
- Extending the Durres/Pristina road to Nis is particularly important, but there are many other regional infrastructure improvements that could be undertaken, including in energy and telecoms.
- The April agreement foresees entry of both Serbia and Kosovo into the EU, each on its own bottom: that, ultimately, is what will fix inter-ethnic relations in both Kosovo and Serbia.