News: Kosovo, the Birth of a Nation

This is a story from "L.", a friend working in Kosovo. The story of Kovoso's independence, seen from within.

Friday Feb 15, 2008.

It's the coldest day of this year, 2008.... Last night, as we were all holding our breath waiting to see what would happen during the meeting of the Assembly, it started snowing... At first it was really light, almost invisible, but little by little it came down in heaps... We've all been joking that the icing on the cake would be an electricity cut just when they're making the announcement. Lately, it's gone back to 5 - 7, 9 - 11 or 11 - 1, depending on the areas.

We're going to one of our favorite places, Tirona, a restaurant where there aren't many 'internationals', where they serve you fried fish and they've got the best rajkia. The owner, who's a friend, has the TV on. We're all staring at the screen. Well! we finally understand that the Assembly hasn't decided anything.. And the electricity is cut at 11 pm....

This month, the past few weeks - we've all been waiting, waiting for someone to make a move, and yesterday, long-held emotions started emerging. The uncertainty of what would happen with the OSCE and with the work takes a back seat. Little by little we're only talking about when it'll be, what day...
Rumors start, and there's only one thing here that travels faster than light and the air that our lungs breath in, and that's the rumors.. Whish! Just like a match that lights and is used up in a matter of seconds. Rumors that the announcement may be on Friday...

My colleague leaves work since he has to go to Gjilana to pick up his parents and bring them to Pristina. Just in case, as he doesn't want to be caught off guard if the announcement comes through when he's passing by Gracanica, one of the biggest Serbian enclaves a few kilometers away from Pristina. At 1.30 pm everything stops.

Everyone is aware there is a press conference set up by Thaci. But at the end, we all just heave again.... nothing! Thaci, like any good politician, well trained by the west (who also knows how to justify himself and sell the importance of human rights and his protection) simply announces that the new Kosovar state will always respect and protect minorities... Boooorriiinnggg! No-one would ever believe that, but he's got to say it. Just like the Serbs say they are concerned for the Kosovar Serbs while they couldn't have been more neglected and forgotten. In the Serbian enclave of North Mitrovica, the unemployment rates are soaring.

The OSCE has a month-old new 'minorities' program that's been tasking us left, right and centre to sell this new concept. Yet to the Russians, to the Serbs, to those that do not want to hear of us taking part and ensuring that our priority is working for the minorities.. Anyways... The next time we're betting on is 11.30 pm... Not quite there yet, the people sigh.. It's calm on the streets. It's snowing and sooooo cold! Since midday, businesses have started putting up Albanian flags.. The storefronts and balconies are filled with red and black flags...

Saturday Feb 16, 2008.

Pristina awakens, below zero and ready to explode.... In the media, it says that the EU has finally approved a civilian mission to be deployed from February until June (ahhh, we finally have a reference point... June, June... You've got to read between the lines).. Just like Thaci's announcement that Sunday, 17 January, will be the long-awaited declaration, the intention, the independence??? We, the internationals, have our instructions... Not really clear but instructions nonetheless, of what our behavior should be like... Of course, these instructions have reached the media (look at the above reference to 'rumors and gossip'... this is just so internalized!!)... The OSCE is neutral and after the declaration, celebrations are expected... Our chief of security says that during these celebrations, there will be "happy shooting" and then as an afterthought, he says since all what goes up must come down, we need to stay inside..

There have been other messages from the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General. He's saying that UNMIK (under which the OSCE falls) cannot take any sides and as a result, we must abstain from participating in any activities or festivities in an official capacity... Anyways, now, to avoid press infiltrations - there are no more written messages.. more rumors that we've been instructed not to celebrate in public or in private, no DANCING???? At least, they haven't forbidden us from drinking.. Better than nothing... And we still don't know whether we should be at work or not on Monday... If we don't, does that mean we've taken a side? Or can it be disguised as a 'security issue'? But c'mon, there haven't been any security problems... At least not in Pristina. We're really lucky.

Today, the streets of Pristina were packed.. Usually when the weekend arrives, there is a mass exodus of internationals to Greece, Montenegro, Bulgaria or wherever. In a calmer fashion the Kosovars that come to work in Pristina during the week, go home on the weekends to the towns to be with their families... Today, however, there's a commotion, people frozen yet happy, cars filled with flags...

Today is a great day for the United States. Today in Kosovo is the second place in the world where the USA's adored.. Today's not a good day to be Spanish, Greek, nor Russian... Io, io sono Italiana!!! [Me, me, I am Italian!]Or maybe I should change my name to Mary or Amy and put on a stronger American accent... Nah, no way!!!! Car horns, traffic jams, firecrackers.. Can't help but smile for the people. Who am I to say whether they are ready or not for a state.... I'm not morally justified to say anything.. Yet I can support and feel a lot of love for this place that we've been 'protecting', 'taking care of', we command it and are at the mercy of it, knowing full well that this day would come...

