Republic Of Kosovo: 15 Years Of Success – Analysis


On February 17 of this year, the Republic of Kosovo celebrated its jubilee 15th birthday. On that day 15 years ago, in 2008, the Declaration of Independence of the youngest European state was adopted and its life span began.

The decades-long aspirations of the Kosovar people for independence have finally been heard and a new, apparently better era for all Kosovar citizens has begun. This year, during the celebration of independence, a session of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo was held, which was attended by all important Kosovo officials such as Prime Minister Albin Kurti, government ministers, President Vjosa Osmani, numerous mayors and diplomatic representatives of foreign countries, including Albanian President Bajram Begaj.

President Osmani stated that “Kosovo today pays tribute to all those who fell in the war for freedom and to all representatives who contributed to the building of the state… Let us remember our sons and daughters, who, having joined the Kosovo Liberation Army, sacrificed their lives in defense of the country and the historical commander Adem Jashari, who led the resistance for freedom. Let’s remember the representatives of the independent institutions of Kosovo who during these 15 years have contributed to the building of democratic life in the country, but also to general peace.” .

Prime Minister Kurti emphasized that the declaration of independence opened a new chapter in history. He pointed out that the struggle for the freedom of the Kosovars was arduous, long-lasting and it would not have been possible to achieve it without the support of the international community. “The Republic of Kosovo arose from the blood of fallen fighters and martyrs and every life given for the freedom of this country, as well as the contribution of those who led and developed the political processes of building the state until today. Our Republic emerged from the famous war of the KLA soldiers, who, through a just war, managed to involve international allies who helped us to free ourselves from the Serbian invaders in 1999,” Kurti pointed out.

The bloody birth of a new nation

15 years in the life of an ordinary person is a long period, while in the historical sense, 15 years in the life of a country is not much. Nevertheless, despite such a relatively short time of existence, it can be stated without reservation that Kosovo is a very successful country. Before considering the current situation in Kosovo, it should never be forgotten that the country was not lucky enough to experience the fate of, say, the Czech Republic or Slovakia, which peacefully separated in 1993.

The separation of Kosovo from Serbia was painful and bloody. The new state was born in a bloody war that followed about a decade of severe Serbian political, economic, cultural and identity repression within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The nationalist authorities of Greater Serbia wanted with all their might to suppress the unique Kosovo identity and aspirations for autonomy, first through peacetime repression (starting with the abolition of Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989), and later a terrible war followed. Serbian terror in Kosovo reached such proportions that even the international community had to intervene militarily in the spring of 1999 to put an end to systematic war crimes, ethnic cleansing, looting, rape and genocide carried out by Serbian military and police units against Kosovars.

We should never forget that the NATO bombing of Serbia would not have happened if the Serbs in Kosovo had behaved humanely. NATO bombing, unfortunately, brought suffering to innocent Serbian civilians, but it was the only solution to prevent even greater victims and suffering of Kosovars. If the international community had reacted in time, Serbia and Montenegro would have been bombed back in 1991 and thus the Great Serbian aggression against Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and, consequently, Kosovo would have been prevented. Thanks to the NATO intervention in 1999, the Yugoslav Army withdrew from Kosovo but left behind burnt land, hundreds of mass graves, more than ten thousand killed civilians, thousands of raped women, while more than half of the population of Kosovo fled. However, with the departure of the occupiers (Serbian troops in Kosovo truly behaved like occupiers), reconstruction could begin slowly but surely.

The position of Kosovo in the international community

In the international arena, the affirmation of Kosovo is not easy since the declared independence is recognized by only about 60% or 101 member states of the UN. Among the countries that do not recognize Kosovo, apart from Serbia, are, for example, the very powerful China, Russia, India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa. As many as 5 EU members did not give their recognition: Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Cyprus and Greece. In other words, the international community has split into two camps: countries that recognize Kosovo and countries that still consider it part of Serbia. After declaring independence, Serbia asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an opinion on the legality of that decision. The ICJ issued an advisory opinion in July 2010 confirming that Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence did not violate general principles of international law or UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Since March 2011, the European Union has been mediating the political dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Initially, negotiators focused on reaching agreement on technical issues to improve living conditions and build trust between Albanians and Serbs. European and American diplomats want to reach a binding agreement between Serbia and Kosovo that would normalize relations and enable both countries to further integrate into the EU. In April 2013, Kosovo and Serbia signed the Brussels Agreement. Serbia undertook to dissolve its parallel structures in Kosovo and allow the north of Kosovo to be integrated into the constitutional and legal order of the state of Kosovo. In return, the Kosovars expressed their readiness to establish an alliance of municipalities with a Serbian majority. That administrative body on the ethnic principle far exceeded the broad rights of the Serbian minority envisaged by Ahtisaari’s plan, and therefore Kosovo’s politicians accepted the idea with suspicion in principle.

