Backsliding in the Balkans
Letter From Kosovo
by Misha Cleuny
The Nation magazine, April 11,
Ramush Haradinaj, who resigned as Kosovo's
prime minister on March 8, had been expecting his indictment for
alleged war crimes for almost three months. American and European
diplomats spent much of that time coaxing him to surrender voluntarily
when the announcement was made. "He started to wobble a bit
a couple of weeks before it was made public, but obviously we
got over it," one of them told me in Belgrade.
International representatives put so much
effort into persuading Haradinaj to go quietly because they were
terrified that Kosovar Albanians might react by going on a rampage
as they did in March 2004, almost bringing UNMIK, the United Nations
administration that runs the province, to its knees. And boy,
did the diplomats let their relief show. "Thanks to Ramush
Haradinaj 's dynamic leadership, strong commitment and vision,"
gushed Soren Jessen-Petersen, the head of UNMIK, "Kosovo
is today closer than ever before to achieving its aspirations
in settling its future status. Personally, I am saddened to no
longer be working with a close partner and friend." There
was some concern in European capitals that Jessen-Petersen had
gone over the top. "After all," said a diplomat in Belgrade,
"let's not forget that Haradinaj has been indicted for committing
the foulest of crimes."
Yet Jessen-Petersen's passionate outburst
is understandable. International control over Kosovo is fragile.
KFOR, the NATO-led force of 18,000 peacekeepers, is designed to
prevent an unauthorized return of the Serbian military into the
province as it proved last March, it has no capacity to pacify
tens of thousands of testosterone-driven young Albanians who are
fed up with being unemployed and having no political control over
I have spent the past six years watching
glumly as the Balkans slide back toward catastrophe as if in slow
motion. Only a small minority of the actors involved want this
outcome; many are breaking their backs to stop it from happening.
But despite their efforts, three factors are driving the region
toward, at best, damaging civil unrest and, at worst, a revival
of armed conflict: a steady, severe economic crisis; the persistence
of weak states caught up in an unholy constitutional tangle; and
profound incompetence on the part of the international community.
Until the mess actually collapses into
violence, there are real opportunities to halt the slide. But
the countdown to disaster has already begun, and the region urgently
requires the kind of political adroitness and élan that
have been conspicuously absent over the past five years. The Balkans
provide the clearest proof that. Western military intervention,
whether liberal or illiberal, is a complete waste of time, money
and life if it is not accompanied by a coherent, long-term attempt
to address the root causes of instability after hostilities have
ceased. But as Western Europe and the United States are learning,
it's easy to defeat small countries with limited military strength,
and mind-bogglingly hard to create a working system of governance
from the ashes of victory.
NATO supposedly dealt with the southern
Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999 by going to war against Yugoslavia.
(For those who have missed the past few episodes, what's left
of that country has been refashioned as Serbia and Montenegro,
although nobody believes this latest incarnation will last for
very long.) In the past five years Kosovo has become unrecognizable,
but in a very recognizable way. Its crumbling roads, heaving under
the weight of civilian and international military vehicles, are
punctuated every half-mile by gas stations trading under different,
perhaps unique, emblems: Kospetrol, Kosova Petrol, Djukagjini
Inc., International Gas and Petrol, ShqipGas, etc. Shell, BP,
ExxonMobil and Lukoil (the Russian company ubiquitous elsewhere
in the Balkans) are absent-a blow, perhaps, against the multinational
giants and in favor of the small trader. Er, not quite.
Peppered between the gas stations are
hotels, motels and restaurants offering countless beds to phantom
tourists and kebabs, delicious cheese burek and Ohrid trout to
ghostly foodies. Except for a few chic eateries in the main urban
areas, these establishments are not going concerns but the long-term
investment bolt-holes of corrupt politicians and organized criminal
syndicates who have mountains of cash but nothing to do with it.
The opprobrium that used to be hurled at Balkan people because
of their apparent predilection for killing their neighbors is
now drawn by their apparent tolerance for, and widespread indulgence
in, organized criminal activities-drug dealing, trafficking of
women and cigarette smuggling, to name but a few of the most popular.
