Kosovo deadlock: who is to blame and what to do?

Armen OGANESIAN, expert of the Council of Europe, member of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, for RIA Novosti

I am not surprised at the outbreak of ethnic violence in Kosovo. I am surprised at how long that smouldering conflict escaped the attention of politicians in Europe and America. Kosovo is a black hole, in all meanings of the phrase.

Indeed, 90% of its budget was made up of money from foreign sources. A permanent energy crisis is a fact of life in the province. According to international organisations, nearly a half of its population lives on the brink of poverty and 12% suffer from utter poverty. Some 60-70% of the working population are unemployed, which puts Kosovo on a par with the poorest countries of the world. Its industrial facilities work to no more than 30% of their capacity, with the construction industry being the only more or less normally operating branch. Local Albanians are building on the land deserted by Serbs or remodel their houses. About 40,000 houses have been built for Albanians in Kosovo and only 40, for Serbs.

What is the reason for this situation? After the end of the military campaign against Milosevic, the UN assumed control of Kosovo. At that time, the development model for the province was based on attracting investment. All kinds of travelling agents hurried into the province, offering their business plans for restoring the war-ravaged Kosovo economy. But none of these plans was effective. The basic reason for this was abuse, and actually misappropriation, of funds provided from the EU, the World Bank and other institutions. According to the International Crisis Group, about half of these funds was put into criminal projects.

There were two other development models, which were suggested later. The European model was presented by Michael Steiner, former head of UNMIK, who thought that the status of Kosovo, which the UN resolution defines as an inalienable part of Serbia, should be determined by the formula "standards first, status later." In other words, first the province should develop standards of a multiethnic society with effective democratic institutions, representative bodies of power, free press, and so on. Only after that the province's status could be discussed.

The other model was provided by the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies, whose experts believe that nothing will change in Kosovo until the issue of its status is solved. That is, the Americans are ready to leave the issue to the local self-government. The model also actually stipulates a review of the UN resolution.

But talking about the Kosovo status is absurd. Ask yourself: Who stands to gain from the recent developments in the province? The answer is obvious. Take the statement made by the leader of Kosovo Albanians, Ibrahim Rugova, immediately after the recent bloodshed. He said in a peremptory manner that chaos and anarchy in Kosovo would only stop when the issue of its status had been settled. But how can one discuss status of Kosovo when it is an inalienable part of Serbia and Montenegro? Besides, the province's economy is in shambles, with mass unemployment, local drug traffickers delivering narcotics to Europe, corruption, trade in counterfeit tobacco (probably the most profitable business in the province), and environmental and energy problems. Only God could make the world out of chaos.

So, what will happen now? Regrettably, none of the suggested normalisation models is effective in Kosovo, also because they clash with each other. The second and most important reason is that the UN administration and peacekeeping forces have been put in a tricky situation in the province. Those who have the mandate to carry out UN Security Council resolution 1244 cannot implement it because the majority of the local population, including officials and military, think it is unrealistic to view Kosovo as part of Serbia.

Here is one more thing that shocked me during my visit to the province: the memoirs of field commanders of the prohibited Kosovo Liberation Army are openly sold in Pristina book vendors. There are men with guns on the front covers of these memoirs, which are crammed with nationalist slogans, calling for the elimination of the Serbs, and the production of maps of Greater Albania. And KFOR patrols pass unheeding past that chauvinistic scribble. There is actually no ban on the use of hate language in Kosovo. No wonder that the recent outburst of violence was "an outburst against everything Serbian," as a senior policeman put it.

It will be extremely difficult to find a solution to the situation in Kosovo, but the global community cannot permit its efforts there to have no or, worst still, negative results. So, some development model must be applied and the European one (standards first, status later) seems more appropriate. It is impossible to imagine that the explosive mixture of mutual hatred, unemployment, crime and illegal trade in the absence of social infrastructure, which has been accumulating in Kosovo for years, will disappear of its own volition after the announcement of the province's status. The UN will not resort to this blind trust in the political magic of words, which has already played its trick on Kosovo. Should we step on the same rake twice?

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