Challenges to Stabilization in Kosovo
Even after nine years of independence from Serbia, Kosovo continues to experience socio-economic and ethnic problems, as well as significant challenges, which threaten its sovereignty and governance. These issues can weaken the progress and process of democratization in the country.
Kosovo already has characteristics of a fragile state because not the entire territory is under its control and it has a high rate of poverty and unemployment, as well as a rather weak economy. Besides, institutional weaknesses of the law and justice sectors and a high level of corruption impede the development of the state. Hence, Kosovo is unable to achieve even the marginal progress in the recognition and acting at the international level. During the period from 1999 to 2008, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was given the task of maintaining peace by creating a market-oriented economy and developing democratic institutions. However, the establishment of such kind of framework for democratization has produced a fragile peace, fragmented sovereignty, and weak democracy.
Establishing peace, strengthening the sovereignty, and building the democratic polity are restricted in Kosovo because there are many underlying factors, which divide the state’s sovereignty both internationally and domestically, as well as impede its socio-economic growth. This fragmentation is impacted both by the existence of international actors with divided agendas and the parallel presence of Serb establishments in North Kosovo. Meanwhile, possibilities for social freedom are challenged by social injustice, ethnic power-sharing, and fragile domestic governance.
As the Ahtisaari Proposal failed to gather sufficient support in the UNSC, the US together with EU member countries supported a unilateral declaration of independence for Kosovo. On 17 February 2008, political representatives of Kosovo declared Kosovo “an independent and sovereign state.” The Kosovo authorities set the goal of achieving stability, prosperity, and peace in the country. Howsoever, the OSCE, UNMIK, and the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) failed to operate as had been described in the Ahtisaari Proposal due to the absence of unanimity within respective organizations. These bodies remained neutral about Kosovo’s status because they wanted to involve Serbs in the post-building process, which delayed the establishment of peace in the country to a large degree (Bashkurti, 2014). As of today, the Kosovo government considers the role of international actors unsatisfactory due to Belgrade’s intervention to protect the rights of Kosovar Serbs, who are in the minority.
Since the declaration of Kosovo’s independence, global bodies in cooperation with local institutions have failed to restore stable peace in the country. It happened because international agencies were only interested in establishing fragile peace and short-term stability, while the Kosovar administration demanded state-building mechanisms and stable infrastructure. This dual agenda enabled Belgrade to promote its national interests in the negotiating process in Kosovo. Following the declaration of independence, the Kosovo government tried to overcome a huge number of both political and economic challenges. They included problems in establishing functional markets after an extensive ethnic cleansing, transition from the communist regime and its economic practices, increased poverty, corruption, and some issues in establishing parallel infrastructures for the further introduction of justice, security, and economic practices (Capussela, 2015). The nation faced difficulties in the stabilization because Russia had never wanted this Balkan state to be under the influence of the European Union. These challenges increased the uncertainty and an atmosphere of general destabilization. In the interests of Kosovo’s democratic functioning, a transparent dialogue is needed that will recognize the interests and differences of all parties involved.
Moreover, the repercussions of Kosovo’s independence were not globally accepted. The absence of clarity regarding the mandate and goals of the international organizations, combined with the lack of coordination concerning their responsibilities and roles, challenges the stabilization of Kosovo in three ways. First, the neutral role of international actors allowed parallel Serb institutions to interfere and increase their influence in North Kosovo. It was achieved with the help of illegal activities and limiting the role of the Kosovo authorities in stabilizing their administration and political activities in the North. This aspect divides loyalties among the people of the North and weakens the nation’s domestic sovereignty and territorial integrity. The existence of these parallel institutions is tolerated because of the high level of hostilities between the ethnic populations living in the North of Kosovo, as well as due to the border issue with Serbia that receives international support. Second, a divided response of international actors to the crucial state-building and peacebuilding processes does not enable Kosovo’s authorities to implement significant reforms in the governance and justice sectors. Moreover, the international agencies that are active in Kosovo tolerate the political unaccountability and corruption amongst local politicians in exchange for establishing stability. Thirdly, the uncertainty over Kosovo’s status restricts its sovereignty externally. Overlapping programs of the international presence worsen the situation, and further prevent international recognition of Kosovo, thus obstructing it from equal participation in international organizations (Nugent, 2013). Therefore, the presence of international organizations contributes to the domestic failure of Kosovo to build good governance and the rule of law, and to the universal failure to stabilize the situation with its sovereignty.
