Almost two decades after the NATO bombing that ended Yugoslav governance in Kosovo, the Balkans’ newest independent country remains sharply contested. Although the formerly all-pervasive United Nations-led governance here has gradually given way to locally-directed institutions, international minders – in the form of the controversial EU law-and-order mission, EULEX – still play the key role in keeping Kosovo and its fractious ethnic groups under control, particularly in the ethnically-contested north. In the south and center, however, minority Serb populations have been largely integrated.
Further, as has been the case since 1999, the ongoing presence of international organizations and major countries continues to manifest in rivalries, games of brinksmanship, corruption and a level of foreign interest almost without parallel (given the small size of the country).
Despite a July 2010 legal setback at the Hague over Kosovo’s right to declare its independence, Serbia remains obstinate in opposing this de facto situation, with large areas of territory north of the River Ibar remaining outside of Prishtina’s control.
However, despite the ongoing impasse over political legitimacy and numerous legal issues associated with it, all of which impact on an already sluggish economy, Kosovo sees its future in its youth; with the youngest average population in Europe, the country is attempting to rebrand itself from a place associated with conflict and crime. The generally pro-American and pro-European sentiment of the Kosovo Albanian population has served the country’s image well over the past decade, but it will still take some time before Kosovo catches up with the European mainstream.
Meanwhile, the completion of a highway to Albania has made Kosovo more integrated. The acquisition of a strategic ‘seaport’ in Durres, by virtue of the new highway, gave Kosovars confidence that they can expand their economy.
While relatively unaffected by the migration crisis that began in 2015. Kosovo has seen several hundred young Muslim radicals travel to and from Syria where they fought for ISIS or Al Nusra in that country’s civil war. This fact has proven extremely embarrassing for a government seeking greater international legitimacy, and has resulted in new laws and security actions. At the same time, the government has played up its relations with the Vatican, as during the September 2016 canonization of Mother Teresa.
The legal status of Kosovo’s independence, and relevant issues surrounding it, from rights of participation in international events to violence in the North; international recognitions, arbitration, contracts and memberships developments; pressures on the economy, including corruption and diaspora activity; organized crime, including weapons and narcotics smuggling; Islamic radicalism and foreign fighters; the role and legitimacy of international institutions in Kosovo; relations with Serbia.
Forward Planning: Points of Interest
- Diplomatic intrigue and initiatives concerning Kosovo’s independence and aspirations, from both the Prishtina government and from Belgrade
- Internal dynamics and rivalries within the various international power-brokers in Kosovo (ICO, EULEX, UNMIK, KFOR, etc)
- Continuing violence and threat of violence over the northern municipalities and the border control with Serbia proper, as well as the effect this can have on energizing the hardline ethnic Albanian opposition parties
- Developing economic ties with Albania and the real or expected benefits of major infrastructure projects for enhancing Kosovo’s trade ties abroad
- Inter- and intra-religious issues and their effect on society, including Serbian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Islam and secularism- as well as international issues such as jihadism and outreach to the Vatican.