Updating the status of Kosovo

The international status of Kosovo was actualized by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, because Pristina follows the Western policy of sanctions against Russia, while Serbia took a neutral status and informally supports Russia. Fears that Kosovo will become a new hotbed of war have prompted foreign diplomats to act. From mid-2022, EU and US envoys are putting pressure on Kosovo and Serbia to reach an agreement on the normalization of relations.

With that agreement, Serbia would stop lobbying against Kosovo’s membership in the UN and other international organizations, and both countries would recognize each other de facto, although not de jure (the case of the two Germanies). The agreement also provides for the formation of the disputed Community of Serb Municipalities, which would be a new political entity of majority Serb municipalities. However, the formation of such a political entity is controversial because the Constitution of Kosovo does not allow the formation of administrative entities based on ethnic principles.

Normalization of relations with Serbia

From 2021, Prime Minister Kurti insists on a policy of “reciprocity” – all regulations concerning Kosovo and Serbia apply equally to both sides – from minority rights to international relations. Instead of the current EU policy of small steps, Kurti wants to agree a comprehensive agreement according to which nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Undoubtedly, Kosovo politicians sincerely want to normalize relations with Serbia and turn a new page of history, but they cannot accept the incorporation of the new Republika Srpska into Kosovo, which would break the cohesion of the state as an autonomous entity, as the RS does in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On the other hand, there is no sincere desire on the Serbian side to normalize relations. Politicians from Belgrade, led by Aleksandar Vučić, only want to buy time until the political picture of the Western Balkans and the world changes, which would give Serbia better chances to obstruct Kosovo as a state. Precisely in order to protect itself from the threat from the north, Pristina wants to become a member of the UN, EU and NATO as soon as possible. Membership in these elite organizations is the greatest guarantee of Kosovo’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is quite clear that Kosovo will never again be a part of Serbia as a whole. Serbian politicians actually hope to mutilate Kosovo by tearing off its northern part. Of course, membership in NATO practically forever destroys such aspirations.

Accession to the UN, EU and NATO

Kosovo is not only a stable democratic state, but also a state with a clearly defined Euro-Atlantic path. In March of last year, President Osmani wrote to US President Biden to use his influence and speed up Kosovo’s accession to NATO: “Kosovo’s membership in NATO has become imperative… We believe and expect that the US will use its influence and leadership to actively support initiation of the complex process of joining Kosovo to NATO.” Pristina signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU in 2015, and in December 2022 submitted an application for EU membership.

In short, Kosovo’s foreign policy goals in the near future are joining the Council of Europe, obtaining formal candidate status for EU entry and NATO integration, and, of course, joining the United Nations, which is the umbrella organization of the international community. It is for these reasons that the Kosovo state is developing on the basis of high Western standards in terms of democracy, human rights, and the rights of national minorities, and encourages private entrepreneurship. It is also clear to the politically blind that sooner or later (it would be better for Serbia if it happened sooner) it will have to give way and Kosovo will join any international organization it wants. When Kosovo joins the European Union and, for example, the World Trade Organization, it will give an additional impetus to the economic boom.

Comprehensive progress of the state

When the unfavorable historical context is taken into account, then the contemporary leaders of Kosovo deserve recognition for the stable and rapid development of their country. They had a difficult job, but they did it well. When you look at the photos of Kosovo from the summer of 1999 and today, the transformation is fascinating. The results are visible and the country progresses year by year in every sense, especially in the fields of democracy, human rights, economic and social development. Kosovo is a country that can serve as an example to many developing countries, as well as developed ones. Pristina can boast of a developed democratic system that is the fairest and most transparent in the area of the Western Balkans (if we exclude Croatia and Slovenia).

Kosovo is a politically stable country. The government led by Kurti and his party Vetëvendosje have a solid majority in the parliament, which enables effective implementation of national policies. National, regional and local elections are regularly held in the country and changes of government occur without delay, not to mention that there are no violent demonstrations or serious incidents. The only problem is the lower representation of women on electoral lists and consequently in positions of power. An increasingly active civil society is developing. Thanks to non-governmental organizations, democracy and a pluralistic society are encouraged, citizens’ participation in the decision-making process, active monitoring of government policies is enabled, and quality public administration and sustainable development are promoted. Civil sector associations also contribute to the implementation of EU reforms. Civil society organizations can critically express their views without pressure from the authorities.

