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Kosovo Looks Anxiously Toward Independence

Posted by vmsalama on August 23, 2006

Kosovo Independence Protest

World Politics Review Exclusive

by Vivian Salama

(to see some of my personal photos from the Balkans, click here)

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Weaving through the narrow mountain roads over the Bosnian-Montenegrin border in a blue mini passenger bus, Bulajic Veselin fidgeted impatiently for the duration of his six-hour journey. Traveling to his hometown of Niksic, Montenegro, from the University of Tuzla in Bosnia, this trip held a special significance for Veselin.For the first time in his life, the 25-year old medical student was returning home to a free and independent Montenegro.

“This is a historic time for my country,” he says, pointing enthusiastically to the grassy hills and mountain lakes as though seeing them for the first time. “It is an emotional time for us — to have a country of our own, as it should be.”Based on the results of a country-wide referendum held in May, Montenegro was declared an independent state — free from Serbian rule, and further away from a dark legacy cast over the region prior to the collapse of communist Yugoslavia. Only weeks after the vote, Montenegro would become the 192nd member state of the United Nations. “Citizen Not Resident”

Analysts say political independence for Montenegro was inevitable. But for young men and women like Veselin, an independent Montenegro means fast-track integration into the European Union.Some of my friends are happy because they believe this will help them get jobs in the European community,” says Veselin. “As for me, I want my children to be born and grow [up] in my country. . . . I imagine people my age in Kosovo wish the same for their children.”

Most Kosovars share Veselin’s sentiments, though few are as optimistic about the fate of their prospective country, which is on the edge of being a failed state. Meanwhile, Serbia maintains that it wants political autonomy for the Albanian-majority province, but not independence. Not good enough, say Kosovars, who believe independence from Serbia is the key to postwar stability — both economic and political.Still, with a concrete pact seemingly far from materializing, the reality of a free Kosovo remains in limbo.

In Austria last month, Kosovar and Serb leaders met reluctantly for the first time since NATO bombs forced Serbian forces to flee Kosovo in 1999. The meetings were evidence of the disharmony between the two sides. Serb and Kosovar delegations held their own separate press conferences to brief the media on details that would ultimately signal no decision. Talks are expected to resume in the coming weeks.

Originally, the plan was for Kosovo’s leaders to demonstrate their ability to govern responsibly before embarking on a path of sovereignty. However, corruption continues to be an issue in the province — watchdog group Freedom House says Kosovo’s corruption is more extensive than in Serbia or Montenegro.

“Kosovo is a deeply corrupted society in general,” explains Milan Podunavac, Dean of Political Science at the University of Belgrade. “For the next while, Kosovo must be supervised by some kind of international entity or international political community for stability and peace to continue.”

Serbia’s Beta news agency reports that the constitutional framework proposed by both Pristina and Belgrade suggest a continued role for EU peacekeeping forces, making it a partner in the ongoing stabilization process. Analysts expect Western powers — including the United States — to back the secession of Kosovo. That was not always the story.


“The US and NATO could not intervene to make Kosovo independent,” notes Robert Jervis, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International Affairs in New York. “There were no grounds in international law and evolving new laws for intervening with force so that a province can become secessionist. Once you say that, the Russians go through the roof; they start worrying about Chechnya. You can’t go that route.”


Fearing a resurgence of Serbian extremism, Jervis says the United States and Europe legitimized their prolonged presence in the region by citing their commitment to preventing human rights atrocities and crimes against humanity. “The contradiction between where it’s going to end up and what the U.S. and Europeans say they wanted and wouldn’t permit is really quite strong.”


International actors have grown concerned over the well-being of their peace keeping forces, particularly as Albanians targeting Kosovo Serbs at race riots continuously threaten to make international forces their next target should Kosovo’s status remain in question.


Further, maintaining an international presence in Kosovo has proven costly, particularly at a time in which forces are in demand elsewhere. Most countries with peacekeepers in the region want their men and women out as soon as possible. Some Western policy makers are even thought to support the idea of an independent Kosovo to appease the province’s majority Muslim population, which, given global circumstances, is not an issue taken lightly.


“Serbia is approaching the basic problems of its political existence: stability; national identity; constitution issues; political identity. The issue of integrating itself into European institutions and the question of Kosovo is an overburden for such a society,” notes Podunavac.


Some say the loss of Kosovo is a price Serbia must pay for its dark legacy under its former leader, Slobodan Milosevic, who died earlier this year at the Hague while on trial for 66 counts of crimes against humanity.


“Everyone here was happy when he died,” says Hanifa Lahu, 20, a resident of Pristina, Kosovo’s capital. “But at the same time, I would have preferred it if he spent 10 years in prison without seeing the light — exactly the way we are living.”


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