In the wake of NATO's Operation Allied Force in 1999, Kosovo was practically severed from Yugoslavia and rendered a U.N.-protectorate under resolution 1244 of the Security Council. UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) was formed to serve as the province's interim administrator. It was charged with institutions-building and a transition to self-governance by the now overwhelmingly Albanian populace.
Its mission was divided to four "pillars": Police and Justice, Civil Administration, Democratization and Institution Building (overseen by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and Reconstruction and Economic Development (managed by the European Union). Four years later, Kosovo has its own government, installed last month - and a viable police force.
UNMIK had to spent the first 18 months of its mandate re-establishing basic services in a land scorched by 78 days of massive bombardment. It also put in place the rudiments of a municipal administration. A parliament and presidency followed. Surprisingly resilient, they survived two - bloodied - elections. The U.N. is planning to transfer, over the next few months, many of its "competencies" to the three-party broad coalition in power. Last month, a transfer council was established to manage the transition.
But Kosovo is an unsettled place. Its status is unresolved. Is it to be independent, as its legislators demand - or an inseparable part of Serbia, as the late assassinated Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindjic claimed? UNMIK's travel documents and its license plates, for instance, are still not recognized by many countries.
Investors - including wealthy diaspora Kosovars - are deterred by this uncertainty and the social and civil unrest it fosters. Had it not been for KFOR, the 35,000-strong NATO-commanded military detachment, Kosovo might well have reverted to civil war, or crime-infested anarchy. That, astoundingly, Kosovo has no law to deal with foreign investment does not help.
Partly because of that, Kosovo's economy is still a shambles. The United Nations - and the acronym soup of multilateral development banks, aid agencies and non-governmental organizations that descended on the region - failed to come up with a coherent plan for endowing Kosovo with a sustainable economy.
Where UNMIK, with European Union assistance, did intervene - in setting up institutions and abetting economic legislation - it has done more harm than good. The establishment of workers' councils, for instance, inhibited the proper management of socially owned enterprises and rigidified the budding labor market with dire consequences.
One in two Kosovars is unemployed. Whatever activity there is, is confined to trading (read: smuggling), retail and petty services. The wild construction or reconstruction of 250,000 houses wrecked by the war is fizzling out and the absence of both mortgage financing and a sizable domestic industry of construction materials are detrimental to the sector's viability.
Tenders for complex infrastructure jobs are usually snatched by foreign competitors. Reputable Kosovar-owned construction multinationals hint at discrimination and worse. But the business segment of the economy is illusive and dilapidated. Of 861 socially-owned firms identified by the International Crisis Group, only 330 are viable, according to UNMIK.
Kosovo has no private sector to speak of - though it has registered 50,000 small and medium, mostly paper, typically ad-hoc, enterprises. Of 2774 members of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce - 1667 were fly-by-night construction outfits.
The majority of economic assets are still in public or "social" hands. In an interview granted to the Far Eastern Review last year, Ali Jakupi, Minister of Trade and Industry of Kosovo, diplomatically pointed the finger at UNMIK's glacial pace of reform.
Land ownership is a contentious issue. The privatization of utilities is a distant dream, despite the creation of the Kosovo Trust Agency, a convoluted attempt to dispense of certain assets while skirting the legal no man's land which is Kosovo.
Despite all efforts, commercial law is scant and poorly enforced. No one understands why the number of commercial bank licenses is limited, why, until recently, UNMIK worked only through one bank and why establishing an insurance company is such a harrowing - and outlandishly expensive - ordeal. Kosovo is the only place on earth where price cartels (for instance, in the assurance sector) are not only legal - but mandatory.
Kosovar banks still keep most of their clients' deposits abroad for lack of an indigenous legal framework of collateral and bankruptcy. Interest rates are prohibitively high and repayment terms onerous. The only ray of light in a decrepit financial system is the euro, Kosovo's official currency and a source of monetary stability and trust.
The new Ministry of Finance and Economy has introduced customs duties and a few taxes with modest success. But the government's revenue base is pitiful and a Byzantine, import-biased, tax law makes export-oriented manufacturing a losing proposition. Kosovo's trade deficit is almost equal to its gross domestic product. Had it not been for generous remittances from Kosovar expats and immigrants - pegged at $1 to 1.5 billion a year, the province's economy would have crumbled long ago.
Nor has Kosovo's infrastructure been rehabilitated despite the $5 billion poured into the province hitherto. Electricity, for instance, is intermittent and unpredictable. The roads are potholed and few, the railways derelict. Fixed line penetration is low, though mobile telephony is booming. This sorry state was avoidable.
