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Kosovo

Capital Prishtina
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 377 (Monaco); 381 (Serbia)
Mobile Codes 44
ccTLD (TBD)
Currency Euro
Land Area 10,908 sq km
Population 1.8 million
Language Albanian, Serbian, Turkish
Major Religions Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism

EULEX’s Perceived Timidity, Lack of Results Damaging Image Among Kosovars

Editor’s note: A string of high-profile incidents, such as vocal opposition to the EU’s nomination of Romanian Col. Marian Petre to head a special police unit in Kosovo, indicate an increasingly assertive attitude from Kosovar politicians, media and other public figures towards the EULEX mission. Operating conditions for a once lauded law-and-order mission thus seem to be worsening as public dissatisfaction grows and politicized legal challenges loom.

………..………….

By Anita McKinna in Prishtina*

On April 18, a story broke in the Kosovo media: the EULEX security chief, Stefan Loren, had been suspended, allegedly due to ‘racist’ behavior towards his Albanian colleagues, while three other officers had been reassigned. EULEX described the dismissal and staff transfers as being due to ‘security concerns.’

The story gained big headlines in Kosovo’s media and was also reported by foreign sources, most of which (like RFE/RL) did not report the identity of the Close Protection Unit staffer involved. But Kosovar groups like The Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms were quick to describe Loren’s alleged actions as being ‘pure racism’ and declared that it was a further insult to the Albanian people to regard it as a security issue. It announced that ‘racism is a serious criminal offence and is not an administrative violation.’ And the Kosovo Omsbudperson, Sami Kurteshi, went so far as to say that the state should ‘reconsider’ its relationship with EULEX if the charges are confirmed, reported KosPress.

On the same day that the story about the EULEX employee’s dismissal was making headlines in the local press, EULEX also announced that it was not within its responsibility to oversee the return of local prosecutors and judges to the courthouse in north Mitrovica, but rather that this is a political issue to be resolved in dialogue between Prishtina and Belgrade.

EULEX Steps Back from Mitrovica Issue

This announcement may have implications for both the future of Kosovo and for the role of the international presence there, as it suggests that the EU mission is not capable of promoting the rule of law throughout the whole of Kosovo. It also contradicts EULEX’s previous statements, which in fact claim responsibility for resolving this issue. In July 2010, EULEX chief Yves de Kermabon described the re-opening of the courthouse as being ‘a matter of urgency and of basic human rights’ and that ‘EULEX will continue to work hard to achieve this goal.’

Speaking for Balkanalysis.com, Krenar Gashi, head of local think-tank KIPRED, noted that it is ‘too much of a coincidence’ that the scandal over the sacked EULEX employee, as well as a volley of EULEX press releases about the outcome of other EULEX cases, came during the same week as the announcement about the north Mitrovica courthouse. Gashi believes this is the bigger scandal.

Fighting Crime: A Lack of Results

For Kosovars, the announcement from EULEX abdicating responsibility for the courthouse situation seemed just the latest in a line of unfulfilled promises made by the EU law-and-order mission. It has also repeatedly promised that ‘big fish’ would be caught in its fight against corruption. Last summer, when transport minister Fatmir Limaj’s office and home were spectacularly raided by police, it seemed as though such a promise was about to be delivered. But nothing came of it- neither any announcements about the progress of the investigation, nor further arrests. Mr Limaj has used the lack of action from EULEX to take the offensive, recently accusing it of tarnishing Brussel’s image by making baseless accusations.

More damage to EULEX’s image came when it was recently revealed that after last July’s high-profile arrest (complete with live media coverage) of the Governor of the Central Bank, the charges against him were largely based on flimsy evidence, such as anonymous letters. For many, these failures are examples of EULEX’s ineptitude. A recent article in The Guardian – penned by Andrea Capussela, another recently fired EULEX officer – described the European mission as ‘a shining example of incompetence.’

According to the author, the groundbreaking (and costly, at 100 million euros per year) EU civilian mission – created ‘to prove the possibility of an effective common foreign policy’ for the Union – is instead being undermined by ‘incompetence, weak management and possibly even disloyalty to the mission’s mandate.’

Destabilization Fears?

Some Kosovars believe that the truth is much more sinister, and that EULEX is in fact not interested in tackling corruption in a meaningful way, because that would mean destabilization of Kosovo’s political structures. Speaking for Balkanalysis.com, Yll Hoxha, Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Club, adds that EULEX is ‘focused only on PR shows, not results.’ He believes that EULEX is tackling cases selectively and deliberately ignoring concerns about the conduct of Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi’s government. Hoxha laments this lack of action and states that ‘nobody is interested in destabilizing society.’

For his part, Mr Gashi is not surprised that EULEX is more focused on PR than results in tackling corruption. He believes that the way the EU mission is structured (with the vast majority of its staff being police rather than prosecutors and judges) makes it obvious that EULEX’s priority is to keep the peace, not tackle corruption.

For Ramadan Ilazi, head of the FOL (Speak Up) Movement, such a lack of results is having a negative effect on people’s perceptions of corruption in Kosovo. Ilazi asserted for Balkanalysis.com that, if corruption is as widespread as EULEX says it is, then it ‘should not be difficult’ to find evidence of that corruption. The lack of results so far leads people to think that if EULEX cannot find evidence, then corruption must not exist. For Ilazi this is evidence of the destructive role that EULEX is playing.

Several years ago, when the EULEX mission optimistically commenced operations, it made concerted efforts to distance itself from its deeply unpopular predecessor, UNMIK. But a lack of meaningful results in tackling corruption and the decision to distance itself from the issue of the north Mitrovica court, coupled with the recent arrests of ex-KLA members on war crimes charges (including Fatmir Limaj) has led many Kosovars to fear that EULEX may well exceed UNMIK in terms of its unpopularity.

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