In recent years, notable successes of the government in the fight against organized crime, bribery and corruption have been achieved, and Kosovo is praised by Transparency International. According to the organization’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Kosovo is in 41st place (90th is the best) and is ahead of countries such as North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Ukraine. On the list of countries according to freedom of the press of the organization Reporters Without Borders, Kosovo is on the high 56th place and ahead of countries such as Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Japan, Ukraine, Serbia. The government is implementing important structural reforms such as reforms in health, education, justice, public administration and social welfare. It goes without saying that according to Ahtisaari’s plan, national minorities are positively discriminated against, with a special emphasis on Serbian. For example in the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo, out of 120 representatives, the national minorities have the right to as many as 20 representatives: 10 Serbs, 4 Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, 3 Bosniaks, 2 Turks, and one seat for Gorani.

Economic development

The economic development of Kosovo is strong and the national economy is proving to be very lively and resistant to crises in the environment. Kosovo’s economy is in transition, like all other economies of the former Yugoslav republics. Despite all the problems caused by the war and the mismanagement of the economy during the second and third Yugoslavia, Kosovo’s economy usually records growth from year to year. Kosovo is largely dependent on remittances from the diaspora, assistance from foreign banks, as well as direct foreign investments, which are the best solution to economic difficulties. Although Kosovo is a poor developing country, progress is present and little by little things are moving along a positive path of development. Pristina has signed free trade agreements with neighboring countries such as Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. Macedonia.

The country is a member of CEFTA and the UN organization designated for Kosovo, UNMIK. The government introduced the euro as the national currency on its own initiative in 2002. The euro replaced the German mark, which turned out to be a wise decision due to the stability of the euro as the currency of the European Union. The movement of capital has been largely liberalized and harmonized with the EU acquis. Payment transactions and money transfers are limited to banking and non-banking financial institutions licensed by the Central Bank of Kosovo.

It is expected that Kosovo’s nominal GDP will amount to $9.8 billion this year, last year GDP growth was 3.5%. The largest part of GDP is services (70.4%), followed by industry (17.7%) and agriculture (11.9%). The workforce works mostly in the service sector (about 75%), about 15% of workers work in industry, and about 4% of employees work in agriculture. GDP per capita was $5,300 in 2022. Last year, inflation was a tolerable 11.6%. Kosovo is a country rich in resources. It has huge reserves of lead, zinc, silver, nickel, cobalt, copper, iron and bauxite. The country has the fifth largest lignite reserves in the world and the third largest in Europe. In 2005, the World Bank estimated that Kosovo has 13.5 billion euros worth of minerals. 53% of the country’s surface is agricultural land, 41% is forest land, and 6% is other land. The country is still extremely rural with untouched nature and great potential.

The electric power sector is considered one of the sectors with the greatest development potential. However, it is problematic that it largely depends on coal-fired power plants, so efforts are being made to diversify electricity production, for example wind power plants in Bajgora and Kitka. The most important industrial activities are mining, construction, metal, leather and textile industries. In agriculture, the cultivation of wheat, corn, berries, potatoes, peppers, as well as dairying and animal husbandry, stands out. Last year, the unemployment rate was 16.6%, which is a large number, but it still represents progress, because five years earlier that rate was around 30%. About 18% of the population lives below the poverty line. Public debt amounts to about 20% of GDP. In 2021, Kosovo’s exports amounted to $3.1 billion, and imports to $6.1 billion. The main export partners are the EU, Albania, USA, Serbia and North Macedonia. On the other hand, the countries from which most are imported are the EU, Turkey, China, Serbia and Albania.

From crisis to tourist country

In the last 15 years, despite all the adversities, the independent state of Kosovo has seen growth and development in practically every aspect in which the policy makers put effort. Of course, we are talking about a still poor and relatively backward country that is just adopting the democratic and economic norms of the modern world. However, if the political, social and economic development continues stably in the years to come, then the Kosovo state of 1.8 million inhabitants on a little more than 10,000 square kilometers could become an economic engine not only for itself but also for Montenegro, Albania and Serbia. (if relations improve). External orientation towards Western political and financial institutions along with internal political stability could enable great economic prosperity for this small but resource-rich country.

To some extent, Kosovo can be compared with West Germany and South Korea. Because of their geopolitical interests, the USA and other Western powers have an interest in investing big money, and the Kosovars should take advantage of that. Lately, there has been a development of tourism, which shows that Kosovo could replace its status as a potential crisis hotspot with a country desirable for tourism, as Croatia has done well. Archaeological heritage from the Illyrian, Dardanian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras, traditional Albanian cuisine, unique architecture, cultural heritage and natural landscapes (mountains, canyons, waterfalls, caves) should become a trademark of Kosovo.

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