Experiment with Kosovo: independent state or ‘black hole’ Kosovo Declares Independence

Politics Materials 18 February 2008 17:19 (UTC +04:00)
Experiment with Kosovo: independent state or ‘black hole’      Kosovo Declares   Independence

(RIA Novosti political commentator Ivan Zakharchenko) - MOSCOW The parliament of rebellious Kosovo, a province of the former Yugoslavia, has passed a declaration of intent to become an independent state. Kosovo's independence will become official in March, after it adopts a Constitution, state symbols, and about 30 laws.

Serbia has not controlled Kosovo since 1999, but Kosovo's independence will be relative because it will actually become a protectorate of the European Union (EU). It will receive the EU's economic assistance and host 16,000 NATO soldiers and 1,800 EU policemen.

Their task will be to curb rampant crime, guarantee European order, and protect local Serbs. Nobody knows how long this will last and what the outcome will be.

Not all European countries are rushing to recognize Kosovo's independence. At a session of the UN Security Council held behind closed doors, only five out of its 15 members backed the cessation of the province from Serbia.

The United States is an active supporter of Kosovo's independence. The U.S. press seems to be gloating about Kosovo's cessation and is less concerned about the destiny of the Kosovars, not to mention the local Serbs.

The United States' malicious joy is due to Yugoslavia's final disintegration. To put it mildly, the Serbs have lost, and Russia, a staunch supporter of Serbia's territorial integrity, has got nowhere. In the last few days, American newspapers have been calling Russia either a "growling bear" or an "oil-rich behemoth" unable to counter anything.

This gloating is likely to be forgotten in our age of change and excessive information when Europe will have to pay for Kosovo's independence. Future problems are unlikely to be blamed on those who backed Kosovo's cessation from Serbia with such zeal.

There are about 100,000 Serbs among Kosovo's population of two million, but precise figures are unknown because the census has not been held in a long time.

Western analysts are warning that Kosovo's problems will not end with its declaration of independence. There will still be violence, albeit on a limited scale and mainly on the territory inhabited by Serbs, which may aggravate relations between Europe and Russia.

Will independent Kosovo turn into a prosperous part of Europe, or become an enclave of organized crime? Expert opinions differ, just as the positions of countries.

Kosovo was the poorest province in the economically sound Yugoslavia, and the 1999 war did not improve the situation. In other words, Kosovo does not look like an independent state capable of fending for itself economically.

According to World Bank data for 2007, the average annual per capita income was only $1,600 in Kosovo, 37% of whose population lives on less than 1.42 euros a day, and 15% only on 93 eurocents.

Analysts say that Kosovo separatists disregard economic realities when they speak about independence. But then, these people, the former military adversaries of Serbs, are unlikely to be bothered with economic problems.

Optimists in Europe say that Kosovo has 15 billion metric tons of coal and might export some of it to the energy-hungry southern Europe.

Some expect Kosovars living in other countries to help their home province. It is said that they annually send 450 million euros there.

Verena Knaus, chief analyst at the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a non-profit research and policy institute launched in June 1999 in a Sarajevo cafe, said by phone from Pristina: "Kosovo is existing in economic crisis, which can be characterized by low per capita income, very high unemployment, a very high poverty rate, poor health, and an economy that is dependent on agriculture."

However, the province has an advantage over other countries with similar economies.

"Kosovo is [located] in Europe, and ... has been given a key opportunity, just as all the other countries in the Balkans, that it can join the European Union one day," the expert said.

Knaus said it would take Kosovo at least ten years to reach European standards. In that period, it should boost agriculture and power generation for domestic requirements and exports to neighboring countries.

Knaus also said that Kosovars would be able to work in Europe if enough funds were invested in the education system in the province, because young people make up the bulk of its population, while the rest of Europe is a territory of aging people.

EU officials have sent a special European Union Planning Team for Kosovo (EUPT Kosovo) to the province to restore law and order there. Karin Limdal, its official representative, said the failing judicial system was one of its main problems.

"It's still quite weak, [while] the level of political influence is too high," she said. "Corruption and organized crime are still a problem in Kosovo today."

Some 1,800-1900 policemen, judges and other legal workers are to be deployed in Kosovo, presumably by mid-June when the UN administration, which has been working there since 1999, will hand over its functions to an EU mission and the Kosovo government.

According to press reports, the budget for Kosovo's first year of independence is about 190 million euros.

It is not clear how long the EU mission will stay in Kosovo.

"We have an initial mandate of two years," said Limdal. "If there is the need to stay on, we'll change the mandate. But it's up to the 27 [EU] member states."

However, these explanations do not point to a clear EU strategy of fighting organized crime, poverty and corruption in Kosovo. The trouble is that Europe is using its own yardstick for Kosovo.

Russian experts are not optimistic about Kosovo's future.

Alexei Arbatov, an expert at the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), said the departure of the EU commission would leave "a black hole filled with drugs and smuggling in the heart of the Balkans."

The political consequences of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence for peace and security in Europe and the world are another issue.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of Trend .