AJC Commentary: Although it made the nightly news so often in the 1990s that many Americans could name it more easily than they could their states’ capitals, to a generation of news junkies in the United States, Kosovo is simply another foreign locale they would be hard-pressed to pinpoint on a map.
With the aid of NATO forces, the United Nations (UN) and the United States (U.S.), Kosovo won independence from neighboring Serbia and its autocratic leader Slobodan Milosevic, now deposed and deceased. Now it is an independent country, recognized by most of the important states in the world, including the U.S. and 23 out of 27 nations that belong to the European Union.
But the new baby is facing a difficult upbringing. Russia supports Serbia, its so- called “small brother” and the process of getting recognition from the international community is difficult for Kosovo. Serbia, with the help of its big-power ally Russia, has vowed to block Kosovo from getting a United Nations seat.
Now a total of 68 countries, around a third of the total number of UN members, recognize Kosovo. Yet and still, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is analyzing the legitimacy of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 at the request of Serbia, which still considers Kosovo a breakaway province.
Some countries on the world have already handed down their opinions and the ICJ decision is expected in July. But until then the processes of recognition is in stagnation because some countries, still neutral on Kosovo status, want to decide after that.
But the prospect that this decision will be something in the middle makes both countries concerned about this decision. Some media accounts indicate that new negotiations are underway among the international community, Kosovo and Serbia. One of the issues to be discussed, according to this information, is the future of the northern part of the region, in dispute not just between Kosovo and Serbia but also among the U.S., the UN and the EU.
But, apart from the ICJ decision, the Pristina government in the capital of Kosovo is keen to tout the positive developments in the nation such as the significant Serb turnout in local elections in the country held last November. The Serb minority that remains in Kosovo has embraced the reality of independence.
In the local polling—the first vote organized since the declaration of independence on February 17, 2008—many Serbs took part, effectively ending the boycott of the polls that they had maintained since Kosovo came under UN administration in 1999. In four municipalities, pragmatic Serbs won the vote, even though the Serbian government in the country’s capital of Belgrade has invested heavily to ensure the loyalty of the 120,000 strong Kosovo Serb minorities by financing a separate political, social, educational and health system in the Serb-dominated areas.
Serbia still considers Kosovo the cradle of the Serb nation and it remains the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church. But the problems facing the new state are more than ethnic issues. Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe, where the half of the population is living in poverty. According to some UN statistics, 15 per cent of the people have been classified as living in extreme poverty.
The people feel frustrated and isolated because Kosovo is one of the countries that didn’t profit by the free visa system that the European Union offers Balkan citizens. The two others are Albania and Bosnia.
There is no job for them inside of Kosovo and the remittances by Kosovo Albanians who live abroad are limited because of the economic crises around the world.
Unemployment is higher than 45% and the young are more than half of the population. The social situation is boiling and the unhappiness with the government is increasing. With a budget six times less than the District of Columbia, the government is trying to respond the needs of the population.
Just two months ago, the fragile social situation boiled over when police officers and health workers staged strikes demanding a 100 percent salary hike.
But Kosovo is facing other big challenges too. The justice system is the weakest of the Kosovo institutions. Trying to keep the country stable and avoid any kind of destabilization, the UN administration has made a few attempts to build a strong justice system. In fact the situation is pretty dramatic. A small number of the judges and prosecutors handle more than 200,000 cases.
The corruption is very high among them and, the political influence as well.
But corruption is a big problem for all the institutions and especially the government. Public opinion, as a result, is becoming more and more sensitive to this issue. The EU is investigating the minister of Transportation and telecommunication, for example. The minister was one of the most important leaders of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). In fact this came after the criticism of the people and especially of some media that the EU failed to fulfill its mission in Kosovo.
Other big fish of corruption are still free and they are very powerful. They control the majority of the media, which sometimes makes propaganda in favor of them.
But even slowly, public opinion is becoming more and more sensitive, especially on corruption issues and this is a positive step.