On this day 12 years ago the representatives of the people of Kosovo in the Assembly declared Kosovo an independent state, in coordination with its international supporters, namely the US, UK and some of the biggest EU member states.
The declaration of independence came after the two-year final status settlement talks between Serbia and Kosovo, under the mediation of the international community, failed. This led the UN special envoy Marti Ahtisaari to unveil his Final Status Settlement Proposal, the so-called Ahtisaari Plan, which proposed that supervised independence was the only viable solution for Kosovo.
The Ahtisaari Plan outlined a state-building blueprint for Kosovo. It conceptualized Kosovo as a multi-ethnic polity which will be governed democratically and with full respect for the rule of law through its legislative, executive and judicial institutions. Since then Kosovo has managed to build its democratic institutions, provide public services, peace and security for its citizens, and has claimed state sovereignty domestically and internationally.
Though a nascent state, Kosovo holds relatively free and fair elections, has undertaken economic reforms and has become a source of security and stability in the region. In 2017 Kosovo was recognized by around 115 countries, it signed the Association Stabilization Agreement with the EU and started to become a member of international organizations. However, despite these achievements, unfortunately, Kosovo’s statehood remains contested.
The imposition of the multi-ethnic policy by the international community has been counterproductive. It has not boosted Kosovo’s international integration as was expected and in addition, it has not facilitated inter-ethnic reconciliation and cross-community communication. On the contrary, the multi-ethnic policy has solidified inter-ethnic division between Albanians and Serbs.
As Roeder and Rothchild argue in their book Sustainable Peace: Power and Democracy after Civil Wars, organizing political society along ethnic lines risks fueling ethnic division and delaying any prospect for reconciliation and progressive transformation towards an integrative society.
The obsession of the international community to build a multi-ethnic state in Kosovo has handed the power to the ethno-nationalist elites which in turn has opened the avenues to create a limited statehood with fragmented sovereignty.
Kosovo law enforcement authorities do not exert full control in the North, which is inhabited in majority by Serbs, who have rejected the independence of Kosovo from the beginning with the help of the Serbian state.
Since the 2014 elections, the Belgrade sponsored Serbian List party has won the parliamentary seats reserved for Serbs in Kosovo on both central and local level, and they use this power to obstruct the functioning of the state. Due to the electoral system and constitutional set up the government formation in Kosovo depends on ethnic minority parties.
Segmental local autonomy and guaranteed seats for Kosovo Serbs in the Parliament risked rendering Kosovo a dysfunctional state and becoming a tool in Serbia’s hand to undermine Kosovo’s statehood.
Even the leader of Vetevendosje Albin Kurti, who had pledged to not include in the government the Serbian List, did so two weeks ago when he was voted as the new Prime Minister of Kosovo. So any government in Kosovo remains weak and partly controlled by the Serbian List and de facto, Belgrade.
This has enabled Serbia to gain some sort of control over Kosovo’s statehood and sovereignty. Kosovo was forced during these years to renegotiate its territorial sovereignty and statehood with Serbia through the EU mediated Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. The 2013 and 2015 Brussels agreements signed under the leadership of the former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton were full of ambiguities and reinforced more inter-ethnic segregation by creating the Association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo.
This has further undermined territorial sovereignty of Kosovo by creating the basis for a Bosnian-like Republika Srpska in the North.
The dialogue has not even helped Kosovo to reaffirm its statehood internationally. The recognition of its independence has stalled and to make the matter worse Serbia has exploited the uncertain situation the dialogue has created to lobby against its independence and push forward its partition plan.
Serbia keeps campaigning against Kosovo’s membership in international organizations such as UNESCO, INTERPOL and the UN. Ironically the dialogue has not normalized Kosovo-Serbia relations but has normalized Serbia’s image in the world. The West has failed to understand that Serbia hasn’t changed much since the nineties. Vucic is not Milosevic but he is his student and his fervent admirer.
12 years after its independence though Kosovo exhibits the patterns of a full-fledged state but it still struggles to seal once and forever its statehood. While the dialogue is expected to restart, it is high time for the international community to acknowledge some of its failures in Kosovo and protect its long-term investment by reframing the terms of the negotiations and pressuring the perpetrator not the victim. Otherwise the reputation they have sown in Kosovo as the guardians of freedom and human rights during the past two decades will begin to fade away.