On independence day, Kosovo remembers painful past, imagines a brighter future

A Kosovo woman holds a picture of her son who went missing during the Kosovo war, during a ceremony on April 5, 2017 marking the 18th anniversary of the massacre in the village of Rezalle. (AFP)
1 / 7
A Kosovo woman holds a picture of her son who went missing during the Kosovo war, during a ceremony on April 5, 2017 marking the 18th anniversary of the massacre in the village of Rezalle. (AFP)
Kosovo Albanian children hold pictures of relatives killed during the Kosovo war, as they mark the 15th anniversary of the massacre in the village of Izbica on March 28, 2014. (AFP file photo)
2 / 7
Kosovo Albanian children hold pictures of relatives killed during the Kosovo war, as they mark the 15th anniversary of the massacre in the village of Izbica on March 28, 2014. (AFP file photo)
Kosovo Albanian children hold pictures of relatives killed during the Kosovo war, as they mark the 15th anniversary of the massacre in the village of Izbica on March 28, 2014. (AFP file photo)
3 / 7
Kosovo Albanian children hold pictures of relatives killed during the Kosovo war, as they mark the 15th anniversary of the massacre in the village of Izbica on March 28, 2014. (AFP file photo)
Kosovo Security Force (KSF) cadets take part in cleaning the streets in Pristina on Sept. 15, 2018, during the International Clean-Up Day. (AFP file photo)
4 / 7
Kosovo Security Force (KSF) cadets take part in cleaning the streets in Pristina on Sept. 15, 2018, during the International Clean-Up Day. (AFP file photo)
A memorial of victims of the 1998-1999 Kosovo war is seen in the village of Izbica on March 28, 2017.(AFP)
5 / 7
A memorial of victims of the 1998-1999 Kosovo war is seen in the village of Izbica on March 28, 2017.(AFP)
Members of the NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo (KFOR) attend the change of command ceremony in Pristina on Oct. 15, 2021. (AFP)
6 / 7
Members of the NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo (KFOR) attend the change of command ceremony in Pristina on Oct. 15, 2021. (AFP)
Kosovo Albanians pay their respects to their relatives and victims of the Racak massacre on January 15, 2022 in the village of Racak. (AFP file photo)
7 / 7
Kosovo Albanians pay their respects to their relatives and victims of the Racak massacre on January 15, 2022 in the village of Racak. (AFP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 17 February 2022

On independence day, Kosovo remembers painful past, imagines a brighter future

Kosovo Albanian children hold pictures of relatives killed during the Kosovo war, as they mark the 15th anniversary of the massacre in the village of Izbica on March 28, 2014. (AFP file photo)
  • More than 100 countries have recognized Kosovo since it declared its independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008
  • Both regionally and internally, the leadership faces great challenges even as it sees opportunities for change

ABU DHABI: As Kosovo celebrates its 14th independence day, Europe’s newest country — and one with the continent’s youngest population — has much to be proud of. More than 100 countries have recognized Kosovo since it declared its independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008.

Despite a high government turnover rate, Kosovo continues to be a robust democracy with a dense network of nongovernmental institutions and civil society groups. It has a resilient economy, a capable leadership and excellent relations with the EU, US and the Gulf countries.

Still, much remains to be done. Getting Kosovo fully engaged and integrated into the region and European and Euro-Atlantic institutions is a work in progress. Relations with its neighbors Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are far from normalized. As for Russia, China and the five EU members that do not recognize Kosovo’s statehood, there is no sign yet of any change in their attitude.

Fortunately for Kosovo, the people who currently hold the two highest offices in the land — Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani — cut their political teeth on the issue of corruption. Since late March 2021, politics in Kosovo has been shaped jointly by movements launched respectively by Kurti and Osmani, Guxo and Vetevendosja.

Kurti is the country’s sixth prime minister while Osmani is the fifth elected head of state. Both are seen as untainted politicians with no wartime baggage, having clear visions for the country, and unafraid to spell out their positions on matters involving Kosovo’s allies as well as adversaries.

They also have no illusions about the tasks at hand. Both regionally and internally, Kosovo is faced with major challenges. Unless its domestic problems are tackled as a matter of priority, the country’s dream of standing on its feet and boosting its chances to integrate into the EU, which Kosovars strongly desire, will remain unfulfilled.

Topping the list is the endemic corruption in both the government and the private sector. The mere perception of corruption being tackled would spur foreign investment, as investors avoid countries where corruption is widespread and palms have to be greased at every level.

In a 2021 report by the UNDP, Kosovo Serbs listed unemployment, personal safety and urban development as their top three concerns. For other ethnic groups, poverty and regular access to electricity were the top priorities for the foreseeable future.

On the bright side, all ethnic groups agreed that the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government had become more efficient and less corrupt.

READ MORE

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti spoke exclusively to Arab News in a wide-ranging interview to mark the 14th Independence Day of his country. From NATO to relations with Gulf nations, read the full interview here.