Serb Parallel Institutions and Efforts to Stabilize the North of Kosovo
Serbs in Kosovo founded parallel institutions within the sectors of security, education, security, public services, and health, which were promoted by and depended heavily on the Belgrade government. Being initially established to oppose and condemn the UN administration of Kosovo, their prime purpose was to resist UN-created, self-governing local institutions of the country. Belgrade authorities used these institutions to involve local Serbs, destabilize and manipulate processes in the state, and provide bargaining incentives to Serbia.
This situation created an unstable environment. The Kosovo authorities described that the North of Kosovo had become a place where the absence of law and the activities of criminal groups and parallel institutions resulted in frequent violent incidents such as attacks on non-Serb citizens, bombing, and murder. While being dominated by local Serbs, North Kosovo is under the control of these Serb parallel institutions, which substantially restrict the potential of Kosovar structures to exercise their power in this part of the country (Reinhardt, 2014). These institutions also pose a significant challenge to the participation and representations of Serbs in the local structures. They restrict the functioning of these institutions in Serb-dominated areas and threaten the security and territorial integrity of Kosovo.
In some ways, Serb parallel institutions in Kosovo possess certain characteristics of a state-inside-state. They could evolve from a protracted civil war, state collapse, and secession, which carried public-oriented activities such as a collection of revenue and extraction and challenging the legitimacy and power of the government. Undoubtedly, North Kosovo is the major problem and the prime source of the destabilization in Kosovo. The fact is that any interference by the Kosovo government is likely to produce a violent reaction, while international actors can play a crucial role in maintaining law and order. As the Kosovo authorities do not have access to the northern territories, they struggle to increase their presence in this region. They largely depend on international organizations that are expected to bridge this gap.
Nevertheless, these international organizations produce mixed results, mainly because of their constrained authority. Following the declaration of independence of Kosovo, anti-independence riots broke out in 2008. Consequently, municipal and district courts in North Mitrovica stopped functioning, and UNMIK was not successful in restoring them. Moreover, the EULEX also attempted to reestablish these courts by drawing up Albanian and Serb judges. However, this initiative was stifled due to objections raised by Kosovo authorities regarding the appointment of Serb judges from Belgrade. Surprisingly, the EULEX had failed to establish a functioning custom rule in North Kosovo despite its assurance to the Kosovo Government that suitable measures would be implemented for protecting the territorial integrity of Kosovo when the nation declared independence. During the 2008 post-independence riots, Serbs destroyed three borders in the North, thus facilitating the smuggling of untaxed goods and people between Kosovo and Serbia. Presently these borders are controlled by the organization’s representatives, who just record the exit and entry of goods. These officials do not collect revenue because they are not aware to whom to send revenues (Strazzari & Ervjola, 2013). Hence, the profits created from this unsolved customs regime have become a source of income for the Serb institutions and often finance criminal gangs.
Certainly, both the UN and EU officials admit that criminal activities such as drug trafficking and smuggling of goods have increased in the region and pose a crucial problem. In March 2013, in collaboration with the International Cooperation Office, the Kosovo administration developed a common strategy for North Kosovo. It focused on strengthening the rule of law, enhancing the social and economic condition, implementing decentralization with the view to establishing a North Mitrovica municipality, and addressing some governance problems in Northern Kosovo. Despite its goal-oriented approach, the strategy failed to receive support from the OSCE, EULEX, and UNMIK. The prime hurdles were strong objections raised by the Belgrade government and those who were running parallel institutions. They argued that the strategy would cause protests and riots; thus, it was dangerous and called on EULEX and UNMIK to criticize the strategy and remain the neutral status. There is a strong concern that the parallel institutions can react aggressively to Kosovar-Serbs if they respect and respond to Prishtina authority (Capussela, 2015). Given these failed attempts to restore a functioning state, it is necessary and important that the parallel institutions and the international organizations mutually strengthen each other and involve the Kosovar government in the peace-building process.
