Is Kosovo ready for legitimate independence?

Almost five years after the international community first launched its programs of democratization and civil society development in Kosovo, Albanians proved this March not only how strong their desire for independence is, but also how grave and indiscriminate their means for achieving that independence are. It was rather shocking that the province made headlines again after a relatively long period of seeming calm. Has the international community failed in its efforts to civilize Kosovo’s ethnic majority, and is Europe about to face a new banana-nation utterly incapable of being a legitimate actor in the international arena?

It was equally shocking, if not mildly entertaining, to listen to Ilir Dugolli, Kosovo’s prime minister’s top policy adviser and a Yale World Fellow, speak at a Trumbull Master’s Tea earlier this month about his young years “fighting the reality that was suffocating him” and then overlook some important events that followed. While I am delighted that Mr. Dugolli managed to survive this political and intellectual suffocation, I think we all already agreed that the Milosevic years were not the highlight of Serbian statehood and that his harsh nationalist ideology was painfully felt by the Kosovo Albanians as well as many others across the Balkans. It was nice, however, to have the top man of Kosovo’s policy share his grief with us over tea and cookies. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that Mr. Dugolli only nonchalantly touched on the painful fact that the past five years of the Albanian majority’s de facto shielding by the international presence in Kosovo were more than just “suffocating” for the local Serbs.

While I was generously applying Kleenex at Mr. Dugolli’s touching stories of Albanian underground schools and Serb-Albanian friendships that “broke for some reason,” I couldn’t help remembering how strongly the entire Serb population in Kosovo, as well as entire Serbia, was shaken by the shocking statistics of the March violence. In the period from March 16-22, 2004, raging hordes of Albanian paramilitary and civilians burned down 30 Serbian churches and 286 homes, damaged 11 churches and monasteries and destroyed 72 U.N. vehicles in an organized ordeal that even well-trained NATO troops were unable to stop. An estimated 51,000 people took part in the 33 unrests over the six-day period, resulting in 163 arrests for destroying and damaging of private property, murder and other criminal activities. It is further noted that an estimate of at least 3,600 Serbs and non-Albanians were displaced during the six days of violence that left seven Serbian villages burned to the ground.

This would have been no different from the usual images that used to come from the Balkans and turn average Westerners’ stomachs upside-down with pictures of genocide and mass graves had it not starred the Serbian nation’s most sacred sites. It might be helpful to note that Kosovo’s churches and monasteries represent the symbol of Serbian nationhood, and include cultural and religious sites from as early as the 12th century. Kosovo is also the symbol of the Serbian state, and is commonly seen by Serbs as the battlefield for defending their national and state interests ever since the 14th century famous Kosovo battle after which the Ottoman Empire conquered Serbia.

While the overwhelming majority of international officials were joyfully praising the “strengthening of democracy” and “building of sustainable civil institutions in Kosovo,” and looking forward to the oh-so-wonderfully united European family, March 2004 unfortunately brought a serious question back to the table: Are the Kosovo Albanians really ready to join us in the foreseeable future? Or perhaps more importantly: Is it really a good idea to leave them alone any soon? Aside from the facts that Kosovo’s sustainable economy is virtually nonexistent and that a large majority of its population is uneducated and unskilled, the real question is whether these people possess the core skill of learning in the context of a civilized social interaction. Most Western taxpayers must find it particularly offensive that their money spent over a five-year period to bring about social order in Kosovo was basically flushed down the toilet with the March 2004 violence. It would be reasonable to expect that five years is long enough for the Albanians to grasp the basic concepts of law and order before claiming that independence is the only viable solution for the current stalemate on the Kosovo issue. Or at least this is what I hear from their top policymaker.

While I genuinely feel for Albanians as well as other victims of Milosevic’s regime and respect their refusal to identify with the Serbian state they are a part of, I cannot see Kosovo as a legitimate member of the international community anytime soon. While an afternoon chit-chat on Milosevic being the bad guy is always a welcome pastime, I think that Kosovo’s policy wizards should focus on building a stable economy as well as changing the dangerous Albanian mindset. Only such a Kosovo might be a legitimate claimant of independence in the eyes of the international community. In the meantime, please pass the Kleenex.



Admir Duran is a junior in Trumbull College. He worked on projects of democratization and civil society development in the Balkans with the U.N., USAID and the British government.

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