Then there is the need for faster economic development, given the persistently high levels of poverty and unemployment, insufficient domestic and foreign investment, and problems in the business environment.

Another domestic challenge for the Kosovo government is the protection of human rights, regardless of people’s ethnicity, religion, political beliefs and orientation. Treating all citizens as equal before the law in both theory and practice will undoubtedly improve Kosovo’s chances of integration into the EU.

Kosovo’s secular democratic foundation cannot be taken for granted in view of the threats presented by authoritarian leaders in such EU countries as Poland and Hungary. Keeping religion out of civilian affairs is just as important as preserving free and fair elections, freedom of the press and assembly, and a judiciary free of political influence.




Kosovo faced a long rebuilding process after the destruction of the war, but the country is now eyeing EU accession as its political confidence grows. (Shutterstock)

EU integration could well be the best catalyst for transforming the socio-political and economic conditions in Kosovo. But the road so far has proved rockier than predicted.

In 2016, Kosovo signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, marking the most significant milestone in its history toward European integration. Two years later, the European Commission published its expansion plan for the Union’s post-2025 enlargement, including Kosovo and five of its neighbors — Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.




The road to EU integration for Kosovo has so far has proved rockier than predicted. (AFP file photo)

In 2020, Kosovo lifted its 100 percent tariff on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, a move that enabled restoration of trade with Serbia and Bosnia and the resumption of the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. However, Kosovo’s pursuit of EU membership has come to grief mainly over Serbia’s refusal to recognize its independence.

Serbia, which sees Kosovo as its own territory, continues to canvass countries to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo’s independence, although two former Yugoslav republics have defied such pressure: Macedonia (now the Republic of North Macedonia), which became a member of NATO in 2020, and Montenegro.

One of the main obstacles to normalization of relations with Serbia is the status of Serbs in Kosovo (Eastern Orthodox Christians comprise 84.5 percent of Serbia’s population while 95.6 percent of Kosovo’s population are Muslims, most of them ethnic Albanians).

READ MORE

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti condemned the continuing series of Houthi attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, and more recently the UAE, agreeing that such assaults reveal the Houthis to be a terrorist group. Read more here.

For the past two decades, Mitrovica in northern Kosovo has straddled a fault line between Serbs in the north and ethnic Albanians in the south.

The Serbs in Mitrovica and other northern enclaves have doggedly refused to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence. Before 1999, the city’s residents lived in mixed neighborhoods, but in the years following the war, the deep divisions separating Albanians and Serbs have solidified, leaving little room for dialogue.

NATO underwrites the fragile peace while the Ibar River effectively partitions the two communities, but EU-brokered on-off talks have yielded little progress over the years.

Prime Minister Kurti has suggested greater synchronization between Washington and Brussels in the Western Balkans while Kosovo works on three goals: Strengthening the rule of law, achieving security through NATO membership and forging greater European unity through Western Balkan membership of the EU.




Prime Minister Albin Kurti reviews Kosovo's honor guard in Pristina. (AFP file photo)

Additionally, Kosovo has time-tested partners in the Middle East who are committed to its independence and wellbeing, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the lead. The Kingdom was one of the earliest countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence, one of its main supporters at the International Criminal Court, and a key force behind the OIC’s recognition of its sovereignty in 2009.

One year after the Kosovo War, Saudi Arabia spent at least SR12 million ($3.2 million) in reconstructing houses, schools and mosques. In 2020, Kosovo and Saudi Arabia began the joint implementation of an agreement on avoidance of double taxation.

At a ceremony in Riyadh in January 2020 where Kosovar career diplomat Lulzim Mjeku was among a group of ambassadors who presented their credentials, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman emphasized his willingness to work with each country to enhance and develop bilateral relations.




Kosovar Ambassador Lulzim Mjeku presenting his their credentials to King Salman during a ceremony in Riyadh in January 2020. (Twitter photo)

During Kosovo’s fight against COVID-19, the Muslim World League sent valuable humanitarian assistance. Last year, Kurti thanked the Kingdom’s leadership for its support for Kosovo in all international forums and for providing aid for alleviating human suffering.

More recent talks between the two countries have focused on boosting cooperation in economy, trade, tourism, investment, education, health and infrastructure.

As for the UAE, it joined Nato’s KFOR peacekeepers in 1999, undertaking an aid mission that involved feeding thousands of fleeing refugees on the Albanian border. In collaboration with the Red Crescent, the UAE built a camp that, at its peak, served up to 15,000 people a day.




Members of the NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo (KFOR) attend the change of command ceremony in Pristina on Oct. 15, 2021. (AFP)

Almost 1,500 Emirati troops would serve in Kosovo over two operations: One was with KFOR from the spring of 1999 to late 2001. The other operation was the White Hands aid mission across the border, in Albania, between March and late June 1999.

The Gulf countries’ close rapport with the countries of the Western Balkans holds the promise of facilitating the normalization of relations between Kosovo and all its neighbors, and unlocking the region’s full human and economic potential.

