2008-02-17

Cordial if perhaps tepid welcome to new borned country

Not many people will have been surprised by Kosovo's declaration of independence today. Whatever futile and symbolic measures may be taken to appear as though it is being prevented, there has not been a chance since 1999 that there would be any other outcome (a few drunken ultrarightists on the street or press statements by tiny Bosnian groups will not change anything either). Some people will undoubtedly be celebrating the event, but it will take serious and committed work to assure that the new situation means something more than jobs for a new crowd of politicians. I am neither thrilled nor outraged, but rather think that what matters most is how the problems that have been left from the past and the new ones that are going to be generated are going to be addressed. Kosovo and Serbia are both now states, and each one has the opportunity now to show that it has the capacity to behave like a responsible one.

What the Kosovo government has to do is demonstrate its commitment to inclusion and the rule of law, assure freedom of movement and full legal protection for everybody living in the state, and build friendly and functional relationships with all of the states in the region. An independent state has obligations that are greater than the obligations of Unmikistan, which could always be transferred elsewhere.

The Serbian government has to begin to take seriously the desires of the Serb residents of Kosovo, not just to posture in their name. That means engaging with the new state as equals to build a regime of cooperation and protection. The need to make gestures of rejection is a need related to publicity, and it should be indulged for a while. But behind the scenes, somebody had better be generating ways to protect the interests of citizens.

For the last eighteen years, one state or parastate more or less in the Balkans has been par for the course. One that means something good for the people who live in and around it, that would be something.

Note: I know that at least some of you who read this will want to disagree with me vehemently in the comments (you are welcome to agree too, of course). Price of commenting -- give me advice on how to fix the comments visibility problem!

16 comments:

Aleksandar said...

"The Serbian government has to begin to take seriously the desires of the Serb residents of Kosovo, not just to posture in their name. That means engaging with the new state as equals to build a regime of cooperation and protection. The need to make gestures of rejection is a need related to publicity, and it should be indulged for a while. But behind the scenes, somebody had better be generating ways to protect the interests of citizens."

Yes, someone had better indeed. But will they? If they had any intention to, they would have negotiated instead of boycotted the Ahtisari plan, strengthening as much as possible the role and rights of the Serbian community in Kosovo. They would have encouraged Serbs to play a role in the institutions on which their lives depend. They would have encouraged them to emancipate themselves from the Serbian government's handouts, including directing some of that money towards those Serbs learning Albanian.

Did any of that happen? No. Will any of it happen now? Very likely not. Look at who is in power now. Broadly speaking, they are authors of the infamous Memorandum. How can we expect anything from that clique other than destructive denial, loathing, and the throwing of tantrums?

Aleksandar said...

By the way, sorry, I can't pay your "admission fee", I don't know how to fix the comments. I just highlight them and then read using the contrast of that.

Eric Gordy said...

Sigh, I hope I will figure this out. In the meantime, if people click the "comments" link at the bottom of the post instead of the permalink, they should get a new window with all the existing comments in Blogger's format, which is not beautiful but is at least legible.

On the other point -- yes, I also do not have much faith in the government to do the right thing by the Serbs living in Kosovo who want to continue living there. Maybe a positive side to indpeendence is that as negotiating partners they now have a government, rather than an amorphous and constantly changing array of UN institutions.

Anonymous said...

I decided to point you some issues that were not covered in your opinion. First of all, Kosovo historically was part of Serbia and actually it is one of main places from which Serbian statehood tradition comes from. It is the same as for example in Germany Bavaria will decide to become independent because there are a lot of Turks. Second, your opinion is based on kind of "inevitability of independence" view. Why do you talk about Serbs in Kosovo as of kind of hostages of kosovars? So your proposal is that Serbian government have to accept independence of Kosovo just because kosovars can do badly to serbs who live there? Serbs of Kosovo actually also have their right for self-determination in this case. Or it is your message that only language of power rules and weaks ones have to obey?

Eric Gordy said...

Hi, thanks for your comment. I guess to answer your question directly, no, I dont see this as a black and white issue or regard legal principles as the last word in political events. This might or might not be unfortunate, but then the discussion over whether there is a right to self-determination has been pretty well exhausted and is not very productive. The discussion over "historical right" even more so. The biggest problem with it is that it sees people as only "Albanians" or "Serbs" or some other thing. A state that is any good has to treat them as people and help them to meet their needs as people. So far no state has done that. It would be nice if one did, and I have not got a lot of faith in the governments of either Serbia or Kosovo to do it.

The point about power does not seem to make much sense to me, at least in the real world. Yes, power plays a role in political events.

