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Kosova: Self-government Begins at Home

The West is urging Kosova's newly elected leaders to focus their energies on resolving the province's social and economic problems.
By Agim Fetahu

Denied their dream of independence by their international protectors, the winners of the last Sunday's general election in Kosova are being urged to turn their attentions to domestic issues.


Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, whose Democratic League of Kosova, LDK, claimed victory in the November 17 ballot, urged the world to recognise the province immediately as an independent state, declaring, "Kosova is ready for independence today or tomorrow".


But Washington and Brussels quickly rejected the call. Speaking on behalf of the EU, Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel could not have been more clear, "We are not in favour of independence".


The US and EU have asked Kosova's newly elected leaders not to challenge the international community on the province's eventual status.They want them instead to deal with domestic issues and giving smaller parties a stake in the new governmental structures.


Austrian foreign minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, "The new government has to tackle Kosova's economic problems and crack down on crime."


The majority of Kosovars would seem to agree with these priorities. According to a recent public opinion poll conducted by National Democratic Institute, NDI, a Washington-based NGO, the economy, crime and corruption are more important to Kosovars than the issue of independence.


But despite these concerns, there is little evidence that Kosova's newly elected representatives have any clear domestic agenda or an idea how to achieve it. One of the greatest problems they face is simply a lack of skills and experience for historical reasons.


In 1990, a year after the abolition of the province's autonomy by the Serbian authorities, most Kosova Albanians working in the public sector lost their jobs, and the community, in general, subsequently suffered ten long years of discrimination.


The decade of exclusion from politics and the civil service ended after Serbian forces were forced out of the province two and a half years ago. Since the war, Kosova has been run as an international protectorate under the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK.


The newly elected Kosova parliament will select a president who will then appoint a prime minister to form a government that will deal with some domestic matters. But UNMIK will retain control of foreign affairs, monetary policy, justice and public order, while the Kosovo Protection Force, KFOR, will be in charge of defence and security issues.


UNMIK will also be able to veto all measures that are not in concert with UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which states that Kosova is still technically part of Yugoslavia.


Kosova's newly elected leaders now have to begin the painful but crucial task of creating government structures from the ground up, and considering their lack of experience, many hope they will use the presence of UNMIK and other international organisations to learn the basics of administration and governance.


UNMIK seems more than willing to accommodate the new government - quite literally, by meeting the administration's most immediate need: office space. "As I speak to you now, I am packing boxes," Simon Haselock, UNMIK's director of public information, told IWPR on Wednesday evening.


UNMIK, including the office of Special Representative of the Secretary General, SRSG, Hans Haekkerup, is vacating the old government building to make room for the newly elected Kosova assembly and administration. "Everybody is moving into new locations," said Haselock. "This is major undertaking, a huge logistic exercise."


Many see UNMIK's move as a sign of respect by internationals toward the new local structures.


Of course, this initial goodwill may not last, and the potential for trouble between the two governing institutions seems inevitable.


Over the coming months and years, Kosovars and UNMIK officials may well engage in a mutual finger-pointing over any perceived lack of progress. In addition, UNMIK could use the shortcomings and limited abilities of the newly elected bodies as an argument for continuing to rule Kosova by decree, essentially over-riding the elected representatives.


But if those potential pitfalls can be avoided, and if the newly elected bodies prove able to tackle domestic issues important to Kosovars themselves, the case for independence will be made again. And then, if people here have their way, the internationals won't just be moving offices; they'll be leaving for good.


Agim Fetahu is IWPR's Macedonia Project Director


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