23rd Jul 2019


Kosovo: Living in a ghetto on the EU fringe

  • Pristina: Isolated? No problem, we will have visa-free travel next year. I mean the year after that. I mean … (Photo: cindy-dam)

When in 2008 Kosovo declared independence there were five words that every politician had to say.

“Integration into the European Union” was the refrain we heard almost every day from Kosovo’s leaders and from everyone else who visited Kosovo in the past eight years.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

EU integration was the answer to all of Kosovo’s problems and anxieties. Have no jobs? No problem, we will join EU and there will be plenty. Have no functioning economy? No problem, the EU market will fix it.

Isolated? No problem, we will have visa-free travel next year. I mean the year after that. I mean …

Corruption high? The EU will also fix this - they don’t let corrupt governments become EU members (do they? Bulgaria. Romania).

We’ve listened to stuff from our corrupt elites for too long. The EU panacea is wearing thin.

The false rhetoric was only meant to distract people while politicians built up their fortune. By misusing authority and power, they and their relatives won public tenders, opened businesses and became shareholders in different companies.

Their children became models and fashion designers, studied in expensive schools and travel the world flaunting their luxury lifestyles.

They also pretend to be role models for Kosovar society and have the nerve to talk about patriotism and morality.

Meanwhile, ordinary Kosovars have become poorer and poorer.

The old live their last days on pensions that insult their dignity and shame the conscience of right-thinking people.

The young become statistics in the 35 percent unemployment rate. They dream of the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

But in the words of the hit pop song by Lords they “will never be royals, it doesn’t run in their blood, that kind of luxe just ain't for them.”

Last year, foreign investments were just €80 million. That’s a drop of 80 percent on the €400 million that we saw in 2008. Our GDP grew by 3 percent last year. The figure was 8 percent in 2008.

Hashim Thaci, the ex-prime minister, now president, and his clique in the PDK party, did the most to create this mess. But despite his shameful legacy and despite teargas and street protests he is now our head of state.

It’s an environment in which radical ideas thrive.

While all the economic indicators are falling, the far-left Vetëvendosje [Self-determination] party, or movement, is on the rise. It doesn’t recognise Kosovo’s flag or the idea of a multiethnic Kosovo.

For most Kosovar Albanians, these ideas belong to the past. They’ve learned the bloody cost of nationalism. But the current choice - between a corrupt and useless elite and a radical opposition - has no good option.

The EU and US are doing little to change the situation.

By supporting the old elite, they stymie reform.

By isolating 1.8 million Kosovars in the middle of Europe behind a visa wall they make their lives even more grim.

It’s true that many Kosovars today are poor and unemployed. But for us, the war ended in 1999, not 1945. We had limited opportunities for education. Our schools were closed and demolished.

It’s not about feeling sorry for yourself. The visa situation is humiliating and demoralising.

When the EU doesn’t deliver on key issues like this, then all its promises seem empty. For many Kosovars the EU doesn’t seem real because they have never had the chance to travel there.

It is a moving shadow they can never catch. The more they try, the further away it goes.

This closed-door approach has contributed to pushing many Kosovars to turn their eyes to the east and to believe that perhaps Istanbul, not Brussels, can do more to help.

To make things even worse, in 2014 the EU decided to rename DG [directorate-general] Enlargement to Neighbourhood Policy. The change of name meant also a change in the EU’s priorities.

If Balkan leaders start thinking the EU has an alternative agenda, reform will stop.

Enlargement is the EU’s most successful foreign policy instrument and to keep it working the prospect of membership should be open and real.

But it takes two to tango. So far, the Balkans have been following the EU’s lead and no economic crisis, no matter how big it is shouldn’t fade or diminish its leading role, because others, like Turkey and Russia, will fill the void.

Slowing the pace of integration is not the answer for the Balkans. Lifting visas will not magically solve all of Kosovo’s problems, but it will be a step in the right direction.

Jeton Zulfaj is a graduate from Lund University in Sweden, with a masters in European Affairs


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Kosovo tribunal must investigate Serb crimes

A new tribunal in The Hague is an insult to the victims of Serb crimes in the Kosovo war. Its mandate must be extended to cover Serb atrocities if the West really wants justice.

EU and US need new Kosovo game plan

Kosovo is in the middle of its most serious political clash since the war. But the West's Serbia-first policy and its boycott of Kosovo opposition leaders is making matters worse.

Weber: Six proposals in wake of Spitzenkandidat process

I will not lament the decision-making process that resulted in a package deal on the new leadership in Europe. I respect this result, which was in accordance with the treaties and therefore not undemocratic, albeit unsatisfactory.

News in Brief

  1. UK foreign office minister quits ahead of Johnson as PM
  2. AKK to boost Bundeswehr budget to Nato target
  3. Police arrest 25 after Polish LGBT-march attack
  4. Ukrainian president's party tops parliament election
  5. EU interior ministers to meet in Paris on migration
  6. Schinas nominated as Greek commissioner
  7. Sea-Watch captain hopes for change in EU migrant rules
  8. Russia willing to join EU payment scheme on Iran deal

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. As Johnson set to become PM, ministers pledge to resign
  2. Poland's PiS prepares 'failsafe' for October election
  3. Abortion Wars
  4. EU goes on holiday as new UK PM arrives This WEEK
  5. Survey: Half of EU staff 'don't know' ethics rules
  6. Von der Leyen signals soft touch on migrants, rule of law
  7. Timmermans: von der Leyen will be tough on rule of law
  8. Timmermans trolls 'idiot' Brexit negotiators

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us