This place needs love. Like so many in this precious world of ours, hurting and screaming from pain, forgotten by the rest, but home to all... Yes, it needs a lot of love, like everyone. There are no security problems. But that doesn't mean I'm not full alert... For the first time today, I've turned on my handheld radio, but there's nothing, no news.. Hey! someone just said something!! Yay!!!... "Pero I can't hear anything..." "Repeat, over, over..." Nothing... I can still hear the horns in the streets... Yesterday I went to the supermarket since it would be three days of celebrations, partying.. I have bottled water, money, my passport, credit on the phone, my Spanish mobile on and what else?? Well nothing, as we're the privileged ones in Pristina... To the north, where the river Ibar passes, there could be problems... The KFOR/NATO soldiers are deployed to risky places, fully equipped in their armored vehicles,.. In their element, I suppose, since the military does need a conflict, right?

Serbian ministers have been sent out to all the Serbian enclaves. In Mitrovica today, a group of Serbian ministers are gathering to prevent any problems, to calm people down, but as a good friend of mine says: "Mitrovica doesn't belong to anyone, they've been abandoned by the Serbs and of course, by the Albanians..." And when there's neglect, the emptiness is filled by weapons, that's basic survival instinct. Either they protects themselves or nothing. That's a pressure cooker there.

As for the rest of the place, it's filled with Albanians from all over, filled with excited people, already celebrating. Filled with journalists crammed into the Hotel Grand Pristina... The great circus of journalists looking for stories to sell, sniffing out stories from street corners, taking the best photo that'll come out in the front pages.,You go out to the streets and they'll stick a camera in your face... Such a pain! I feel like this place is my home and it exasperates me that people come to exploit it. Actually, a load of Internationals have escaped and there's just a few of us that didn't want to miss the birth of the first country in the 21st century, to go with these people who waited, who dreamed, who worked for a free Kosovo. They don't care what may happen tomorrow. Here the important thing is not to be part of Serbia, the Serbia that humiliated them, massacred them, held them back.... They don't forget... But does suffering, having been a victim, justify everything?

On TV, they don't stop putting the war documentaries, the refugee camps, it's their day today... It's fine by me... They know they'll have hard times, even worse, but they take it on, they accept it, because there's no other way. This is what we've been telling them.. "You're going to be independent". And what happens to the defeated minority (since thanks to us, it was the Albanian guerrillas that won...)?? The worse thing is that no one cares, starting with the Serbia they keep calling out to. If Serbia's putting money in, supporting parallel structures, it's only to mess with the others. And all of this will preempt future conflicts? Would it be better if they continue being a part of Serbia and then all of them a part of the EU? This region's a power keg, it's in the air, in the earth, in the blood of these people, from Bosnia to Albania... And what do we get out of this? Some become allies that can have one more place to plant secret bases, others take this opportunity to show off their power...

Anyways, at least they've sorted out the international legal issues... Since resolution 1244 continues to be in force... Until there's another resolution from the Security Council, which there won't be, 1244 will continue applying. It indicates the UN Secretariat is authorized to establish, with the assistance of the relevant international organizations, an international civil presence in Kosovo.... Well we'll go from being UNMIK to the EU, which will help implement the Athisaari Plan although it wasn't part of the Security Council's resolution. All the laws linked to this plan are ready and tomorrow, the Assembly will pass them. The state will invite the EU to come in and provide support. And of course they'll do it, since they need the EU's financial assistance. They're not as stupid as to create substantial problems that may jeopardize this. The danger, or better said alarming situation in the North, worries them while in the south, there's celebration, happiness...

All these emotions, I'm exhausted and happy. I haven't fulfilled what I'm here to do, but I'll do all that I can to get as much as I can ready... To me, this is the countdown... I don't really know the countdown to what, but without a doubt it will be a countdown to my leaving this place which has given me so much, which still gives me for the future.. I feel a little sorry, but I'm excited and I've got the strength, faith, always with peace and love... Tomorrow I'll go out to celebrate, to the street, to watch, to soak in this experience, in this birth.... Because tomorrow, Kosovo will be independent.

The follow-up story of "L", you find here.

Thanks again for the story, "L". And flowers to "E", for the translation!
Pictures courtesy AP (Bela Szandelszky, Darko Bandic), Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse-Getty Images


Anonymous,  09 March, 2008 13:26  

Kosovo auf Deutsch

By David Binder

Forget about status negotiations for a moment. The near-term outlook for Kosovo is unalterably grim: an economy stuck in misery; a bursting population of young people with “criminality as the sole career choice;” an insupportably high birthrate; a society imbued with corruption and a state dominated by organized crime figures.

These are the conclusions of “Operationalizing of the Security Sector Reform in the Western Balkans,” a 124-page investigation by the Institute for European Policy commissioned by the German Bundeswehr and issued last January. This month the text turned up on a weblog. It is labeled “solely for internal use.” Provided one can plow through the appallingly dense Amtsdeutsch - “German officialese” - that is already evident in the ponderous title, a reader is rewarded with sharp insights about Kosovo.

Occasionally a flicker of human frustration with the intractability of Kosovo’s people appears in the stolid German text. That reminded me of an encounter 44 years ago in the fly-specked cafeteria of Pristina’s Kosovski Bozur Hotel, occupied by a lone guest drinking a beer. He introduced himself as an engineer from Germany.

