Monday, 12 March 2007

Would You Live in Kosovo?

This appeared on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 12 March 2007.

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Anyone who has followed Kosovo over the past decade or so knows that public debate on both the Kosovan and Serbian sides is fairly limited. It can seem like two monotones talking past each other: commentary in the media follows those familiar conflict mentality fall-backs of ancient history lessons and attempts to reinforce "our" victimhood. Only rarely does any local commentator really come up with something new to say, despite -- or perhaps because of -- the fast-approaching final status decision. This weekend in Belgrade was one of those rare moments, when a very refreshing opinion piece appeared in a key Serbian newspaper.

The ice-breaking article was written by Ljubisa Rajic, professor at the Belgrade University Faculty of Languages, writing in Politika. The following translation of the piece comes very generously from V.I.P. News which is an invaluable subscription resource. (for more info, email: vipnews@sbb.co.yu)

"More interesting than what is discussed in the negotiations about Kosovo's future status is that which is not discussed, as if all concrete problems would be solved by merely keeping Kosovo in Serbia or by giving it independence. Here, then, are a few simple questions on the supposition that Kosovo does stay in Serbia."

"Albanians in Kosovo have not been participating in Serbia's political life for the past 20 years or so and there is little chance that their political elite will change this stance. Let us suppose, however, that they should do so and that they should have the support of the local Albanian population for doing so. Because of the population structure, Albanian parties would certainly make up the second largest group in the Serbian parliament and it would be practically impossible to form a government without their involvement. But even if this were not so, their leading parties, irrespective of the number of seats they might win, would have to be given a few minor ministries or at least one ministry of symbolic or actual importance, such as the ministry of culture, education, or finance. Is there any political will to do so? Are we prepared to have Agim Ceku as the elected prime minister of Kosovo or Hashim Thaci as a minister in a Serbian government? Is there a political will to allow the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo to have special ties with Albania of the kind that are expected between the [Bosnian Serb] Republika Srpska and Serbia? Is there a will to move some of the important state institutions, such as a whole ministry, into the Albanian-populated part of Kosovo so as to strengthen the Albanians' confidence in the Serbian political system?

"About 40 percent of the Serbian population does not trust the state apparatus. This mistrust, in the case of Albanians, probably comes to 100 percent. Furthermore, Kosovo practically does not have a functional state apparatus. This means that the future apparatus would have to be much more efficient in Kosovo than in Serbia. In order for popular mistrust to be reduced to the average 40 percent, this apparatus would have to be bilingual and reflect the ethnic structure of the population. Does Serbia have enough capable civil servants to ensure the functioning of the state in Kosovo? Does it have enough bilingual civil servants, in view of the fact that, for the past 20 years, Kosovo Albanians have not been learning Serbian nor have Serbs in Kosovo been learning Albanian? Is it possible to organize administrative bodies to reflect the demographic structure when such a thing does not even exist in Vojvodina? What would be done if a civil servant whom local Albanians might recognize as an actual perpetrator of war crimes were to return or be posted to Kosovo? How would one deal with the problem of organized crime, which is much graver in Kosovo than in Serbia? What would be done if Albanian youths refused to do army service, in view of the fact that Serbs that refused to do their army service are still being arrested?

"Some police forces, and perhaps even some military forces from Serbia, might find themselves in Kosovo. KFOR will certainly not withdraw and NATO would demand that police and military units from Serbia should be under KFOR command. Are we prepared to accept this? Are we prepared to accept the KZK [Kosovo Protection Corps; TKM in Albanian] to be incorporated in these forces, since the Gendarmerie comprises former members of the JSO [disbanded Special Operations Unit -- Red Berets] and the SAJ [Special Antiterrorist Unit]? Suppose that police from Serbia were to patrol Pristina or secure a monastery. What would be done if [Self-Determination Movement leader] Albin Kurti were to organize another protest or if a group of Albanians were to attack a monastery? Should the police beg KFOR for help, or should they throw teargas, shoot, or merely look on?

"Only about 5 percent of Kosovo revenues comes from the province's own production; the rest are funds for KFOR, UNMIK, remittances from workers abroad, and proceeds from all sorts of illegal activities. In the early 1980s, mere overheads for running Kosovo came to about 2.5 million dollars a day! Today, the sum is probably double this, on top of which there is a foreign debt, overdue payments on hard-currency deposits, and pensions earned in the meantime. Who would defray all these costs and from what funds? Kosovo probably has the highest unemployment rate in Europe and apparently a rising unemployment rate at that, which constantly generates new problems. Who would deal with this and how? The Serb community will certainly continue to sell their property to Albanians in Kosovo and in central Serbia out of a feeling of insecurity or for good money. Is there a political will to accept the sales as a fact of social and economic life?

"These kinds of practical political, demographic, economic, educational, cultural, and other questions are innumerable. Kosovo is not just territory, churches, monasteries, political symbols, or true or imagined sentiments -- it is also all its people and all its problems, which would all be part of the package. Neither our political elite nor that of the Kosovo Albanians practically ever think about consistency or applicability of individual decisions, about alternative solutions, the cost of their implementation, or their consequences. I am sure that none of the possible relevant questions can be answered in an unambiguous or concrete way either by the Serbian side if Kosovo stays in Serbia, or by the Albanian side if Kosovo gains independence.

"Lastly, a question for those who do not hail from Kosovo, but cannot live without it: have you ever been to Kosovo, would you travel to Kosovo as a tourist, would you move to Kosovo and live there? Let me remind you that the average Englishman answers with three 'nos' when asked similar questions about Northern Ireland."

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