I don't think there is any point in offering more guidance as to what my "proposal" or "message" is beyond what I have said, which of course you are welcome to like or not. And of course you are welcome to continue the diuscussion.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I see your point more clearly now. So you just say that state have to concentrate on its citizens and increase their welfare, etc and should not use ethnicity as kind of flag for political actions. The problem in this respect in my opinion is that serbs are not integrated in this political entity by no means. Come on, serbs still become victims of albanian population of Kosovo almost everyday, so it is very unprobable that nationalistic elites of Kosovo will care about Kosovo's serbs. One more problem is that for example even electricity and water comes to Kosovo from Serbia, it was strongly integrated with Serbia. So Kosovo in a way is artificial construct by itself even now... What is the use of such independence? (actually for Kosovo's albanians benefits are doubtful - the only one who directly benefits is actually USA that has one of the largest military base in Kosovo). So we have artificial construct that might lead to further separatist problems on the Balkans in the nearest future. Instability increases, and this will not lead to increase of welfare of ordinary citizens of the region too. Serbia will not accept the independence and will block this region economically, and of course economy of Kosovo will not be flourishing beacuse of this and it might become criminal pit of Europe - so may be that is what it intended to become by certain strong world political players: instability center?

Eric Gordy said...

I think there are probably several points on which we agree, not the least of which is that once the few days of celebrations (or protests) have finished, the same problems will still be there. A lot of these problems like the ones you mention -- crime, corruption, unemployment, lack of resources -- are not uniquely Serbian or Albanian. Like the "national" problems, addressing them will require cooperation across the whole region. This is probably not impossible between former enemies: Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina have been cooperating reasonably well on crime, though it does not get a lot of publicity. In this sense, it probably matters a lot more whether there are responsible people behind the scenes doing their jobs well than what some prominent people say to the press.

What is the use of independence? I can really only think of one, and that is that a government can take on obligations and be held to them in a way that UNMIK could not. But making this happen will require more seriousness on both sides than anyone has seen so far.

Anonymous said...

The fact of separation took place, but it does not legitimize it. UN regulations are broken by this separation. Anyway even if so, I just want to emphasize that this political construction has not that many chances be stable, and is not intended to be by masters of situations (masters of situation are not kosovars but those countries who support it). The main problem is Future (as usual).

Owen said...

Eric, when people can't be bothered to identify themselves even by a nickname, you're banging your head against a cotton-wool wall.

Eric Gordy said...

Owen, I have no idea whether that is true or not, but I love the image of a cotton-wool wall! With a handcream ceiling!

Anonymous said...

Cotton-wool wall with handcream ceiling... Sounds nice. But it does not have any relation to topic of discussion. Anyway nothing to add from my side. Only time will show what will happen with Kosovo. Have a nice time!

Dragan Plavsic said...

There are three aspects of the Kosovo question that your blog does not address – but they are surely crucial to any consideration of the future.

The first is that Serbia and Kosovo are now well and truly caught up in wider, deteriorating and potentially dangerous geopolitical (and geoeconomic) relations – those between the US/leading EU states, and Russia.

The US/EU has sought, since the end of the Cold War, to encircle Russia, pre-emptively aspiring to contain the kind of resurgent Russia that is currently emerging under Putin. The significance of the Black Sea and the Balkans as energy transit routes to the West has also played a role here; there are Western plans for both oil and natural gas pipelines through the Balkans via the Black Sea. It is these considerations that prompted US intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s (and incidentally explain why the US prevented intervention in the Rwandan genocide, where no such pressing geopolitical or other considerations existed).

Russia is now asserting itself in a region where it feels it has reasonable prospects of success, because of race, religion and history, but above all because of the resentment US intervention has bred among the Serbs, together with its growing capacity to use its energy resources for political advantage. Russia has a deal to build an oil pipeline with Bulgaria and Greece; recently signed a gas pipeline deal with Bulgaria; and has just bought Serbia’s state oil industry.

Both the US/EU and Russia are seeking to exploit the situation for their own ends; it is therefore unrealistic, at least for the foreseeable future, to expect either Serbia or Kosovo to take any significant steps without the prior approval of their imperial sponsor. This does not bode well for the future; it serves only to entrench Serbs and Kosovans in their nationalist positions as they feel emboldened to seek advantage over one another with Great Power backing.

It is therefore fair to say that Serb-Albanian relations will now reflect the mood swings that characterise US/EU-Russian relations. It is difficult to see how this situation offers any realistic prospect of resolving the Kosovo question, not to mention relations in the Balkans more generally following the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The second aspect of the Kosovo question is that independence is symbolic and not real. As Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative, has put it: "post-status Kosovo will not be independent in any sense." The EU "is going to be responsible, it's assuming an immense amount of executive authority, it is going to be the real authority in this society in term of its powers." The EU will simply replace the UN as the ultimate authority in Kosovo. It is difficult to see how this is going to bring clarity to government there. ‘Independence’ has not ended Kosovo’s colonial status; it has prolonged it.

