The role of international institutions in Kosovo has been crucial to restoring peace and assisting in the institutional building process and democratization after the war. The presence of these institutions has ensured that Kosovo did not slip into post conflict anarchy but upheld law and order, for all its isolated problems; although a big contribution in this sense can be attributed to the population itself and their tradition of hospitality and mutual respect.
The work of these institutions became complicated as they were deployed in an environment where a majority of people fought and made sacrifices for independence with a posture of not recognizing that independence. This created a particular situation with regard to security matters as well. UNMIK maintained the status quo with regard to the progress of the political objective of the main Kosovo Albanian political parties, especially with the policy of ‘standards before status’, a policy that was doomed to fail before it even started. Once the main political objectives are considered to be endangered, and if ethnic tensions are still present, the situation degenerates to violence rather than dialogue. The riots of March 2004 are an example of such an eruption of violence that resulted in loss of lives on both sides and destruction of Serbian property and religious buildings. Such events have also shifted the approach of the international community towards the final political status of Kosovo. Kai Aide, a Norwegian diplomat, recommended to UNMIK a reassessment of the policy of ‘standards before statuses. Aide recommended that such policy was impossible to implement before the status became clearer and Kosovo authorities were given wider competencies. This opened the way to status negotiations facilitated by Martti Ahtisari, former Finnish President that resulted in conditional independence for Kosovo.
Kosovo has entered a new phase of democratization and political development. Kosovo’s independence has been declared and recognized by a significant number of countries, including most of the Western countries. The independence objective has taken a different path for the political parties that aspire to head the country, that of the consolidation of such independence by securing more recognition.
Yet there also seems to have been a further development by political parties and different concepts with regard to perspectives on the integration of Kosovo in international institutions such as the EU or NATO. The Parliament of Kosovo has been enriched with new political groups that have brought new political concepts and have created a more vocal and more colourful opposition. There are also signs that some parties are refreshing their membership with new faces. Civil society has been filtered quite a lot with some serious NGOs and research institutions remaining that observe and monitor all institutions in Kosovo, both national and international. Relations between civil society and institutions are also entering a phase where public debate is very common and often controversial. NGOs in Kosovo seem to be quite vocal in exposing corruption affairs. Media development seems to still be as it used to be ten years ago, with most of them affiliated to political parties, yet there are still some media outlets that tend to remain independent and report on sensitive issues with regard to governance.
Kosovo institutions are also in a different position regarding the decision-making process after independence, although such decisions are often influenced by international institutions and other particular international actors. International institutions’ competencies are limited to recommendations rather than arbitration of political decisions. The best example to illustrate this is the decision of the Kosovo Government to impose reciprocity measures with regard to trade against Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a signatory of the Central European Trade Agreement (CEFTA) in 2006, (14) Kosovo was facing trade blockades from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina after its declaration of independence as neither of these countries recognize its independence. In July 2011, the Kosovo government decided to apply reciprocity measures after the failure of Belgrade to respect the agreement reached in Brussels days before to recognize Kosovo’s customs stamps. To implement this decision the Kosovo Government sent its police special forces to take control of two of its border crossings in northern Kosovo that had been taken under control by Serbs on 19 February 2008, following Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia (on 18 February). The Government of Serbia openly supported the actions of Serbs in Kosovo. The International Crisis Group reported on those events:
On 19 February, a well-organised group, almost certainly including Serbian interior ministry (MUP) personnel and armed with guns and plastic explosives, was transported in buses and other vehicles to attack in succession the Brnjak and Jarinje border and customs posts in north Kosovo, drove away UNMIK and Kosovo police (KPS) personnel and blew up and set fire to buildings, equipment and police cars. The Serb mayor of Zubin Potok and the deputy mayor of Leposavic accompanied the assailants. That evening Minister Samardzic declared the attacks “not pretty”, but in line with Serbian government policy. (ICG 2008: 8)
The Kosovo Government’s decision to recover these border crossings triggered a great dissatisfaction in the Serbian community that resulted in road blockades to reject such measures. Events in northern Kosovo have brought to the surface many political problems related to security and EU integration perspectives for both Kosovo and Serbia with regard to fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria. These events also illustrated the political positions of both governments. The EU is playing a crucial role in Kosovo–Serbia relations, especially after the events in northern Kosovo. The success of the EU at these talks remains to be seen. Agreements on some technical matters have been reached, such as on the movement of people and the recognition of personal documentation, and even a sort of compromise with regard to regional cooperation and presentation, with Kosovo being represented with a footnote (indicating UNSC Resolution 1244 and the ICJ ruling of the declaration of independence of Kosovo) alongside its name. This compromise has been interpreted as a victory in both Kosovo and Serbia for their domestic publics by the governments because of its content. The oppositions in both countries interpret this differently. In Kosovo, the government is blamed for purchasing a ticket to EU candidacy status for Serbia while not bargaining for a better carrot in return from the EU. Opposition in Serbia is accusing the government of entering on the path to recognize the independence of Kosovo. No matter what the interpretation, it is still not clear whether this compromise will contribute to better relations between the two countries. This compromise will possibly continue to be interpreted and used in different ways and there were occasions when both delegations walked out of different regional meetings during March 2012 because of complaints that the footnote was not properly read. The EU here is the main actor to settle such disputes by being clearer in its approach towards the Balkans and pressurizing the countries by using its ‘civilian powers’ or its ‘magnetic force’ to influence the developments it wants to see in the Balkans.
The integration of the Serbian community in institutional life in Kosovo is crucial to its democratization development. Yet this is not something that is entirely in the hands of national or international institutions in Kosovo. Without the support of the Serbian Government this seems to be quite impossible. This is an element where the EU, using its enlargement policy and its ‘transformative powers’, can play a crucial role. The approach of the EU suggests that it is on the right path, yet the difficulties that the EU itself faces when it comes to harmonization of foreign policy can endanger such an approach.
International actors and institutions have played a crucial role in the political development in the Balkans. The region has been a crossroads of many political interests of world powers and their influence is still crucial and evident with regard to the construction of national interests of many Balkan countries. Considering a rationalist approach in the enlargement context, states would want to join the EU as long as the political, economic and security interests were more beneficial than the expected costs. On the other hand, an international organization/structure such as the EU would admit new members as long as they brought economic and political benefits, and if this was not the case then they would admit new members as long as the risks of leaving them out were greater than the cost of admitting them. As for the EU, they could discern security and economic reasons and the EU’s influence in world affairs. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia proved the fragility of the security. Economic mismanagement, political instability or social unrest could hamper the transformation, and a population disillusioned by harsh reforms could choose to go back to authoritarian and nationalist regimes, creating a threat to the European Union’s stability and security.
The Serbian political elite tends to ignore the fact that there was a war and a structured ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo, and that there was a situation of apartheid in the 1990s. The Serbian political elite seems to have been caught in the web between the possible will for political reform and its past involvement in all the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, with what has been established as a national policy based on a socially constructed reality that was implanted in the Serbian public about the ‘divine’ right to defend Serbs in other countries. A possible shift out of such a political approach is difficult, yet not impossible. It has happened with many countries after conflicts.
The political elite in Kosovo, on the other hand, also tends to ignore the fact that, despite the massive exodus of the Serbs that fled together with Serbian security forces in June 1999 following NATO deployment, those who remained were subject to a campaign of humiliation and revenge from many Albanians who returned to Kosovo. A post-conflict society recovery requires that all political elites look towards the future and acknowledge the consequences of the conflict, and not ignore them but try to work on ameliorating them.
With regard to Kosovo and Serbia, the main international actors that both these countries are tied to when it comes to defending their political objectives seem to be not the EU but the USA and Russia. The reasons for this are quite clear when one takes a look at the recent history of the Balkans. In this respect, once the national interest might be considered at risk, both Serbia and Kosovo will look towards other international actors for support and not the EU.
In practical terms, the EU is, nevertheless, the ultimate address where the countries of the Balkans want to settle, as there seems to be a general agreement among political elites that the EU can serve as a guarantee of the stability of the region. The regeneration of the Balkan conflict seems unlikely if it is to be between parts of a supranational structure such as the EU. The EU integration policy triggered the democratization transformation and reform in all successor countries of the former Yugoslavia, albeit still in its early phase. Considering a social constructivist approach, where material costs and benefits are not enough to explain the eastern enlargement of the EU, but non-material concepts such as common identity, values, norms and ideas are more important, then the enlargement of the EU towards the Balkans should happen faster and should be a ‘question of when not if’. Challenges are great, bearing in mind the political situation between Kosovo and Serbia, yet a continuous pressure on both sides for a moderate and creative solution is necessary. Nevertheless, this pressure is only possible and effective when the political elites in both countries begin to take the situation more seriously. Without clear signals for the prospect of integration into the EU, these political elites will hardly make progress into further stages of cooperation, mutual agreement and reconciliation.
(14) This agreement was signed in 2006 by UNMIK on behalf of Kosovo (CEFTA 2006).