Albanian Daily News
We are losing the peace in Kosovo

Albanian Economic Tribune - Jan 20, 2000


PRISHTINA - Cars speed down the unlit, pot-holed main street of a small Kosovo town. A Swedish soldier steps out into the road with an electrically illuminated red stick and a little circular sign that says: "30kph" (18mph). The cars ignore him, of course. Across the street, a local man, unshaven, toothless, perhaps a little drunk, holds his sides and bends almost double with uncontrollable laughter at the wholly ineffectual efforts of the good Swede.

This is Kosovo now, and it is an almighty mess. Here is the place for which - at least, ostensibly for which - NATO fought the first war. The place where 40,000 international troops, organised in a multilateral force known as KFOR, have supposedly achieved security. Where the United Nations leads much the most ambitious experiment in international administration in its history. The EU, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and innumerable non-governmental organisations are also heavily involved.

Yet, after more than seven months of being there, the combined acronymic might of the so-called international community presides over something close to anarchy. The Serbs have fled into enclaves, which they themselves describe as "ghettos."

Those that remain among the Kosovo Albanians go in fear for their lives. In Podujevo, British soldiers mount a 24-hour guard on two Serbian grannies - "The Albanians would slot them if we didn’t," an officer said.

But it is not just the Serbs. Albanian women are afraid to go out at night in Prishtina, for fear of being kidnapped into forced prostitution by the Albanian mafia, which has moved into the province with a vengeance. Drug consumption has soared among students as mafia drug dealers move in. While the reported murder rate has come down as a result of the combined efforts of KFOR and the UN’s international police, there are repeated cases of revenge killings and executions. One of the 60 officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary sent to work for the international police said, with a wry smile, "It’s just like home."

Along the lawless roads covered in ice, cars without registrations are driven wildly by unshaven characters in black. Many of the cars are stolen, and the traffic accidents are even more.

There are still fewer than 2,000 international police, and critics say that many of them do not do a serious job. Those from Third World countries tend, one is told, to sit around in the cafes, while earning three or four times what they earn at home.

Of local graduates from the new police academy there are only a few hundred. It has taken the UN administration, known as UNMIK, more than six months to secure agreement even on which law should be applied in the province, let alone actually to apply it. It still has to recruit local judges - who can earn much more money working as interpreters or drivers, anyway.

For more than six months, Kosovo has had not only no effective police, law or judges, but also no government. Political philosopher of the 17th century Thomas Hobbes would recognise the condition. Last month, the head of UNMIK, Bernard Kouchner, finally secured the agreement of his international masters in New York, and of the squabbling local Kosovar politicians, to a structure of interim administration, pending elections. Whether it works remains to be seen.

The last century ended with Tony Blair and others proclaiming a broader lesson learnt from Kosovo: the international community should, in certain extreme cases, intervene to restore an essential minimum of respect for human rights, the rule of law, good government and democracy. Friends of that principle call it liberal interventionism. Critics call it liberal imperialism. Looking at Kosovo today, the critics are gloating: "See what a mess you get yourselves into when you try this sort of thing!"

Those of us who believe that such intervention is an important part of the more liberal world we should be trying to build in the 21st century can only tear our hair and plead for the international community to do more. For, like it or not, Kosovo is a test case. If things go wrong here, it will be much less likely to attempt such an intervention anywhere else. Chechnya apparently precludes Kosovo. It is as if the whole world is incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

There are reasons why the experiment has not gone well. For a start, one could hardly think of a more difficult place to try it in. More than a third of the houses in Kosovo have been destroyed or damaged. It has taken a heroic effort by the international community to get a million people back to their homes and at least half-prepared for the freezing winter. Then there is the social and psychological devastation wrought by 10 years of oppression followed by war, exile and return. It is also difficult to find partners among the Kosovo Albanians.

Five years ago, there was one established structure, the Democratic League of Kosovo, committed to peaceful change. But with the war has come the KLA, believing it has the legitimacy of a victorious partisan army, and now building up its own version of Sinn Fein to take political power, helped by some strong-arm stuff. And the planned elections - towards which liberal imperialists, unlike earlier ones, feel impelled to work - will inevitably polarise opinions.

There is also the desperate ambiguity of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1244, the formal basis for the occupation. To secure Russian and Chinese support, it promised virginity and motherhood in one. Formally, the province is under full Yugoslav sovereignty, yet it is meant to have far-reaching self-government. Every step to make the protectorate work - a budget in Deutschemarks rather than Yugoslav dinars, Customs duties, identity papers - has to be wrangled over in New York.

Then there is the sheer complexity of the undertaking, involving endless acronymic international organisations - KFOR, UNMIK, UNHCR, OSCE, EU - each with its own bureaucratic style, agenda and budget pressures. And behind that, of course, are the myriad competing national interests. It needs an administrative genius to pull it all together. It does not have one.

While Kouchner, the man who presides over the chaos in Kosovo, may be many good things - passionate, eloquent - one definitely don’t have the impression that he is an administrative genius.

Even KFOR suffers from the competing pulls of the participating nations. Klaus Reinhardt, the impressive German general who has succeeded Sir Michael Jackson in overall command, says that he has 34 nations in his force, "and don’t think they do something just because I order them to."

One headline in the KFOR Chronicle read: "Greeks organise the chaos." Well, exactly.

Behind all that lie the Western governments involved, and their willingness to put their money where their mouth is. The failure to build up the international police, for example, results from governments’ unwillingness to contribute those police. Kouchner, who asked for 6,000 police in July last year, observes bitterly that his own, French government has not sent any civilian police. The UN administration had to go round with a begging bowl to obtain the $250m it needs for its budget.

Of course, there are many competing priorities. All Africa cries: "What about us?" Chechnya holds the headlines. But whether or not we make a success of the peacetime administration of Kosovo will determine both history’s judgement on NATO’s first war and the prospects for more such interventions in the 21st century. At the moment, we are throwing it away, for the price of a few days’ bombing.

The West won the war. We are losing the peace.




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