The third aspect of the Kosovo question is the social question. The UN did not make any real progress in reducing unemployment and poverty. Its failure is one of the reasons that discontent with the UN grew significantly among the Kosovans, prompting more urgent calls for the UN to leave. These calls emerged from below, led by Vetevendosje; they have been taken up from above and translated into the new scheme of EU supervised independence, as a way of stilling that discontent, at least for the time being. But just as UN economic policy was neo-liberal, so is EU policy, and for that reason there are good grounds for believing that the deep problems of poverty and unemployment that plague Kosovo will not be resolved.

For these three reasons – imperial geopolitical and geoeconomic competition in the Balkans, focused now on Kosovo, Kosovo’s continued colonial status, and Kosovo’s deep social problems – it is difficult to be optimistic about the future.

Eric said...

Hi Dragan, thanks for your detailed response. I wont be able to respond well today, I'm lecturing nonstop all day! But I hope some other people will want to take up the issues you raise.

Anonymous said...

The last time there were grounds for optimism about developments in that poor and remote part of Europe was back in the 1970s. I still remember visiting Mitrovica (then officially called "Titova Mitrovica") in 1974 and talking to local students, who seemed excited and hopeful about the future, in which for the first time in Kosovo's history they would have some say in their own governance (within the limitations of the communist system).

As we know, after a few years things went downhill there in the 1980s and 90s, leading up to the cataclysm of the 1999 war, in which more than half of Kosovo's population was uprooted and a third expelled across the borders, 120,000+ homes were systematically destroyed and of most what remained of the infrastructure and economy left in shambles.

I've also been in Kosovo since the end of the war and know that UNMIK and the other internationals (OSCE, et al.) have made a shambles of the UN's first experiment in direct civil administration of a territory. Even by UN standards, the degree of incompetence, corruption and total lack of accountability of many if not most of the "internationals" in charge of running Kosovo has been quite spectacular. Shamefully little of the billions of dollars intended for post-war reconstruction in Kosovo has reached recipients, or been properly accounted for.

It remains to be seen to what degree EULEX will be an improvement. However, it should be noted that the powers of the EU representative will be far less than those of the departing SRSG Mr. Rücker. The EULEX mandate is restricted to certain spheres -- monitoring minority rights, training and supervision of police and the judiciary and a direct role in cases invivling war crimes, inter-ethnic crimes, and organized crime. But in almost all other respects, for the first time Kosovo's own elected political leaders will be directly accountable for the day-to-day governance.

That is an important "first" -- and in that sense I see independence as a positive development. Until now, the political platforms and campaign speeches of all Kosovo politicians have revolved around the promise of independence. As long as political leaders could play on the fears of a deeply traumatized people, who dreaded the possibility that Belgrade's forces might eventually return, they could avoid facing the real political questions. Now that independence has been achieved, political leaders in Kosovo will no longer that insecurity, the fear of Serbia, as an alibi. Despite the current bluster from Belgrade and the demos in north Mitrovica, the fact is: Serbia's troops, police and administrators are not coming back to Kosovo. People in Kosovo will realize that, and their leaders will be forced to confront real issues, such as jobs and the economy, the environment, good governance -- which they will have to deliver or risk being voted out.

On the whole, I think that's a step forward.

AR

Eric Gordy said...

Thanks for this insight, Andras. The key part of it is where you point out: "for the first time Kosovo's own elected political leaders will be directly accountable for the day-to-day governance." This is of course a source of both hope and fear.

Dragan Plavsic said...

The change from UNMIK to EULEX is a change in content, not form. It marks a passage from the active exercise of colonial power under UNMIK to the lighter exercise of colonial power under EULEX. UNMIK had been Kosovo’s front seat driver; EULEX will be its back seat driver. Ultimate power will reside with EULEX, despite the reduction in formal powers, as is clear from Ahtisaari’s Status Proposal:

“The ICR will have specific powers …..These include the authority to annul decisions or laws adopted by Kosovo authorities and sanction or remove public officials whose actions are determined by the ICR to be inconsistent with the letter or spirit of the Settlement. The ICR will also be the final authority in Kosovo regarding the civilian aspects of the Settlement.”

When one notes that this extraordinary, fundamentally undemocratic, power will be backed by 2,000 EU officials, including police, and 16,000 NATO troops, it is clear that EULEX will be the ultimate, overarching authority in Kosovo.

Additionally, when one considers the question of accountability, it is legitimate to ask to whom EULEX will be accountable. The answer is what Ahtisaari calls “key international stakeholders”; in other words, the US/EU, and not Kosovo’s Parliament and its people. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that Kosovo will remain what it has been under UNMIK, a colony.