The Kosovars are seen as key movers in all these industries.
Before we condemn, let us consider the
economic environment developed for the people of Kosovo by the
combined might of the UN, the European Union and KFOR. (The people
of Kosovo, whether Serb or Albanian, have no control of economic
policy.) Two statistics stand out. First, Kosovo is the only territory
in Europe that has recorded a negative growth rate each year since
2002. (Its sole competitor is the unrecognized breakaway republic
of Transdniestria in Moldova, whose decline can be attributed
to the emigration of about half its population in the past decade.)
Second, overall unemployment stands at 50 percent, while youth
unemployment runs at 70 percent. Every year 30,000-40,000 young
Kosovars enter a nonexistent job market. Yet Kosovo is almost
completely surrounded, both economically and culturally, by the
affluence of the EU. If a young Kosovar, struggling to raise children
and look after elderly parents, is offered $700 (well over twice
a ministerial salary in Kosovo's provisional government) to lead
a donkey packed with cigarettes over the border to Montenegro,
will he hesitate because of the moral implications of the act?
This decline, and the dysfunctional mafia
economy it has precipitated, is largely the consequence of an
utterly botched privatization strategy executed by the EU via
the inefficient and corrupt Kosovo Trust Agency, which is staffed
and run by Western civil servants. Under UN Security Council Resolution
1244, which details the limbo in which Kosovo must live, most
political decisions at all levels of government are reserved for
the UN' Special Representative in Pristina and his bureaucracy,
while the powers of the provisional government and the municipalities
are carefully restricted.
Stirred into this paralyzing brew are
the Serbs' and Albanians' antithetical aspirations for the province,
and the grim conditions in which the Serb minority in Kosovo lives.
Resolution 1244 stipulates that the province is part of Serbia
under the temporary aegis of the UN, until such time as all parties
happily work out Kosovo's long-term constitutional future. For
the Albanians, who currently make up some 90 percent of the population,
independence is the only acceptable solution. (Albanian nationalists
who seek union with the motherland are not to be underestimated,
but they form a minority in Kosovo's political spectrum; Albanians
from Albania openly oppose the idea. The international community
is adamant that an independent Kosovo would not be permitted to
form a political union with either Albania or the Albanian-dominated
parts of Macedonia.) Most of Serbia's political spectrum concedes
the possibility of advanced autonomy for Kosovo, whereby ultimate
sovereignty (including foreign and defense policy) would rest
in Belgrade. They would also demand self-governance for Serb-populated
zones in the province.
Although in public the chancelleries of
Europe and America insist that the so-called "final status"
of Kosovo must wait until the Kosovars have achieved acceptable
political standards (code for decent treatment of the Serb minority),
in private all now more or less agree that Kosovo must become
independent. Even Russia, Serbia's supposed staunch ally, shows
no real interest in blocking Kosovo's statehood beyond rhetorical
bluster. Some quarters even advocate independence regardless of
the views of Kosovo's Serbs or Serbia. Crudely paraphrased, the
most recent report of the International Crisis Group, an influential
Brussels-based think tank, calls for independence for Kosovo with
Serbia's approval, but if the Serbs don't like it, screw them.
Attractive though this solution may seem
to some people, it will not work. Serbia is the key regional power
and the main transit route for goods from the region to the rest
of Europe, and for goods from northern Europe to the Middle East.
If Kosovo becomes independent without Serbian approval, the prospects
for a stable Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia are slim, as Serbian
influence in these countries is almost certain to turn malign.
Furthermore, the 100,000 Serbs still in the province will probably
decamp to southern Serbia. Even this might be sustainable were
it not that tens of thousands of Albanians live there under the
rules of a very decent but fragile peace deal negotiated for the
region in May 2001. None of these eventualities would benefit
a newly independent Kosovo, which will be characterized, above
all else, by economic weakness.
In public, all Serbian leaders rule out
independence. In private, most members of Prime Minister Vojislav
Kostunica's governing coalition, along with the Democratic Party
of his rival, President Boris Tadic, concede that the loss of
Kosovo is more or less inevitable. But if they are to transform
their private assessment into public reality, they need a serious
incentive. At the moment, it would be like turkeys voting for
The EU possesses the very incentive required
to smooth Kosovo's transition from a failing protectorate to an
independent state free from the seeds of future conflict. If the
EU were to suggest fast-tracking Serbia for EU membership, as
it has done for Croatia, Serbia's leaders would have a real argument
with which to convince the public that Kosovo's independence is
not the worst of the many depressing options open to their country.
Unfortunately, creative policies for the
Balkans have rarely issued from the EU or the United States. Furthermore,
the political process is seriously hampered by the activities
of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
(ICTY) and its chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte. Throughout her
tenure, del Ponte has maintained that her role is solely judicial,
not political. And yet she holds a veto on the progress of EU
accession negotiations, which affords her immense political influence.
It is not an influence that generally contributes to stability.
Haradinaj, just 36 years old, is the first
leading Kosovar Albanian to be indicted by the tribunal. He heads
the third-largest political party in the province, the AAK, and
is seen as the chief rival of another young and very energetic
Kosovo politician, Hashim Thaci, who heads the second-largest
party, the PDK. Haradinaj 's main power base is the west of the
province. Elsewhere his appeal is limited but growing. He did
not win a popular vote but secured the office of prime minister
after last October's elections because the AAK held the balance
of power. Jessen-Petersen's assessment of Haradinaj 's political
ability is probably fair: Since then he has injected some real
dynamism into the political process.
Haradinaj 's trip to The Hague (which
is likely to last many years) coincides with several other surrenders
to the ICTY that are also significant but have not received media
attention in the West. Ten days before Haradinaj surrendered,
Rasim Delic, the former chief of the Bosnian Army, who had earlier
given himself up, appeared in court-for the first time to hear
the war crimes charges leveled against him. Then Momcilo Perisic,
onetime head of the Yugoslav army, turned himself in; it is expected
that Belgrade will hand over two other main suspects in the hope
that this will move forward its tortured EU accession talks. Meanwhile,
the EU told Croatia that unless it handed over its most wanted
suspect, Ante Gotovina, by March 16 it would not be allowed to
start final accession negotiations. Sure enough, the EU held firm
and snatched the holy grail of final accession from the hands
of the Croatian government after the deadline. This is a catastrophic
blow to Zagreband one that some EU governments are unhappy about-as
EU membership for Croatia is regarded as critical to the stability
of the region. In the end, however, the EU concluded understandably
that it would lose all political purchase on Serbia if it were
to allow Gotovina through the net while insisting on Ratko Mladic
et al. from Belgrade as a condition of progress in EU talks.
For all its destabilizing effects, the
ICTY is a political reality, and for governments in the former
Yugoslavia to resist its mandate is futile and self-defeating,
and damaging to their long-term interests The EU and the United
States are exerting maximum pressure on all countries and territories
in the region to comply with the ICTY in order to neutralize as
soon as possible the negative impact of the demands for indictees
to be handed over on the political process of reconciliation.
This is because the crisis in the region is set to come to a head
this summer. When the UN launched its flaccid negotiation process
for Kosovo two years ago under the slogan "Standards Before
Status' summer 2005 was set as the target for final-status talks
to begin. If that deadline is not met, then KFOR, the international
military force, is likely to face real difficulties. The last
time Albanian frustration at the apparent lack of progress exploded
was in March 2004, when the resentment of young Albanian males
led to several days of province-wide mob rioting. The initial
targets were Serbs, but the rioters also destroyed vehicles, buildings
and other assets belonging to the UN and KFOR. All the international
actors know that a repeat of this on a wider scale is a real possibility.
If it were to happen again in the next year, the southern Balkans
could no longer be at peace.
Misha Glenny is writing a book on transnational
organized crime and globalization.