On June 10, 1999, NATO troops signed an important agreement with the then Yugoslavian army: Serbs were to withdraw from Kosovo, allowing the KFOR peacekeeping force (Kosovo Force, an international mission tasked with peacekeeping operations) to enter the region two days later. Serbia’s war with its small Balkan neighbour was over. Twenty years later many things have changed, but the wounds of the past are still open. What’s the situation in Kosovo today? What are the current problems and challenges? SIR addressed the issue with Msgr. Lush Gjergji, director of Radio Maria Kosovo, and with Balkan expert Nikolay Krastev.
The following stages. The history of the youngest Balkan State was thus marked by the unilateral declaration of independence, proclaimed on 12 February 2008 and hitherto not recognised by Serbia, Russia nor by five EU states. “A lot has changed since then, if not everything: the political, economic, social, cultural system as a whole”, remarked Msgr Lush Gjergij. “From the political point of view – he pointed out – there is pluralism, there are free elections”. He recalled the long period of administration by the UN forces, “a very difficult and complex experience”.
The wounds of the past. However, as in the rest of the Balkans, Kosovo too “is marked by a flawed judicial system” with regard to violence, missing persons and unpunished criminals. “Neither the Hague Court nor the local courts have compensated the victims and their families”, added Monsignor Gjergij, who explained: “upon the 20th anniversary of NATO’s intervention, too many demonstrations remind us of the worst aspects of the war, the massacres, the atrocities, thereby reopening old wounds”.
Kosovo today. Life in Pristina has greatly improved, houses and motorway networks have been rebuilt, urban centres have been developed, the Euro currency has been adopted and living standards have risen. But nevertheless, “people’s expectations are not being met”, pointed out Msgr. Gjergij, concerned about “Western materialism and exaggerated consumerism that have reached this part of the world.” For the Kosovan cleric major challenges include “social inequalities, high levels of emigration, youth unemployment, as well as widespread corruption and a lack of confidence in politicians.” “Unfortunately, he said, the hopes of EU accession waned as a result of the problem with visa liberalisation and the standstill in the negotiations.”
EU and the relations with Belgrade. For BloombergTV Bulgaria journalist and Balkan expert Nikolay Krastev, “as occurred with Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is still a long way to go before joining the European Union.” “People see no hope for the future,” he remarked. “This causes rural depopulation, low living standards, while fostering radical views. Negotiations for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, a prerequisite for Belgrade to join EU, were suspended last March. “Serbia raises the unsolved issue with the State regarding Serb majority municipalities in the North of Kosovo” the expert said, voicing worries over the fact that “twenty years after the end of the war, the Balkans have returned to talk about territorial division, seeking compensation for the losses of the past. This can be seen in the introduction of tariffs that Pristina has imposed on Belgrade and Serbia’s impeding every attempt by Kosovo to enter international institutions. “The Serbs find it hard to accept the fact that Kosovo exists as a sovereign state”, Krastev said. (in the photos below, NATO forces arriving in Pristina, capital of Kosovo; an image of the city; the city’s shrine dedicated to Mother Teresa).
Are border changes an option? In his view, the only way out of the stalemate is “to return to the negotiating table and create the appropriate climate for dialogue.” “There are many intertwined interests here, Russia, the United States, seemingly willing to divide the territories according to the ethnic composition of the population,” he said. But “border change could be dangerous, as it would create a precedent for Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia and so on.”
The key role of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church in the country, engaged in the promotion of peace and forgiveness, plays a key role in the process of reconciliation and dialogue. “In addition to the evangelization and re-evangelisation of people, we support the needy through Caritas and the Mother Teresa Foundation,” said Fr Lush Gjergij. “We are also deeply involved in fostering inter-religious dialogue with our Muslim Albanian brothers (the majority) and in ecumenical dialogue with the Serbian Orthodox Church – he added -, aiming to act as a ‘bridging Church’ to build unity in the diversity of nations, cultures, religions and for the establishment of peaceful and fraternal coexistence”.