Europe

The Obstacles to Sustainable Peace and Democracy in Post-Independence Kosovo

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BY GEZIM VISOKA** | 17.08.2011


  • Introduction

Even after ten years of international administration and almost three years since its declaration of independence from Serbia, Kosovo continues to face ethnic and socio-economic problems, as well as fundamental challenges to its governance and sovereignty that have the potential to undermine the progress achieved and threaten Kosovo’s stability. Kosovo already illustrates some of the signs of a weak state: it does not exercise sovereign control over its entire territory, it has a weak economy and high unemployment. There are high levels of corruption and institutional weaknesses in the justice and law sectors, and Kosovo is making only slow progress towards international recognition and participation.


kosovo_flagBetween 1999 and 2008, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) aimed to establish a ‘liberal peace’ through establishing democratic institutions and a marketoriented economy. However, the imposition of such an agenda for ‘democratization’ has arguably produced only a weak democracy, fragile peace and fragmented sovereignty.

The purpose of this article is to examine how the building of a sustainable peace, the establishment of a democratic polity and the consolidation of sovereignty, is

frustrated and constrained in Kosovo. The article highlights the fundamental factors that fragment Kosovo’s sovereignty both domestically and internationally, and delay socio-economic development within the country. It will argue that this fragmentation is affected both by the existence of parallel Serb institutions in the North of Kosovo, and by the presence of international bodies and agencies with overlapping and divided agendas. Meanwhile, the potential for social emancipation in the country is obstructed by weak domestic governance, ethnic power-sharing and social injustice.

  • Kosovo: From UNMIK to Ahtisaari and Beyond

In 1999, following the intensification of the conflict between the Serbian regime and Kosovo Albanians, and NATO’s intervention, the UN was tasked to govern Kosovo through an Interim Administration Mission (UNMIK), as outlined in UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1244. The Resolution neither specified the scope of UNMIK’s authority – whether it would exercise sole authority or share power with local institutions – nor the structure the mission would have (Zaum 2007:132).

However, UNMIK later decided to transfer its competencies gradually to the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG), pending the determination of Kosovo’s future status. A broad power-sharing mechanism was established within central and local government to reserve seats and secure space for ethnic minority participation in politics, which was rationalized as a way to facilitate the reintegration of communities and ethnic reconciliation.

However, from 1999-2003, UNMIK delayed transferring power to local institutions, and did little to promote local ownership of reconstruction processes. This was partly due to Kosovo’s unresolved political status and the fear that transferring power to Kosovo’s local institutions would be viewed by Kosovo-Serbs as a threat. In an attempt to balance these fears, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General to Kosovo, Michael Steiner, had outlined benchmarks in April 2002 that had to be achieved before Kosovo’s political status could be discussed (UN Security Council 2002:3). However by 2004, events on the ground, including the March Riots, put the discussions of Kosovo’s status firmly on the agenda.

Two years and two rounds of UN-led negotiations between Serb authorities and Kosovo representatives failed to achieve a consensual solution. Given the  deadlock, a group of mainly Western countries saw no alternative but to support UN Special Envoy Ahtisaari’s recommendation to grant independence to Kosovo, ‘supervised initially by the international community’ and to implement his Comprehensive Status Settlement (CSS) (UN Secretary General 2007:3). As the Ahtisaari Proposal did not receive sufficient support within the UN Security Council due to the anticipated veto by Russia and China, the United States together with a group of the European Union member states, facilitated a unilateral declaration of independence.

Accordingly, on 17 February 2008, Kosovan political representatives declared Kosovo ‘an independent and sovereign state’ (Kosovo Assembly 2008). The Declaration of Independence was framed ‘in full accordance’ with the Ahtisaari Proposal and expressed a commitment to cooperate with the international community to ensure the ‘future peace, prosperity and stability’ of Kosovo (Kosovo Assembly 2008). Despite its contested status, Kosovo so far has been recognized by seventy-five out of 192 UN Member States.

The Ahtisaari Proposal envisages a new format for international presence, tasked to supervise the status settlement and to gradually pass full governance power to local authorities. However, the international presence in post-independence Kosovo does not operate as defined in the Ahtisaari Proposal. Due to a lack of consensus within their respective organizations, UNMIK, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) remain neutral with regard to Kosovo’s status. However, although they remain formally statusneutral under the UN framework of UNSC Resolution 1244, the three organizations each take a distinct approach in how they cooperate with their Kosovo counterparts, and in their recognition of the sovereignty of Kosovo.

The International Civilian Office (ICO) is the only status-supportive international body. The ICO is mandated to strengthen Kosovo’s domestic sovereignty by supporting…

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*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security (JCTS) Vol. 1 | No. 2

** Gëzim Visoka is a PhD Candidate in Politics and International Relations at Dublin City University. Hecompleted his MA in European Politics at the University of Sussex (Distinction). Gëzim completed his undergraduate studies in Political Science at the University of Prishtina in Kosovo, and also holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution Skills from Coventry University. His research interests include peace and conflict studies, international governance of war-torn societies, sovereignty and recognition in world politics, and social justice. Recently, his articles have been published in Civil Wars, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe, and Human Security Perspectives. Gëzim has over five years’ experience working with non-profit and international organizations in Kosovo, including the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

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