Magazine article The World Today

Kosovo Faces Its Demons

Magazine article The World Today

Kosovo Faces Its Demons

Article excerpt

Andrea Garaiova sees an appetite for stabilization after years of failed state-building

When Ramush Haradinaj was appointed Kosovo's prime minister in September, foreign embassies in Pristina once again pinned their hopes on a former war leader to strengthen the rule of law and bring together Kosovo's divided communities, the majority Albanians and the minority Serbs.

For Kosovo citizens who have lived through ten years of rule by former commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, it came as no surprise that the Haradinaj government was to show little regard for democratic principles.

Accommodating 22 political groups led Haradinaj to construct an unwieldy cabinet, with more than 70 ministers and deputy ministers. The government may be the biggest on record, but its modus operandi is unchanged - as old elites struggle to stay in power they need to buy the support of an ever-wider range of politicians. The international community - principally the United States and European Union - is not blameless in this. By lending support to longtime Kosovo leaders, the foreign partners have helped to entrench the elite's capture of the state.

Yet the tide may be turning. The statesmen-like mask worn by Kosovo politicians fell away in December when 43 assembly deputies attempted to repeal the law establishing a special court to try crimes committed in Kosovo between 1998 and 2000, including - but, it should be stressed, not exclusively - by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army who now hold leadership positions. The bid infuriated the country's international partners. 'This is a terrible example of personal interests being given priority over the interests of the entire country,' said Greg Delawie, the US ambassador to Kosovo.

Placing one's own interests before those of the citizens has been a recurrent feature of Kosovo's politics, and personal interests have often won out. The difference now is that the political and financial investment made by the international community in the Specialist Chambers, as the court is known, has turned them into a project that is 'too big to fail'.

In the words of Driton Selmanaj, an MP with the Democratic League of Kosovo party: 'The problem is that our politicians stopped taking foreign ambassadors seriously.'

In recent years the Kosovo leadership has increasingly tested the resolve of the EU to hold them to their end of the bargain regarding EU conditionality and agreements reached on normalizing relations with Serbia. But the damage resulting from Kosovo reneging on its promise to deal with its past would be too much for the international community to bear.

Remarkably, the usual division on political questions between Kosovo's Albanians and Serbs vanishes when assessing the political leadership in the country. According to Jovana Radosavljević, the executive director of the New Social Initiative, a northern Kosovo think tank, 'favouring leaders with shady pasts because they deliver has potentially led to the most serious crisis Kosovo has seen in the past ten years'.

Betim Musliu, the head of the Kosovo Law Institute in Pristina, concurs, citing as the EU's biggest mistake the impunity provided to Kosovo leaders in exchange for their - hoped for - obedience in important political processes such as the dialogue with Serbia, the demarcation of the border with Montenegro and the constitution of the Specialist Chambers.

As Florina Duli, the chief of the Kosovo Stability Initiative, said: 'They [the EU], supported by the bilateral missions, helped "dubious" leaders get legitimacy, but also helped break real leaders who enjoyed popular support. …

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