Kosovo Is Ten Years Old

Photo Source: Google Images

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

The landlocked country of Kosovo will celebrate its tenth anniversary, on 17th February, 2018, but it faces myriad challenges in the future. Since its independence in 2008, it has been a partially recognised state.

It seems that Kosovo’s six main ethnicities (Albanians, Serbs, Turks, Gorani, Romani and Bosnians), stand close in terms of collective national conscience, but in real life, they carry burdens of their war-torn past.

Out of 193 UN member states, only 113 have voted in favour of Kosovo’s sovereignty. Countries such as Russia and China do not recognise it. Kosovo is yet to receive membership of UN and EU.

During the winter and spring of 1999, a NATO intervention in a 78 - day airstrike began in favour of ethnic Albanians against the Serbian forces led by Slobodan Milosevic.

As NATO bombs fell, millions of Kosovar Albanians, predominantly Muslims were expelled from their villages in an unfortunate event of ethnic cleansing. As a barbaric event, it filled the pages of Europe’s modern history.

Kosovo had spent nine years under the control of United Nations. Later, Serbia tried to normalise relations under the Brussels Agreement, but no constructive political settlement was devised with the Government of Kosovo.

In the fieldwork, war correspondents who have witnessed the country’s war have often written about military checkpoints, thousands of buildings that were destroyed, lines of refugees, displaced Kosovars looking for safe zones, and the distant black smoke coming from the burning villages.

In an Op-ed for New York Times, Andrew Testa wrote on February 15, 2018: “the people seemed weighed down by resignation, as well as widespread disgust at perceived government corruption. Before the war, Kosovars had a better life and had more opportunities. The country is crippled by low wages, unemployment and a stagnant economy.”

According to 2017 report by International Committee for Missing Persons, 4,500 people went missing during the war. For Kosovars, where 70 percent population is under 35, it is almost impossible to travel due to stern restrictions and neglect.

In 2005, a mass grave of ethnic Albanians was found near Belgrade, the Serbian capital. Kosovars have also made a memorial to victims in Meja, where Serb police executed around 372 Albanian men and boys. It had been the largest massacre in the Kosovo War.

In the post-war period, it is believed that depleted uranium weapons used during the 1999 war have caused contamination in the surroundings including drinking water, animals and air Dr Jasmina Vujic from the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Berkeley University of California believes in this notion). More than hundred locations in Kosovo including borders, rivers, village roads and forest paths are seeded by landmines.

In an interview with Radio Sputnik, Marko Gasic, a London based Balkans expert said: “this is not really a state; this is a territory, almost like an atoll occupied by a superpower, in which the natives are told what to do, and they don't really know anything different other than what they're told.”

It seems that the Serbians are only surviving in the northern part of Kosovo, in the Mitrovica area, where they also retain control. Whenever the Kosovo Liberation Army has established its control, the Serbs residing in the occupied areas have been cleansed.

In terms of geostrategic politics, the US has created the biggest military presence in Kosovo, since Vietnam. This military presence, as a foreign policy, starting from Camp Bondsteel, in eastern Kosovo, will help the US to keep the Russians out.

The political history of this region in the Balkans has continuously evolved. In 1389, at the Battle of Kosovo, Polje, Serbs, fighting alongside Albanian allies, lost to the Ottoman Empire. It wasn’t until 1912 when Albanian forces took it back. But, Serb forces soon took control, and in 1918, the city became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, a predecessor to Yugoslavia. In 1947, the capital was moved from Prizren to Pristina.  At that time, Pristina was a small city, of only 20,000 inhabitants, who spoke Turkish. In the process, most of the Ottoman architecture was destroyed, and replaced by communist structures.

Presently, Pristina struggles with pollution problems and corruption. 40 percent of Kosovars remain unemployed. There is Islamic extremism existing in several geographical quarters, even if Kosovars are largely gender neutral. The organised crime is rife, which include cocaine trade and sex rackets outside its borders. In schools, most children attend mono-ethnic classes, where teachers also belong to the same ethnic group – walls separate Albanian and Serbian students.

It is a city that has been built twice; first during the part of Yugoslavia, as a socialist city; second after the 1998-99 conflict with Serbia. Around 40,000 illegal constructed buildings exist in Pristina without permits or through fraudulent permits.

In 2014, the Pristina mayor, Shpend Ahmeti, started receiving death threats as soon as five months being in the office. It is because he wanted to bring a clean and rational governance, cheap heating to public schools, and an end to waste crises, to the most corrupt city in Europe.

In terms of culture, Kosovo-born artists such as Rita Ora, Dua Lipa and Era Istrefi are regulars on the international music charts. Pristina’s clubs, bars and live music venues have very few ethnic boundaries. Fortunately, these local artists have thrived. Petrit Halilaj, a young artist, was awarded a special jury prize at the ‘Venice Biennale’ in 2017.


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