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Kosovo Gets Down To Business

Albanian flags in the town of Kacanik, Kosovo
Albanian flags in the town of Kacanik, Kosovo
PRISTINA -- Today marks Independence Day in Kosovo and the world’s newest nation celebrates its second birthday. Advocates, including Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, assert the young country’s achievements are many. Speaking to RFE/RL, Thaci named the consolidation of statehood, the establishment of the rule of law, political and economic reforms, and membership in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as the highlights.

Kosovo has been recognized by 65 countries, including the United States and 22 of the 27 EU member states.

Critics, however, say this number is insufficient and that the stream of recognitions is slow. Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu emphasizes the “special qualities” of the recognizing countries, arguing they represent “more than 60 percent of global GDP.”

But the flow of recognitions was frozen when Serbia decided to ask the International Court of Justice to rule on the legality of Kosovo’s independence declaration. The court is due to give its advisory ruling this spring, a crucial moment for the country.

And this is just one of the challenges facing the 2-year-old state. It also must cope with the challenge of integrating its northern part, which is overwhelmingly inhabited by ethnic Serbs. Local agencies and international institutions have come up with a strategy for doing this -- a so-called comprehensive approach -- but moving from paper to reality will definitely prove difficult.

The northern part of Kosovo is also a stronghold of Serbia’s parallel structures, which have been supported since the end of the war by Belgrade. Those structures are the biggest opponents of Kosovo’s independence, and so far they have managed to resist every effort to expand the authority of Kosovo’s institutions there.

The comprehensive approach has been condemned by Kosovo Serbs in the north, as well as by official Belgrade and Moscow, Serbia’s traditional ally. By organizing local elections, improving public services, and developing economic opportunities, Pristina aims to improve “local acceptance” and reduce the authority of the parallel structures. The government has made it clear that no force will be used and it has set no timetable for achieving its goals, indicating that it recognizes it is in for a long, slow process.

Pristina’s strategy has gained considerable international support, although it is not an EU-endorsed document. The EU’s special representative in Kosovo (EUSR) is Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith. In his capacity as EU special representative, he does not recognize Kosovo’s independence because the EU is divided on the subject.

But Feith also heads the International Civilian Office (ICO) and, in this capacity, he does recognize Kosovo’s statehood. His mission in this office is to oversee the implementation of Martti Ahtisaari’s comprehensive plan on Kosovo.

The example of Feith’s confusing roles is a clear illustration of the position Kosovo finds itself in now. In addition to EUSR and ICO, the tiny country hosts EULEX (the EU mission for the rule of law) and UNMIK (the UN Mission in Kosovo) and so on and so on. Nonetheless, Pristina has managed to gain increasing control of governance and more of the international missions are steadily shifting to supervisory roles.

All this, of course, goes on against the background of the important challenges that touch the lives of ordinary Kosovars day in and day out -- the economy, jobs, poverty.

Still, Kosovo is a success story, although it still needs international support to grow into a stable, developed country. The first steps were not easy and they could yet be undermined. But on the second anniversary of independence, it is even more clear than a year ago that Kosovo’s statehood is irreversible. The country’s people and leaders must now get down to the business of making the most of it.

Arbana Vidishiqi is the head of the Pristina bureau of RFE/RL’s Balkans Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.