If Kosovo Fails, the West Fails

Posted in Europe , NATO , UN | 22-Apr-04 | Author: Klaus Becher

Houses burn in the village of Caglavica, Kosovo, following clashes between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs in March 2002
A bout of orchestrated ethnic killings last month and the recent lethal firefight between UNMIK security forces from Jordan and the US in the divided town of Mitrovica brought Kosovo back to the headlines, if only briefly. This is unlikely to change the trend that Kosovo is rapidly sliding down the priority list of political leaders.

However, Kosovo is more than a speck of land in the Balkans. Success and failure of the international community in resolving the complicated issues there in a credible, determined and sustained effort also circumcribes the perspectives for progress in other regions. Lest one forget, Kosovo, Iraq and Israel/Palestine all were part of the Ottoman empire just a hundred years ago. Ignoring such given linkages necessarily limits the chance for reaching desired outcomes in places where there is much more at stake, such as in Iraq.

In the Balkans, the apparent loss of strategic unity within Europe, across the Atlantic, and in the UN over Iraq is again encouraging the enemies of freedom, tolerance and democracy to relaunch their genocidal ambitions. The enormous progress made during the last ten years, at high cost, in providing a peaceful, democratic and prosperous perspective to the peoples of Southeast Europe looks incrasingly threatened again.

The approach chosen after the international intervention of 1999 was to leave the final status of Kosovo open for negotiations with a democratic government in Belgrade in the framework of an integrated European future for the whole region, insisting that borders must not be changed by force and ethno-religious heterogeneity must not be destroyed by expulsion and partition. Given the realities on the ground -- including extremist agitation, fear and hatred, stark social and economic contrasts, corruption and crime -- this is a demanding long-term project that can only succeed with firm awareness of its strategic importance for Europe and the West as a whole.

The international administration in Kosovo, suffering from financial and political neglect by the major powers as well as from its own aloofness, arrogance, bureaucratic self-absorption, and glaring lack of democratic legitimacy and power, has so far largely failed to create a sense of local ownership of the transformation process. It does not currently provide an attractive model for possible future transitional administrations, including in such even more demanding places as Iraq or Palestine. Multilateralism, while trumpeted by many in the world as the only acceptable way of running things, does not at the moment present itself as a sufficiently effective tool.

It is time now to correct this impression in time in the relatively benign environment Kosovo provides, and restore the strong, united political vision for Kosovo, Serbia and the Balkans region, backed by a credible, patient and determined international commitment. This does not require new ideas or plans, nor much money. All it takes is to renew the visible and credible effort to strengthen the rule of law, encourage civic responsibility, provide public transparency, bring illicit economic activities under the law and crush organised crime, empower the people (through access to information, public services, credit and the political process), maintain security, and uphold the prospect of European integration. There is much more at stake here than a small-scale experiment in democratic engineering.