As Kosovo’s ties with Arab countries evolve from being centered around humanitarianism and reconstruction to political, economic and security cooperation, the transformation could well have a salutary effect on its relations with Serbia, too.


Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream

Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream
Updated 28 September 2022

Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream

Kremlin dismisses ‘stupid’ claims Russia attacked Nord Stream
  • Europe has been investigating what Germany, Denmark and Sweden said were attacks which had caused major leaks into the Baltic Sea

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Wednesday said claims that Russia was somehow behind a possible attack on the Nord Stream gas pipelines were stupid, adding that Moscow saw a sharp increase the profits of US companies supplying gas to Europe.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a daily conference call with reporters that the incident needed to be investigated and the timings for repair of the damaged pipelines were not clear.
Europe has been investigating what Germany, Denmark and Sweden said were attacks which had caused major leaks into the Baltic Sea from two Russian gas pipelines at the center of an energy standoff.
Asked about claims Russia might somehow be behind the possible attack, Peskov said: “That’s quite predictable and also predictably stupid.”
“This is a big problem for us because, firstly, both lines of Nord Stream 2 are filled with gas — the entire system is ready to pump gas and the gas is very expensive... Now the gas is flying off into the air.”
“Before making any claims, we should wait for investigation into these ruptures, whether there was an explosion or not,” Peskov said. Information on the incident could be expected from Denmark and Sweden, he said.
Nord Stream AG, the operator of the network, said on Tuesday that three of four offshore lines of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system sustained “unprecedented” damage in one day. All Nord Stream’s pipeline had not delivered gas by the time of the incident.
Nord Stream 1 has reported a significant pressure drop caused by the gas leak on both lines of the gas pipeline, while Nord Stream 2 said that a sharp pressure drop in line A was registered on Monday.


North Korea fires ballistic missile off east coast – Seoul

North Korea fires ballistic missile off east coast – Seoul
Updated 28 September 2022

North Korea fires ballistic missile off east coast – Seoul

North Korea fires ballistic missile off east coast – Seoul
  • Japan’s coast guard also reported a suspected ballistic missile test
  • North Korea also fired a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast on Sunday

SEOUL: North Korea fired a ballistic missile off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, as South Korea and the United States staged joint naval exercises involving an aircraft carrier.
Japan’s coast guard also reported a suspected ballistic missile test.
The launch came two days after South Korea and US forces launched their military exercise in the waters off South Korea’s east coast involving an aircraft carrier.
US Vice President Kamala Harris is set to arrive in the South Korean capital, Seoul, on Thursday after a visit to Japan.
North Korea also fired a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast on Sunday.
North Korea has been subjected to UN sanctions since 2006, which the Security Council has steadily — and unanimously — stepped up over the years to cut off funding for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
North Korea rejects UN resolutions as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defense and space exploration, and has criticized military exercises by United States and South Korea as proof of their hostile intentions.


17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities
Updated 28 September 2022

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

BEIJING: A fire at a restaurant in northeastern China on Wednesday killed 17 people and injured three, according to local authorities.
The blaze broke out at 12:40 pm in an eatery in the city of Changchun, the local government said in a statement posted on the Weibo social media platform.


Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
Updated 28 September 2022

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
  • Japan PM Kishida Fumio asked Morocco to cooperate with Japan in the future

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said that Morocco’s decision to not participate in the 8th TICAD Summit was “regrettable” during a meeting on Wednesday with the Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch.

Kishida stated that he would like to obtain the cooperation of Akhannouch in order to promote the entry of Japanese companies into Morocco and also asked the Moroccan side to cooperate with Japan in the future, including on TICAD events.

In addition, Kishida said that Morocco’s ammonium phosphate is important for the stable supply of fertilizers and that he looked forward to Morocco’s constructive response on the matter.

The two leaders also exchanged views on international issues and resolved to continue working closely together in dealing with the food security risks.

Akhannouch expressed his heartfelt condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and stated that he would like to further strengthen the cooperative relationship that the two countries have built over many years in a wide range of fields.

Kishida expressed his gratitude to Akhannouch for attending Abe’s state funeral and said that the two countries have enjoyed good relations for many years based on the friendship between the imperial and royal families.


Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
Updated 28 September 2022

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
  • Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday reiterated his support for a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem during a “candid exchange of views” with former Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process and said he would like to continue contributing to the improvement of the environment for the progress of peace in the Middle East.

Japan’s PM also expressed his support for Palestine’s economic self-reliance through food assistance of more than $8 million – which was provided in response to the deterioration of food security in Palestine as a result of the situation in Ukraine – and the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” initiative promoted by Japan. Hamdallah expressed his gratitude for Japan’s support. 

Hamdallah conveyed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Kishida expressed his gratitude for the condolences sent by Palestinian officials.

Both sides agreed to continue to develop the relationship between Japan and Palestine.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan.