Opinion - Kosovo today: has independence fulfilled the population’s hopes and dreams?

Posted on: 19 February 2018 by Birte Gippert in 2018 posts

Flags from different countries flying in a city

Last weekend, Kosovo-Albanians celebrated the 10th anniversary of their new state’s declaration of independence. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia unilaterally on 17th February 2008, following a decade of practical apartheid in Kosovo from 1989 – 1999 separating Kosovo-Albanians and Kosovo-Serbs, as well as large-scale dismissal of Albanian workers and ethnic cleansing against Kosovo-Albanian civilians.

Albanian names usually have a literal meaning (Fatmira, ‘the lucky’, Mira, ‘the good’, or Krenare, ‘the proud’) so unsurprisingly, children born around February 2008 were named Pavaresia (female version) – meaning ‘independence’.  

The weekend’s festivities included parades, children in traditional outfits, and lots of Kosovo and Albanian flags decorated the capital and adorned the streets and side-walks. 

Have the hopes that independence fostered, been fulfilled?

But amidst the celebrations and happiness, serious questions linger: have the hopes that independence fostered been fulfilled? For some the answer is a straight-forward ‘yes!’: Serbia has been driven out, peace remains, Kosovo has governed itself for the past 10 years, and has seen multiple peaceful, multi-party elections.

Kosovo has a very low crime-rate, the best police force in the region, and has increased the number of states that recognise it to 113 UN members. Also, according to the UN Development Programmes polls, both Albanians and Serbs now consider issues of corruption and unemployment as the most serious threats to Kosovo, no longer ethnic tensions. All of that is true but it is only a partial picture.

Kosovo is peaceful, but that peace was bought at the expense of unity; Kosovo remains geographically divided with the three northern (majority-Serb) provinces effectively ruled by Serbia.

The rest of Kosovo remains ethnically divided with the Serbian-minority refusing to recognise the Pristina government. However, since Serbia stopped paying these Kosovo-Serbs salaries (as an incentive to stay in Kosovo), they have started to engage with the Kosovo state, some even joined the state’s police force. While these Serbs will not officially recognise Kosovo’s independence, they do so practically.

Serbia continues to block international recognition of Kosovo and its ally Russia blocks Kosovo’s UN admittance. Lacking international recognition and admittance to many crucial international organisations hinder much-needed foreign investment and so Kosovo remains the poorest country in the region with unemployment rates of over 50%. The only business that is going well is organised crime.‌ 

A car adorned with flags

Politics is still dominated by the parties that fought for independence

Unless 'little Pavaresia' and has family links to the government (or organised crime), there is little chance of a ‘decent’ job for her. Democracy in Kosovo has taken root but only to the extent that it does not threaten or undermine the traditional patronage-networks established before but strengthened during the war.

Politics is still dominated by the parties that fought for independence (2 parties that emerged from the KLA and one that emerged from the passive resistance) and an increasing gap is emerging between the realities of the population (unemployment, poverty, lacking development) and the elites that somehow seem to prosper (compare the number of Hummer vehicles to that of horse-drawn carts on the roads!).

This is shown in recent election turnouts. A country that fought so hard and long for independence and democracy now sees election turnouts of less that 40% - a clear sign of disillusionment. The unity that Kosovo’s population and elites showed in the fight for independence has been lost since the unifying goal was reached (well, kind of), making space for, well…, for what?

Celebrating is fun and easy but once the debris of the parties has cleared and Monday morning dawns, the lingering questions will re-appear. Where is Kosovo going? Has independence fulfilled the population’s hopes and dreams?

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