Kosovo state edges forward slowly

By Mark Lowen
BBC News, Kosovo

  • Published
Kosovan Security Forces
Image caption,
The Kosovo Security Force is an important part of Kosovo's transition

In arid scrubland under a scorching sun in southern Kosovo, a group of uniformed men don heavy helmets and protective vests.

These recruits from the recently formed Kosovo Security Force (KSF) are taught to take every precaution.

They are learning how to defuse explosive devices - still a vital task 11 years after the end of the Kosovan war.

Once the detonation wire is fed along the parched earth to the device, an electrical current is sent, producing a large controlled explosion.

The training comes from some of the 10,000 Nato peacekeepers that remain here.

New focus

The building of the KSF is an integral part of Kosovo's transition as it moves from an international protectorate to a locally-run, self-sufficient state.

It is a process that the Kosovan government believes can be accelerated now that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague has said that the declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008 did not violate international law.

The court's opinion was sought by Serbia, which still sees Kosovo as its own southern province.

Belgrade has refused to accept the result but the Kosovan government hopes it will prompt more countries to recognise the declaration of independence.

But with the ICJ hurdle crossed, the focus now shifts to the other manifold problems facing Kosovo as it tries to gain acceptance as a functional, independent country.

A serious challenge to that goal comes from the Serb-dominated north, where people reject the secession by Kosovo's Albanian majority and where the central government still exercises practically no control.

In the northern part of the city of Mitrovica, Serbian flags flutter from the buildings and Belgrade-run "parallel institutions" are in place.

"I've lived in Serbia until now and I can't say I'm living in a different state," 35-year-old Diana tells me on the main street.

"The situation is bad for us," she says. "There's no security."

'Black hole'

"I think the north will never be part of the independent republic of Kosovo," says another woman.

"Just like the rest of Kosovo will no longer be part of Serbia."

With political deadlock in the north, crime has flourished.

Image caption,
Sixty-nine countries recognise Kosovan independence

Kosovo's large European Union rule of law mission, Eulex, has to shoulder part of the burden of tackling it.

"This area has been a black hole for the last ten years," says Roy Reeve, deputy head of Eulex.

"There's been no effective policing of the criminal elements here. And we need to break that mould. But Eulex is not going to be here forever," he says.

"We have to start handing over to Kosovan institutions."

But that process of transferring control is a slow one here as many local structures are still deemed too weak to work alone.

It is Eulex, backed up by local bodies, that led a recent drive to combat arguably the most serious hindrance to a fully-functional government: corruption - said by international observers to be endemic and institutional.

'War against corruption'

A joint operation last month led to the arrest of the Central Bank governor.

But when Eulex raided the offices of the minister of transport - a wartime ally of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci - the government reacted badly, prompting some to question whether protecting age-old colleagues is seen as more important than tackling the issues.

"I will not protect anyone," the prime minister tells me.

"The law will be without compromise for all those who violate it. The past gives immunity to nobody."

I read him the conclusion of a report by the International Crisis Group, which said that virtually nobody they spoke to on the ground believes the current government supports the rule of law.

"This is the first government that has started fighting corruption after ten years of closing our eyes," he assures me.

So if the anti-corruption operation leads from the minister of transport deeper into his government, will he support the investigation?

"Of course," he replies. "I will lead the war against corruption."

But the critics are not convinced.

"The entire corruptive activities happen within our government," says Ilir Deda, director of the political think-tank Kipred.

Kosovan battle

"There is no political will to fight corruption because it would mean that the political establishment would have to start fighting itself."

Image caption,
Mr Reeve says Eulex hopes to start handing over to Kosovan institutions soon

He believes the international community has ignored political corruption here over the last decade for fear that rooting it out would destabilise an already fragile Kosovo.

But, he says, that must change.

"Whatever the earthquake caused by dealing with corruption, it will free us and help democratise our society.

"The only way our political elite can become responsible is if they fail and then own up to the results they deliver," he says, arguing that the large international presence in Kosovo needs to be scaled down.

"Some battles must be fought by Kosovans," he adds.

In many areas, Kosovo functions well.

Its police force is held up as a model of efficiency. It is a member of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and its independence has already been recognised by 69 countries.

But the problems run deep: among them, anger from the Serb community, impasse in the north, and corruption.

This tiny territory is edging forward slowly, but the challenge now is to build the state.