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The EU should respond as well as listen to Kosovans

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Eight years ago, Kosovo was a crucible for Tony Blair’s interventionist approach to foreign policy. But as we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, it is what happens after military intervention that matters most.

In the past eight years, post-intervention Kosovo has suffered as a result of unaccountable international institutions, a debilitating lack of coordination between donors, and a fragile rule of law. As the focus turns to the role the EU will play in Kosovo, it is time to learn the lessons of the past.

The challenges of post-conflict peacebuilding are many, but the chances of success are greatly increased if international actors listen and respond to the views and needs of the local population.

Despite huge opportunities to shape the political, social and economic landscape of Kosovo over the past eight years, the international community in the UN-administered province has largely failed to engage coherently with whole sections of Kosovo’s population. Development has been something “done to” Kosovo’s population not something that has involved them.

One of the most consistent criticisms made by members of the public in Kosovo is that the international community in its various guises – the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) missions in Kosovo, development agencies of the big donor countries, large international non-governmental organisations – does not solicit feedback on its work in any meaningful way.

At the same time, the population is increasingly suffering from “survey fatigue” – forever asked its opinion, but with no understanding of how that then feeds into policy-making. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the security and justice field, often thought of as “sexy” by donors but a politically charged topic for Kosovo’s population where perceptions of security and security services depend largely on what ethnic group you come from.

Lines of accountability connecting elected and unelected officials to their constituents are also fuzzy – and this extends to the panoply of international officials and their involvement in Kosovo’s security affairs. Even after all this time under the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), members of the public remain hazy about the division of competences between local and international institutions.

Part of this is down to the gradual transfer of competences from UNMIK to the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG), as Kosovo’s local government institutions are known. The Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice were the newest to be established, in December 2005, and they are slowly taking responsibility for new areas of policy-making.

Much is also down to the bizarre culture of ‘dualism’, whereby PISG officials are accountable to UNMIK and to a lesser extent the Kosovo Assembly, but UNMIK and other international institutions are effectively accountable to no-one. Even the laws are different. International private security companies are allowed to carry weapons; local security companies are not. International prosecutors (who try ‘sensitive’ cases linked with war crimes, organised crime or inter-ethnic crimes) do not answer to the Kosovo Judicial Council; local prosecutors do. UNMIK Police go unpunished when two protesters die after rubber bullets are used to calm a demonstration on 10 February 2007 – whilst ‘internationals’ preach the importance of accountability for misconduct to the local Kosovo Police Service.

As the EU prepares for the possible transfer of responsibilities from UNMIK to an EU mission to Kosovo, it needs to pay heed to these past problems and find new ways to ensure that its actions are grounded in Kosovo’s realities and responsive to the needs of the Kosovo population. Well-intentioned interventions will, at the very least, have little impact if they do not take into account what is really happening in Kosovo – at worst, they can exacerbate existing tensions. To be successful, the EU will need to quickly get to grips with Kosovo’s complex web of institutions, laws, donors and politics. This will mean not only asking the people of Kosovo for their views but also responding to them.

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Mia Marzouk

Mia Marzouk is Team Leader South Eastern and Eastern Europe for Saferworld.

Saferworld's report, Kosovo at the Crossroads, is available from their website.

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