17th Aug 2019

One year after independence, Kosovo needs 'a revolution'

  • Kosovo proclaimed independence on 17 February 2008 (Photo: Wikipedia)

One year after its declaration of independence, Kosovo has surprised observers by remaining stable but it has yet to tackle the profound reforms it needs to make it a viable state.

When it unilaterally seceded from Serbia on 17 February 2008, many voiced fears about the future of the young state and about possible outbursts of violence between Kosovo's Albanian majority and its minority Serb population, loyal to Belgrade.

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This is why "the stability that was preserved" is undisputedly Kosovo's main achievement during this one year, Ilir Dugolli, Kosovo's envoy in Brussels, told EUobserver.

"We have to go back more than a year ago and think about all the warnings that were coming ahead of the declaration of independence. That it would be a criminal state, a state that cannot sustain itself, or that there were going to be waves of refugees, expelled [Kosovo] Serbs and so on," Mr Dugolli said, highlighting the contrast between those "dire scenarios" and the reality on the ground.

But despite the relatively stable security situation acknowledged by many observers, Kosovo still has considerable challenges to face, both internally and internationally.

It has only been recognised by 54 out of the United Nations' 192 members, including the US and 22 EU member states, but excluding five EU countries – Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia.

This significantly impedes Kosovo's access to international institutions.

In addition, analysts note that economically and socially Kosovo has in fact changed very little during its first year of existence as an independent state.

'Revolution' needed

"Many of the big problems that were there before… have not been addressed, obviously," said Verena Knaus, a Pristina-based analyst from the European Stability Initiative (ESI) – a non-profit policy institute known for its analyses and research work on South East Europe.

Electricity problems, bad infrastructure, poor rural and economic development, high levels of poverty and unemployment still exist, she pointed out noting that a dramatic improvement in education is needed to build "a competitive Kosovo.".

For ESI chairman Gerald Knaus, it is also "striking how little has changed" in the country in terms of its development in the past year.

"Kosovo as it is today needs a revolution. It needs a social revolution, an economic and institutional revolution," Mr Knaus told EUobserver.

"What you really need is that in 50 years, people in Kosovo all do different things from what they do today. They know different skills, they produce different goods, [and] the institutions work differently," he added.

Meanwhile, Dutch Green MEP Joost Lagendijk, in charge of the Kosovo dossier for the European parliament, was cautiously optimistic.

Despite the "enormous amount of work still to be done…things have started working," Mr Lagendijk said.

He notably pointed out that although "the EU took a very long time" to react in Kosovo, it now "finally seems to be moving" and could assist Kosovo in its reforms.

EULEX – the EU's police and justice mission to Kosovo – is one element of the bloc's presence in Kosovo that could eventually be "a success," the MEP stressed.

After several delays, EULEX has been fully operational throughout Kosovo since 9 December, taking over police, justice and customs tasks from United Nations personnel.

But the fact that it was slow to start, in addition to Belgrade's intervention in the process, means that the EU mission has lost some credibility on the ground, Ms Knaus said.

An EU future for Kosovo?

Alongside its internal problems, another important stumbling block for the young country today is the EU's failure to unanimously recognise it as an independent state.

"The problem of Kosovo one year after independence is that it still lacks a credible EU perspective," which it cannot be given "as long as the EU is divided on what Kosovo is," Mr Knaus said.

Such an approach risks "deepening the isolation of Kosovo," he warned.

For his part, Mr Dugolli admitted the lack of full EU recognition was an important issue, but expressed confidence that it would eventually be solved, paving to way for Pristina's full membership of the bloc in the long term.

A Gallup survey published last November revealed that among the citizens from the western Balkans, Kosovars were the most optimistic in terms of their country's EU future.

They were almost unanimously in favour of EU membership – at 89 percent. But Mr Dugolli warned that if there is no "specific concrete progress" then this support is likely to diminish.

No World Cup yet

Together with the lack of unanimity among EU members on recognising the continent's youngest country, the more general lack of consensus in the United Nations has also been creating practical hurdles for Pristina.

Kosovo has no area code today, and if one wants to reach somebody in Kosovo by phone, they have to dial Serbia's area code for landlines, and Monaco's for mobiles.

In addition, Kosovars cannot enjoy the privilege of cheering for their football team during the Euro or World football championships, because Kosovo must be a UN member in order to be allowed into both UEFA and FIFA.

"First of all, it is unfair to those people for whom sports is their life. It is unfair to be prevented, to be isolated," said Mr Dugolli, himself a sports fan.

But he was confident this would progressively change and could "certainly" imagine a match between Kosovo and Serbia one day in the future.

For its part, Serbia has repeatedly said it would never recognise its former province as a sovereign state and has vowed to block it from membership to international institutions.

EU split on Western Balkans accession

Europe's credibility is at risk in the Western Balkans, half its member states have warned - but EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Albania and North Macedonia unlikely to start accession talks soon.

Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal

Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, Serbia's foreign minister has said, as the Western Balkans heads into a new period of turbulence.

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