Looking for improvement

Armend Kadriu of Pristina daily Kosova Sot asked me to contribute once again a New Year’s piece scheduled for publication in Albanian today. Here it is in English:

2014 was not a great year for Kosovo. Implementation of its agreements with Belgrade lagged. International recognition slowed. June elections produced a lengthy standoff between a party with a plurality and a coalition with a majority. The government that eventually emerged has a lot of familiar faces. Only two of Kosovo’s many serious women were included in the cabinet. We’ll have to wait and see if it is a forward-looking coalition ready to clean up corruption and move the country snappily towards its European future.

Kosovo’s governance record since independence in 2008 is mixed. The World Bank says there has been progress in some areas but stagnation or worse in others. “Voice and accountability,” “rule of law” and “government effectiveness” have marginally improved but “political stability and absence of violence” has taken a dive. “Control of corruption” and “regulatory quality” have worsened. Citizens have noticed. Seventy-three per cent said corruption increased between 2007 and 2010. In 2014, Kosovo ranked 110 out of 175 in the Transparency International Corruptions Perception Index, sharing the lowest score in the Balkans with Albania.

Kosovo has not yet made the transition from what Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic calls the “heroic politics” of national identity to the “boring politics” of providing quality and cost-effective government services that meet constituents’ expectations. Kosovo’s biggest infrastructure project so far, the road from Durres in Albania to Pristina, is a monument to Albanian nationalism and American contracting. It is ironic but fitting that the best bet to make it economically more beneficial is extension to Nis, where it would benefit from flows to and from the Serbian marketplace.

Kosovo is still a young country, even if its majority Albanian population can claim to be an ancient people. States are not made overnight, or even in a decade or two. Certainly there has been progress since independence in 2008: street crime is low, economic growth has been good, relations with the few remaining Serbs are much better than many imagined they could ever be, and the first Kosovo-wide election with their participation in June was well run. Pristina, once a grim capital unable to erase its Socialist frown, now smiles, at least when the sun shines. Unlike most of the graying Balkans, young parents and their children enliven the main street, which echoes with their laughter and aspirations.

I can hope that 2015 will be better year for that post-war generation, their parents and grandparents. The government will be under a lot of pressure to deliver improvements from a vigorous opposition. The international community will press for creation of a special court to try war crimes. Transparency and accountability should increase. The new power plant the country needs badly should begin to get built. The many agreements with Belgrade should start functioning on all cylinders. So too should the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. I hope Kosovo will join the Schengen visa liberalization. Its youth will start visiting Europe more. And Europe’s long recession should begin to come to an end.

If I am even half right, that will make 2015 a serious improvement over the year that is ending.

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