Three well-known experts evaluate the first year of the new state of Kosovo
Kosovars had reason to celebrate on February 17th but many challenges are still ahead
The situation with the international recognition of the new state, the opposition of Russia, the relations with the Muslim countries, the risk of partition, Haradinaj’s role as a negotiator in Uganda and the perspective of the second year, through the eyes of Soren Jessen-Petersen, Stephen Schwartz and James Hooper
Kosovo became one year old last week. Do you think Kosovars had much to celebrate in their first anniversary? How do you evaluate this first year?
Jessen-Petersen: Kosovo should celebrate that it has been independent for one year – that is already good news. The first year has been marked by numerous provocations from Serbia and by a messy and confused international community. The response of the people and political institutions of Kosovo has been calm, mature and dignified.
Stephen Schwartz: I join Kosovars in celebrating the first year of partial, qualified, incomplete independence. Nevertheless, the new republic faces many serious challenges. These include, above all, the insecurity of the borders with Serbia, and provocative behavior by Belgrade’s agents inside the republic. We should be happy that the situation has not been irreparable damaged by Serbian imperialism. But much remains to be done. Our organization, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, is currently undertaking a critical examination of attempts by Serbia and its “international” allies to partition Prizren, a threat that must be definitively prevented.
James Hooper: Kosovo can celebrate several accomplishments. First, Kosovo has achieved a very large measure of self-rule since independence. If people like what the government is doing, they can reward it with increased electoral majorities; if they do not, they can vote it out of office. But the bottom line is that it is largely accountable for Kosovo policies, apart from issues involving EULEX. Second, it has a stable government able to make and enforce policies. Third, the issue of independence has been settled, which should not be forgotten. All of these taken together mean that Kosovars have been able to breathe more freely in the past year and relax somewhat because the tension regarding whether it would become independent has dissipated. I believe that the Kosovar people have needed a breathing space to decompress from the last ten years filled with war, international colonial administration of the countryntry, and the question mark of final status.
A hotly-debated issue in Kosovo has been the pace of the international recognitions. What is your opinion on this issue?
Jessen-Petersen: Much more needs to be done by the political leaders of Kosovo to accelerate the pace and number of recognitions during the second year of independence. The consolidation of Kosovo’s independence depends, among other things, on a critical mass of recognitions. To reach that goal, we need 20-30 more recognitions.
Stephen Schwartz: The slow pace of international recognition, especially by the remaining members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, says more about the politics of most of the Arab states in the OIC than about the situation of Kosovo. The non-recognizing OIC countries give evidence that they are unconcerned with or even hostile to the future of a Muslim-majority European republic while Kosovo is clearly aligned with the United States and the Western democracies and represents moderate Islam and mutual respect between non-politicized religious communities.
The refusal of Spain to recognize Kosovo also reflects poorly on politics in Madrid. Spain claims to represent a progressive, multicultural position in Europe but has used its own minority national communities (Catalans and Basques) as a pretext to deny recognition of Kosovo. I recommend that Kosovo invest in a trade and cultural relations office in Barcelona (not in the Basque country) to monitor the Spanish situation and inform the Spanish public of the reality of Kosovar life. It is somewhat absurd to imagine that Macedonia and Montenegro have recognized Kosovo but that Spain has not.
Most absurd and dismaying, however, is the despicable position of Bosnia-Hercegovina in not only refusing recognition of Kosovo but in joining Serbia in the current customs boycott of the new republic. The delay in formal recognition of Kosovo by BH is understandable given the division of BH and capacity of the so-called “Serb Republic” to obstruct progress, but it is disgraceful that BH would refuse commercial transactions with Kosovo while Montenegro and Macedonia have normal relations with the new republic.
James Hooper: Kosovars can be proud of the 55 recognitions they have obtained but need to keep focused on the goal of acquiring many more recognitions. It should be a national priority to reach 80-90 recognitions by the end of 2009. That would deflate Belgrade’s continuing efforts to attempt to keep the Kosovo independence issue open.
Do you see a possible scenario in which Russia would drop its opposition to the recognition of the new state?
Jessen-Petersen: In the short term no, in the longer term yes. Russia position has little to do with Kosovo but a lot to do with the broader international environment. If Russia feels that it is being taken seriously in the international arena, it would also have an impact on its position on Kosovo.
Stephen Schwartz: I see this outcome as highly unlikely. Russia is the main enemy of stability in the Balkans as well as in the entire former Communist zone of Eastern Europe, and further threatens the security of Europe as a whole. Having proclaimed its belief that Kosovar freedom is now a suitable excuse for the erection of mafia puppet states on Georgia’s territory, Russian imperialism will not give up this criminal form of behavior. The situation inside Russia has become much more dangerous than the West wishes to admit, and internal difficulties in Russia always aggravate tendencies toward external adventurism. Aggressive propaganda against Georgia continues and authoritative commentators warn that a second attempt to topple the Tbilisi government is being planned for this year. Russia has been, remains, and will continue to be the main enemy of Kosovo in the international arena and the enabler of Serbian imperialist pretentions.
James Hooper: No.
A positive shift from the Muslim countries would double the number of the states that recognize Kosovo. How do you explain their delay? What should Kosovo do?
Jessen-Petersen: We risk simplifying the discussion and the approach if we simplify this issue as one of religion. Each state has its own reasons for recognizing or not recognizing Kosovo. Kosovo needs to approach the issue of recognitions in a much more strategic way.
Stephen Schwartz: Answered above. I would only add that Kosovo can and should lobby the provably moderate Muslim governments, such as those of Morocco, Azerbaijan, and Indonesia for help in this area. Visits by Naim Ternava to the Saudi kingdom are insufficient to alleviate this situation. Gaining OIC members’ recognition is a many-sided task.