Governance in Kosovo
Kosovo’s capacity to establish the socioeconomic development and democratization process is constrained by poor administration, social injustice, and disputed ethnic power-sharing structures. The Freedom House and the OSCE acknowledged that up till 2010, democratic governance in the country was stable and electoral processes were fair and free. However, the national elections that were held in November 2010 were largely undemocratic and also manipulated the election results favoring Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. In its 2010 report, the Freedom House acknowledged significant efforts by the Kosovo government to improve the smooth functioning of local institutions in completing the legislative process for the decentralization (Howard, 2013).
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Today, the judiciary remains the weakest sector in Kosovo. The international organizations blamed the legacy of the previous eight years given that the Kosovo laws remained divided between certain previous Yugoslav laws, UNMIK resolutions, and the laws adopted by Kosovo Government in according to the new constitution. Besides, the 2010 EULEX report also pointed out that the current justice system was inefficient, weak, and vulnerable to the intervention of the political regime (Kurti, 2011). Problems relating to the inefficient administration combined with the corruption and failure to implement necessary laws have negatively affected the trust of citizens in government institutions, The Kosovo government is locked up between the international presence and the Serbian regime, which impedes the governance of the rule of law in the Kosovo regime. The process of stabilization is extremely important for the good governance of the state. It will entail the development of human resources, eliminate poverty and unemployment, reduce crimes and corruption, and bring sustainable development to the country. This process will also install democracy in the state where the judiciary will not be vulnerable to the political regime, and people will have the right to choose the government they like (Silander & Janzekovitz, 2012).
Ethnic Power-Sharing in Kosovo
To install the democratization process in Kosovo, international actors have always supported ethnic power-sharing, self-governance, and autonomy as parts of their strategy to promote the stabilization and integration of ethnic groups with the view of restoring the peace and harmony in the country. Consequently, the power-sharing and a quota system of participation in the government are reserved for ethnic Serbs, who belong to the minority community. This strategy aims to decentralize the power by transferring the responsibility and authority to local and intermediate governments. Besides, this strategy also focuses on accommodating the interests of ethnic groups more effectively. It would bring local government institutions closer to Kosovars. Undoubtedly, the involvement of ethnic minorities is significant in the formation of sustainable development and a democratic society. Nevertheless, the Kosovo government is also apprehensive regarding the power-sharing agreements, which empower ethnic elites. This aspect can escalate the conflict and delay prospects for sustaining the peace (Suny & Vicken, 2012). The efforts to install power-sharing arrangements can further restrict the democratic process by discouraging competition at the political level, limiting the electorate process, and weakening public accountability. Besides, ethnic elites can obstruct the peace arrangement by exploiting resources under their control, decreasing the efficiency with the help of higher governance costs, and creating complications in the social and political change by interfering in the government decision-making process.
The peace in Kosovo has become stable; however, it is not sustainable. The road to sustainable peace is challenged by the weak governance, social injustice, and divided ethnic power-sharing arrangements, as well as overlapping agendas of international actors, which allow for the functioning of Serb parallel institutions; thus, they hold the future of North Kosovo in uncertainty. These challenges are the prime factors, which will decide the fate of the state in the nearest future.
Despite the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo that began in March 2011, the UN and EU could not decide the future of North Kosovo and the integration of the Serb minority into the Kosovar society. While the Kosovo government claims that the next round of negotiations will focus on issues of the national security and economic cooperation, as well as mutual benefit and border administration, the Serb community is likely to demand either the partition of North Kosovo or the establishment of an autonomous state with self-governance rights. It will permit Belgrade to exert a greater economic and political influence in the region. Finally, the international actors should encourage a compromise between the Serbs and the negotiating Kosovo government to resolve their differences so that they can implement the European integration agenda and build democracy in the country.
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