Comment: Winning The Peace Is Harder Than Winning The War

Overcoming the combined legacy of almost half a century of communism, a decade of apartheid-like discrimination and a year-and-a-half of war requires an on-going and long-term partnership between Kosovars and the international community.

Comment: Winning The Peace Is Harder Than Winning The War

Overcoming the combined legacy of almost half a century of communism, a decade of apartheid-like discrimination and a year-and-a-half of war requires an on-going and long-term partnership between Kosovars and the international community.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

US President Bill Clinton has urged Kosovars to put aside their differences, break with the past and build a multi-ethnic future and so "win the peace," following NATO's victory in the war. These are admirable aspirations, but the challenge is massive.


The present situation is already incomparably better than that between March and June this year. At that time, the province was engulfed by fighting in which some 10,000 Kosovo Albanians lost their lives, another 5,000 went missing, 900,000 sought refuge abroad, and some 50,000 homes were destroyed with an estimated two billion dollars economic damage.


Today the war is over, the refugees have returned, international peacekeepers in the Kosovo Force (KFOR) are responsible for security, and UNMIK, the UN mission in Kosovo, is administrating the province.


But if the present situation is compared to the expectations of both Kosovo Albanians and representatives of the international community in June of this year, at the time of the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army and the arrival of NATO-led peacekeepers, the record is more disappointing.


The level of ethnically motivated violence remains high with 370 civilians - 141 Albanians, 133 Serbs and 96 others - killed since June. Mitrovica, the second biggest city in the province is still divided in two sectors, with Serbs concentrated in the North, Albanians in the South, and UN administrator Sir Martin Garrod in the middle.


At the same time, political tension and animosity among Albanian parties and leaders is growing; reconstruction is yet to start; electricity and water are in short supply; the telephone system barely functions; many state employees, including teachers and doctors, as well as pensioners are not being paid.


Perhaps the many problems should not be a suprise. To understand Kosovo today and comprehend the challenge ahead, the province has to be seen in the light of the combined legacy of communism, apartheid-like discrimination and war.


For almost half a century between 1945 and 1989 Kosovo was a strict, communist society with a command economy. Free and fair elections, the free market and the rule of law are all therefore alien concepts. The police, the military and the judiciary have all traditionally been political instruments.


In the decade from 1989, the province was effectively under martial law and governed by Belgrade exclusively in the interests of the Serb minority. In the process, existing political, economic and educational institutions disintegrated and Albanians were forced to fight for their emancipation.


The fighting was characterised by atrocities committed largely by Serb forces against Albanian civilians in an attempt to drive them out of Kosovo. Since the war more than 400 mass graves have been uncovered and more are being discovered every week.


Although Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his inner circle were indicted for war crimes by The Hague Tribunal for their role in the ethnic cleansing campaign, few Albanians believe that they will be brought to justice.


In addition to the many problems of Kosovar society, the United Nations has to date struggled to set up an administration, in part because of insufficient resources, and the European Union has been slow to disburse money it has pledged for reconstruction.


In these circumstances, winning the peace will be far harder than winning the war and will surely require an on-going and long-term partnership between Kosovars and the international community.


Blerim Shala is editor of the Pristina weekly Zeri and an independent member of Kosovo's Transitional Executive Council.


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