James Hooper: Kosovars who are Muslim—and of course there are non-Muslims in Kosovo—do not like to think of themselves as Muslims in the international context because of the way this term has been used in the Balkans by Serbs and others. However, to obtain broader recognition in the Islamic world, Kosovars have little choice but to exploit their religious affiliation. I would urge a stronger effort to woo the Organization of the Islamic Conference, including the establishment of a permanent representative to the OIC from Kosovo.
Many in Kosovo fear that the West gave up too much to Russia and Serbia by promising a co-existence between UN and EU missions in Kosovo. Is there a true risk of partition for the new state?
Jessen-Petersen: As long as Serbia hangs on to its unrealistic hope of undoing the independence of Kosovo, there will be no partition. The risk is the day when Serbia finally realizes that Kosovo is lost. By then, I hope that the European integration process is underway for all countries in the Western Balkans. In that case, borders and partition, loses their relevance and meaning. Meanwhile, I trust that the US, EU and other governments stand firm on their principles, one of which clearly states that there will be no partition of Kosovo.
Stephen Schwartz: The obstinacy of Serbia and the machinations of Russia will not diminish quickly. Kosovars – indeed, the whole Albanian nation including its diaspora – must be prepared for a new and serious attempt to impose partition.
James Hooper: The danger of partition is real. The international community after the war ended in 1999 allowed the north to be de facto partitioned and apart from pious declarations have never made much effort to walk that back. The U.S. is much tougher than the Europeans in trying to prevent partition from being formalized. Kosovo needs to work hard to ensure that the U.S. sustains that position.
How would you evaluate the performance of the government of Kosovo during this first year?
Jessen-Petersen: I am not in Kosovo and it would be irresponsible to evaluate a performance that I have not followed closely.
Stephen Schwartz: The Kosovo government should have been and should be more active and committed in its opposition to external and internal Serbian provocations, and should be more critical and determined in its criticism of the bad politics of the international powers and foreign agencies.
Former Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, is invited by the rebels in Uganda to become the international negotiator for a possible peace settlement with their government. He has agreed. What may this mean for his future? How do you see his involvement there?
Jessen-Petersen: I understand why they need him in other parts of the world. He is, however, more needed in Kosovo.
Stephen Schwartz: The Uganda invitation to Ramush Haradinaj is certainly diverting but from my perspective the former prime minister is needed in Kosovo, during the present difficult times, and his involvement in the affairs of a distant and, for Kosovo, irrelevant country, will probably not produce much of benefit to Kosovars.
James Hooper: I would encourage Mr. Haradinaj to move ahead with the mediation that he has been invited by some of the Ugandan parties to undertake. This could demonstrate that Kosovars are capable of stretching their talents and capabilities in a foreign policy sense beyond the Balkans and advance Kosovo’s reputation in Africa.
Finally do you dare to make a prediction of what we will see during the second year of the Republic of Kosovo?
Jessen-Petersen: A hope more than a prediction: Recognitions bringing us to a critical mass. And that the economy takes off creating much needed jobs.
Stephen Schwartz: I can describe what I hope for: establishment of an authentic army; full Kosovar control of the police; secure borders; no partition or schemes for partition disguised as false cultural protection; complete abolition of illegal Serb parallel structures, with establishment of total Kosovar authority throughout the republic, including in and north of Mitrovica; arrest and trial of criminals involved in the Serb parallel structures; sovereignty over Kosovar economic resources with adoption of a serious and well-founded development plan, including rational privatization; immediate and extensive upgrading of the Kosovar educational system; improved protection of labor rights and growth in incomes; expulsion of Wahhabi and other foreign radical Islamist elements from Kosovo (as well as Macedonia and Albania proper); removal of all international interference from the legitimate governance of Kosovo; replacement of Tina Kaidanow as a U.S. diplomatic representative in Kosovo; repudiation of the Ahtisaari Plan and the Six Points.
Along with a few suggestions of my own, these include the demands of the Vetëvendosje! movement led by Albin Kurti, which, and whom, I fully support.
We may dream of the arrival of sanity in Belgrade and Sarajevo, and the beginning of normal diplomatic and trade relations between Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Kosovo. But these seem only fantasies right now. Perhaps they may prove real. I also dream of the day when the real flag of Kosovo, the flag of Skenderbeu, replaces the banner of “Ahtisaaria.”
James Hooper: I believe that the next year is going to be dominated by the economic downturn that shows many signs of becoming a global depression. If that happens—and I believe we are going to experience such a depression which the world has not experienced since the 1930’s—it will make it more difficult for Kosovo to achieve the economic growth that Kosovars want. Instead, Kosovo may find itself struggling, like so many other countries, to limit the extent of the economic contraction they suffer. To build in some insurance against this, the government should immediately put together a package for the IMF/World Bank to provide assistance this year. My greatest concern, however, is that the economic downturn in the region will bring out the nationalisms that have never completely gone away, especially in Serbia, and lead to an escalation of tensions and perhaps worse. Kosovars must be on their guard for this and maintain the closest security cooperation with the U.S., EU and NATO to ensure that adequate protective measures are taken on a timely basis.
Soren Jessen-Petersen is former Chief of UN Mission in Kosovo and currently heads the Washington DC office of the Independent Diplomat organization. Stephen Schwartz is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism and a well-known author and an early promoter of Kosovo’s independence. James Hooper “is a Managing Director of the Public International Law & Policy Group. He is the former director of the Washington office of the International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent non-government global advocacy organization that focuses on conflict early alert, prevention and containment.