Feb 12th 2009
Confounding the sceptics, up to a point
NEXT week Kosovo will be one year old. It was the seventh state to emerge from former Yugoslavia. Sceptics predicted dire consequences: the Serb minority would leave, the region would see a new round of violence, Serbia would fall into the hands of extreme nationalists. Happily, none of this has actually happened.
Unlike the other six former Yugoslav countries, Kosovo was technically a province of Serbia in the old Yugoslavia, not a republic, even though over 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians. That distinction gave Russia an excuse to block a United Nations resolution on Kosovo’s status. It also explains why only 54 countries recognise Kosovo’s independence.
The greatest success of Kosovo has been to avert a Serb exodus. Kosovo’s Serbs live mostly in enclaves or in the north of the country, under de facto Serbian control. They are under pressure from Belgrade not to participate in any of Kosovo’s institutions. Yet Serbia now has a firmly pro-European government; in the wake of Kosovo’s independence, the extreme nationalist threat has evaporated, not exploded.
After a slow start EULEX, the European Union’s police and justice mission, deployed across Kosovo in December. For most of 2008 it was hampered by Serbian opposition and by splits within the EU. The former UN administration, which was meant to leave with Kosovo’s independence, has shrunk but not completely disappeared. A 15,000-strong NATO-led force remains.
The bad news is that Kosovo remains poor and its administration weak. Serbia’s government has led a highly effective diplomatic campaign against it and Kosovo has a bad image abroad. Yet it is often unfairly singled out for blame. It lies on a main drug-trafficking route, for instance; but so do some EU members, such as Bulgaria and even Austria.
It is widely believed that Albanians, including Kosovars, play an inordinately large role in Europe’s drug cartels, but research does not often bear this out. According to a report by the Kosovar Stability Initiative, a think-tank, in 2006 only 6% of those arrested for heroin smuggling in Italy were ethnic Albanians; 65% were Italians and 19% were north Africans. Some stereotypes widely believed and repeated about Kosovars abroad are merely racist.
So are Kosovars downcast? Far from it. A recent survey by the European Fund for the Balkans and Gallup found that, among seven western Balkan countries, Kosovo’s people are the most satisfied. They will certainly enjoy their birthday.