What was he doing here?” I inquired. “Ich verbloede,” he replied - “I am stupefying myself.” - (or, I am making myself stupid).

In this text, the authors make clear that Germany’s interest in Kosovo rests on its “geographic proximity” and its roles as the most important supplier of troops and provider of money for the province. Failure would mean “incalculable risks for future foreign and security policy” of the Federal Republic. The authors point out a “grotesque denial of reality by the international community” about Kosovo, coupling that with the warning of “a new wave of unrest that could greatly exceed the level of escalation seen up to now.”

The institute authors, Mathias Jopp and Sammi Sandawi, spent six months interviewing 70 experts and mining current literature on Kosovo in preparing the study. In their analysis the political unrest and guerrilla fighting of the 1990s led to basic changes which they call a “turnabout in Kosovo-Albanian social structures.” The result is a “civil war society in which those inclined to violence, ill-educated and easily influenced people could make huge social leaps in a rapidly constructed soldateska.”

“It is a Mafia society” based on “capture of the state” by criminal elements. (”State capture” is a term coined in 2000 by a group of World Bank analysts to describe countries where government structures have been seized by corrupt financial oligarchies. This study applied the term to Montenegro’s Milo Djukanovic, by way of his cigarette smuggling and to Slovenia, with the arms smuggling conducted by Janez Jansa). In Kosovo, it says, “There is a need for thorough change of the elite.”

In the authors’ definition, Kosovan organized crime “consists of multimillion-Euro organizations with guerrilla experience and espionage expertise.” They quote a German intelligence service report of “closest ties between leading political decision makers and the dominant criminal class” and name Ramush Haradinaj, HashimThaci and Xhavit Haliti as compromised leaders who are “internally protected by parliamentary immunity and abroad by international law.” They scornfully quote the UNMIK chief from 2004-2006, Soeren Jessen Petersen, calling Haradinaj “a close and personal friend.” UNMIK, they add “is in many respects an element
of the local problem scene.”

They cite its failure to improve Kosovo’s energy supply, and “notable cases of corruption that have led to alienation from Kosovo public and to a hostile picture of a colonialist administration.” They describe both UNMIK and KFOR as infiltrated by agents of organized crime who forewarn their ringleaders of any impending raids. “The majority of criminal incidents do not become public because of fear of reprisals.

Among the negative findings listed are:

The justice system’s 40,000 uncompleted criminal cases;

The paucity of corruption-crime investigations (10-15 annually);
The province’s 400 gas stations (where 150 would suffice), many of which serve as fronts for brothels and money-changing depots;

A Kosovo Police Service “dominated by fear, corruption and incompetence”;

The study sharply criticizes the United States for “abetting the escape of criminals” in Kosovo as well as “preventing European investigators from working.” This has made Americans “vulnerable to blackmail.” It notes “secret CIA detention centers” at Camp Bondsteel and assails American military training for Kosovo (Albanian) police by Dyncorp, authorized by the Pentagon.

In an aside, it quotes one unidentified official as saying of the American who is deputy chief of UNMIK, “The main task of Steve Schook is to get drunk once a week with Ramush Haradinaj.”

Concerning the crime scene the authors conclude that “with resolution of the status issue and the successive withdrawal of international forces the criminal figures will come closer than ever to their goal of total control of Kosovo.”

Among the dismal findings of the German study are those on the economy:

Sinking remission of money from Kosovans working abroad, a primary source of income for many Kosovo families, pegged now at 560 million euros per annum;

Some 88 percent of the land now in private ownership, meaning ever more sub dividing of plots, usually among brothers, leading to less and less efficient agriculture;

Proliferation of NGOs - now numbering 2,400 – the great bulk of which exist for shady purposes;

A hostile climate for foreign investors, frightened by political instability and the power of mafia structures.

A central issue in Kosovo is an “inexhaustible supply of young people without a future and therefore ready for violence,” the study says. The only remedy for dealing with this “youth bulge” is to open northern Europe’s gates to young Kosovans seeking jobs, the authors say.

In anticipation of a transfer of oversight from the UN to the European Union, the authors warn: “the EU is in danger of following too strongly in the wake of a failed UN and to disintegrate under the inherited burden unless they make an open break with practices and methods of UNMIK.” One of the experts they interviewed put it more bluntly: “the EU is inheriting from UNMIK a fireworks store filled with pyromaniacs.”

In the estimate of the authors neither NATO nor the EU or UN appear capable of self examination, much less self-criticism. The authors draw a picture of self-satisfied incompetents in all international organizations dealing with Kosovo.

However, in their depiction, Kosovans appear equally beholden to legend - in their case of historic exploitation - such that if they finally achieve independence, all will suddenly be well. In the past Kosovans could and did always blame somebody else for their troubles: Ottomans, Yugoslavs, Serbs. Now they have begun to blame UNMIK. But what will happen if they have only themselves to blame?


*David Binder (born 1931) was a correspondent for The New York Times from 1961 until 2004. He specialized in coverage of central and eastern Europe, based in Berlin, Belgrade and Bonn.

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