Kosovo is not as poor as it is made out to be by interested parties. It has enormous lead reserves, coal and lignite veins and loads of zinc, silver, gold, nickel, cobalt and other minerals, including rumored mines of uranium. The territory actually used to export electricity to both Macedonia and Montenegro.
Official statistics ignore a thriving informal economy, encompassing both the illicit and the merely unreported. Kosovo is a critical node in human trafficking, cigarette and oil derivatives smuggling, car theft and, to a lesser, extent, drugs and weapons trading networks. Revenues in service businesses - cafes, restaurants, gambling institutions, prostitution - go unreported. Kosovo is one of the global centers of piracy of intellectual property, notably software and movies.
The Central Fiscal Authority of Kosovo estimated that, in 2001, duties and taxes were paid only on $590 million worth of imports (at the time, c. $540 million euros) - only about 30 percent of the total. These figures are proof of the entrepreneurial vitality of the Kosovars and their aversion to state interference.
USAID chief Dale Pfeiffer praised Kosovo, in an interview granted to the daily paper, Koha Ditore:
"There is bureaucracy, there is a corruption, but if we compare with neighboring countries, it seems to be at a lower level. Since 1999, Kosovo is building its own new governmental structures. Mainly, your government is more modern than government in Serbia, Macedonia or even Bosnia. I think that corruption is not even same at the level as neighboring countries. Although corruption is something that can grow very easily, currently it doesn't seem to be a big obstacle for businesses."
Still, he reverted to typical counterfactual condescension. Federal Yugoslavia, of which Kosovo was a part, was a modern state, more advanced than many EU members. Yet, Pfieffer professed to be worried.
"Day by day, more competencies are being given to the Kosovo Government. My concern is, does the Government have the ability to manage its own competencies. I think there should be a balance; you must gain competencies which can be applied."
Many observers think that had it not been hobbled by the indecision and overbearing officialdom of the international community, Kosovo would have fared better. Even evident economic assets - such as nature parks, vineyards and ski slopes - were left undeveloped. Because it hasn't met EU regulations - Kosovo is unable to export its wines, juices and agricultural produce.
But to hold this view is to ignore UNMIK's contribution to the containment of organized crime - mostly imported from Albania and Macedonia. Admittedly, though, UNMIK failed to defend minority rights. Kosovo has been ethnically cleansed of its Serbs. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and OSCE warned last month that minorities "continue to face security problems and lack access to basic services (such as) education, health services and equitable employment."
Kosovo teaches us lessons which should be diligently applied in Iraq. The involvement of a long-term active military component intended to guarantee basic law and order is crucial. U.N. administrations are good at reconstruction, rehabilitation - including humanitarian aid - and institution-building.
But they are utterly incompetent when it comes to the economy and to protecting minorities from the majority's wrath. Pecuniary matters are best left to private sector firms and consultants while helpless minorities better start praying.
Worse still, as opposed to an occupying army, whose top priority is to depart - U.N. bureaucracies fast gravitate towards colonialism. The U.N.-paid and U.N.-sanctioned rulers of both Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina exercise powers akin to erstwhile British viceroys. Nor do they have any incentive to terminate their position - gratifying as it is to both their egos and their wallets.
UNMIK is the reification of the concept of conflict-of-interest. If it succeeds to render the natives economically and politically independent - it is no longer needed. If it fails - it survives on a bloated budget. To be an international official in Kosovo is to endure the constant clashes between one's professional conscience and one's propensity to live the good life. Only saints win such battles. Whatever UNMIK is - it is decidedly not saintly.
But, as Augustin Palokaj, Brussels correspondent for Koha Ditore, notes, comparing Kosovo to Iraq can go too far:
"Kosovo has no oil and one-third of the population of Baghdad, and it is not interesting for investments ... Iraq will have an easier time when it comes to political status. Iraq is, and will remain, a state. It is still not known what Kosovo's fate will be. Unlike in Kosovo, there will be both aid and investment in Iraq. The Iraqi people will decide on the status of their country, whereas the Security Council, that is to say China and Russia, will decide about Kosovo."
And does he think the United Nations should administer a postwar Iraq?
"The UN would only complicate things, but the Americans will give it a role, just for the sake of it, which will satisfy the bureaucrats that must get their huge salaries. Americans are also aware of the danger that if the UN takes over the administration of postwar Iraq ... criminals from various countries would be infiltrated into Iraq, as they have done in Kosovo. How can peace be established by an organization whose policemen allowed eight war crimes suspects to escape from prison, as happened to UN policemen in Kosovo. Instead of feeling shame for such things, the chiefs of UNMIK Police produce propaganda about their successes. The key American role in postwar Iraq will prove what was learned from Kosovo."
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