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Special Report II
Last Updated: 02/10/2010
Consolidating independence and peace in Kosovo
Martin Wählisch

Two years after Kosovo's controversial separation from Serbia, Martin Wählisch reports on the progress of the country, the challenges it faces, and the prospects for peace and stability in the region.

Towards judicial reforms, regional security and European integration

“Uncle, it is done – Bac u kry!” Two years after the separation of Kosovo from Serbia in February 17, 2008, this slogan in honor of UÇK commander Adem Jashari appears back in people's memories. Europe’s youngest country celebrates its second anniversary of independence, having a history of war behind it and further challenges ahead.

Secured by 10,000 NATO-KFOR soldiers and assisted by about 2,000 police officers, judges and prosecutors from the Rule of Law mission EULEX, Kosovo enters its future with a perspective towards the European Union and the hardship of expediting economic developments. 

With regard to international diplomacy, Kosovo is in a limbo. So far 65 countries, among them major Western powers, have recognized the unilateral secession. The rest of the world, including Russia, China and India, considers the region to be part of Serbia. Belgrade claims that the line in the North of Kosovo dividing both territories is not a border, but just a boundary. Most recently, the International Court of Justice at The Hague was tasked to give its opinion about the alleged violation of international law.

Towards becoming a free country

Kosovo's internal peace is still fragile, but stabilizing. Recent announcements by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci about changes in the cabinet sparked discussions over the matter whether the current coalition government will survive. Though, both leading parties renewed their commitment to continuing their efforts. After the local elections in last autumn, complaints about widespread irregularities aroused. Nonetheless, it had been the first free municipal ballots ever after the independence.

Indeed, there are issues of internal reform which need to be tackled as the improvement of the judicial system. The difficulty is not a lack of well composed laws – due to international consultancy the majority of them are on the most modern standard worldwide. Courts regularly suffer from a deficit of staff. Many posts for judges and prosecutors have not been filled yet because of the ongoing vetting process. Additionally, positions in public service are less well paid than in business companies or abroad, which makes it not attractive for the large diaspora to come back and rebuilt the country.  

So far, most international organizations have been reducing their presence. Nevertheless, the situation remains complex: KFOR, the UN, OSCE and EULEX have to be status neutral, but somehow need to deal with the official Kosovo government. The UN Security Council’s Resolution 1244, which placed Kosovo under the administration of UNMIK, is valid until the permanent members of the Council reach a collective understanding about Kosovo’s territorial integrity.

The most powerful man in Kosovo is the US Ambassador, some people say. Key for the country’s development will be that the people of Kosovo truly put themselves into the driver’s seat without too great interference from the outside.

Journey and challenges ahead

Seven yellow letters decorate the place right below Jashari's picture at the Palace of Youth & Sports in Pristina: „New Born“. However, the question about 'What makes a country a country?' is still present in practical problems: So far, Kosovo has to use the area code of Monaco and Slovenia for its mobile communication network, as the International Telecommunications Union could not find consensus to designate digits for Kosovo. If you type in Pristina while booking a flight, most likely Serbia will appear as your destination. Lately, activists started a campaign on Facebook to get Kosovo accepted in the list of countries. Miss Kosovo was elected as the world's third most beautiful woman, but the UEFA cup refuses a participation of Kosovo until it is accepted as a member of the United Nations.

The current currency in Kosovo is the Euro, which indicates where the journey might go to. The country does not mint coins of its own yet, but pushes hard towards the European Union. The call for visa liberalization is an issue constantly brought forward by the Kosovo government. The European Union is divided having Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania not acknowledging Kosovo as a state. The same time, Serbia formally applied in December 2009 to join the EU, but is finding its path also blocked by the Kosovo question.

The first week of February, the Kosovo government announced plans for a major highway running from the south through the whole country to a crossing point with Serbia. Much has to be done to pave the way for this path. With highest hopes, this new road could become a sign for internal reconciliation, regional integration and local consolidation of peace in the Balkans.

Martin Wählisch, currently based in Pristina, is Senior Researcher at the Center for Peace Mediation at the European University Viadrina, Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance.