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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

European Security, Intelligence and Migration: Interview with Philip Ingram

In this exclusive interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gets the insights and security assessments of former British military intelligence officer Philip Ingram, MBE. A 27-year veteran of the UK Army Intelligence Corps, Ingram worked in hostile environments including Iraq, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo, where he was involved with intelligence and liaison during and after the 1999 NATO bombing. Mr Ingram now works in the private sector, focusing on counter-terrorism and security issues for the press, governmental and corporate clients.

Current Investigations

Chris Deliso: Thanks for speaking with us today, Philip. First of all, before we get into the details, I would be keen to learn more about your company and what you are working on now.

Philip Ingram: Thank you. Actually, we operate two companies. I am the managing director of Security Media Publishing, which among other things produces SecurityNewsdesk.com, which has a newsfeed for the global security industry- covering ISIS activity to the latest in new CCTV camera technology, and everything in between.

Philip Ingram Interview with Balkanalysis

According to Mr Ingram, “the pattern of traffic we’re seeing in the Dark Web and some social media and other communications channels” indicates advanced planning for a major terrorist attack is now underway.

I’m also the chairman of Global Risk Awareness, a company providing cyber intelligence. This is different from most cyber security companies, as we monitor Darkweb activity through use of sophisticated tools, to see who’s doing what, for example, ISIS members interacting with each other on different forums clandestinely. We have the capabilities to sit there unknown, and monitor their movements.

CD: That is very interesting. This software, I assume, is proprietary and your own.

PI: Yes, our own bespoke software. No more than six or seven organizations in the world have software similar to ours- they are mostly the ones with three- or four-letter abbreviations, you know.

CD: Aha, so does the software have some government origin?

PI: No, it is not created from a governmental basis. It is original corporate software for monitoring the dark web, and we have developed additional tools and scripts in order to not just gather intel, but also to analyse it through a process called social network analysis.

CD: This is a fascinating topic, but I am no expert in technology. I had thought the problem governments find with monitoring users of the onion router is that there is specifically no way of tracking them, the only visible points there are the entry and exit relays. But again I’m certainly no expert.

PI: Well, the web in general is quite interesting, as it has three layers. The surface layer includes anything findable by search engines. Then the Deep Web operates within it, like your banking online details, the local library index or an association with a members-only area to their website. Then there’s the Dark Web. This is the layer of the internet requiring special software to enter, where websites are hidden and often where in order to find certain websites people have to be invited. It is where a lot of illicit activity takes place like the former Silk Road. And of course, extremists and terrorists also use the Dark Web. That is our focus.

CD: Can you give some examples of the kind of terrorist activity you monitor there? And their capabilities and interests?

PI: There are many ways that groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda are using the Dark Web in very sophisticated ways. We see them creating and interacting, for example, on forums where they will tell people how to build bombs, or give tactical instructions or otherwise what to do. They might post training videos for terrorists on how to set up covert communications channels. These include accounts through new internet communications media, like whatsapp- a lot of it is very secure and scaring intelligence agencies.

CD: So, in your assessment, what is the current activity level of Islamist supporters from the Southeast Europe area?

PI: Regarding the Balkans, a quick recent search of forums showed something interesting. When we searched for users from individual places, like Kosovo, I expected to see a lot of traffic, but there were surprisingly few hits from there and other Balkan areas.

CD: But that doesn’t necessarily mean there are not local supporters, no?

PI: Indeed, what that says to me is that the security being taken to access the Dark Net in the Balkans is really sophisticated. We can track people who are using proxy servers, but probably what they’re doing is going through initial web hosting not based in the Balkans. We can pick up proxy servers and TOR relays, but if someone using a foreign-based server as primary link, it is impossible to tell their true location.

Background Experience

CD: So, if you could share a bit about your background, and what drew you to this line of work- I mean before you retired, when you were working in the military intelligence.

PI: I was an engineering officer for 12 years, then I went into the planning side. I was asked to join the NATO planning team at the time when there was the UN takeover in Bosnia. And then having done the planning side of things, I had no desire to go back to the engineering side.

The one thing that tickled me most was every planning activity started with an intelligence briefing. I thought it would be good to be part of an organization that studied, analyzed and predicted what would happen. So I got transferred over, to the British Army Intelligence Corps.

CD: Where did you serve during your career, and when did you retire?

PI: Oh, all over the place. My first posting from training was to Northern Ireland. I also served in Germany, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Iraq, Cyprus and of course, the UK. I retired in 2010.

CD: What was your most dangerous mission?

PI: Depends how you define danger! In 1985, the IRA tried to get me, in Northern Ireland. People forget the intensity of different operations, but the fact is that the British lost more soldiers in Northern Ireland than in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. We lost over 200 soldiers in one year alone in Northern Ireland. Operations there were in a much smaller area- people forget the intensity that comes with having to work in such conditions.

But Iraq, where I was in 2005 and 2006, that was the scariest because you just didn’t know what the insurgents would do- they were always one step ahead of us, very sophisticated fighters. It was scary because there was no value in human life- at least within Europe, whether in the Balkans or Northern Ireland, there was a code. There were certain limits. But once you get into places like Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no code. In such a place it complicates the situation for operations, and especially how to work within an agreed legal framework, to be effective against those kinds of terrorists.

Kosovo Operations and Transitional Justice

CD: Very interesting perspective. Now, if we can return to the Balkans, and some recent events. You are probably aware that war crimes trials are coming up for Kosovo, and conceivably involve some of the people you had to work with during that time. What do you expect from this process?

PI: I find it fascinating, as the ICTY had tried to carry out war crime trials without success in the past. For example, Ramush Haradinaj was indicted twice and the charges were dropped twice.

The interesting thing from the war in Kosovo was that, looking at in a balanced way, from a human perspective, it was very simple- atrocities were carried out by all sides, and most of the people affected were civilians in that tiny area. This happened in a dramatic way, initially, with huge amounts of refugees into Macedonia and then when the Serb paramilitaries and regular forces and the KLA were fighting each other.

So intense was this fighting that huge numbers of innocent people were being killed. As NATO was negotiating with Serbia primarily to stop the fighting so that humanitarian relief could get in, the negotiations were stalling-

CD: Were you in Kosovo at this time?

PI: No- we were sitting in Macedonia with sophisticated intelligence equipment, listening and watching for the time being. I was later within Kosovo, after the fighting had stopped.

CD: What was the value for military intelligence of being placed in Macedonia, when the war was happening in Kosovo, and then in Kosovo, after the war had finished?

PI: There was activity we had to continue, to make sure that our lines of communication were constantly open to all sides, all the different groups, especially important before the fighting stops. We needed to make sure the backdoors are open, and get a feeling for what was going to happen.

For negotiations to happen successfully, you need good intelligence. The initial negotiations were between NATO and Milosevic, but when they were signed – the formal negotiations – only then could we get a leadership together, and continue further negotiations between the parties on the ground, a long process.

CD: Very interesting. Again, related to the court- have you or any of your former colleagues been called as potential character witnesses in these trials? Do you expect this could happen, or is there some kind of legal immunity?

PI: No, there’s certainly no legal immunity that applicable for us. But I’m sure that if the war crimes trials wanted to look at war records they could request them, and any other information that could give further details about events. Everything was carefully recorded.

CD: Interesting. But anyway, we understand that present senior Kosovo officials are not worried about the result of any future trials. Even if they are from rival political parties or groups, the Kosovo government will hire top lawyers and they expect the trials will finish without a single conviction. What is your view on whether the lawyers will get them off? Is it going to be just a short of show trial?

PI: I don’t know the details, as I haven’t seen specific indictments. But in general, there is a real difficulty with any war after it’s conclusion, because you are left with winning and losing sides. Then, when they prosecute the latter for war crimes, it is hard enough- it becomes much harder when they go after the winning side. There is naturally a lot of resistance to that.

Regarding Kosovo, I can’t see how they will easily build cases. I don’t see what good it will do, either. If you look at history, and compared how Israel grew, or South Africa or Northern Ireland and the Balkans after conflicts, the one place that got it right was South Africa, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That made some positive achievements for the whole country to forward.

However in Northern Ireland, after the conflict finished, the ex-members of the two fighting sides are all in the Northern Ireland government now- but the British taxpayer is still being paralyzed with paying for inquiries that all seem to focus on British and not IRA activity. Millions of pounds are being wasted trying to get to the bottom of various incidents that happened long ago, and where there is little or no evidence.

So unless you’re on the ground at the time, you are not in a position to comment and look back… remember, a lot comes down to judgment calls that are made in quickly changing circumstances, on any given day. Also, laws change over the years- can a certain law still be applicable retroactively, if it differs from the one in place at the time of an event?

So in my opinion, all this kind of court does is undermine good efforts to build communities for the future. I expect it will appease some people, but I also suspect it will just undermine what they need to do to move forward after the conflict.

CD: That is a compelling argument. It leads to something else I wanted to mention, which is related. The Kosovo officials who are confident [about acquittals] specifically compare their cases as similar to that of Ante Gotovina, the Croatian wartime general who was acquitted by the Hague. When he was finally tracked down, wherever it was – I think the Canary Islands – it was due to the help of British intelligence, which had been persistently tracking him and other alleged war criminals for years. Were you still involved in the Balkans in that period, and did they request support?

PI: I remember this, and I know the ICTY if they needed could request information from the British government and this could include military intelligence information, I am sure they got full cooperation. In fact, the head of security for the ICTY at one point was an ex-British military intelligence officer-

CD: Really!

PI: Yes. And for the Kosovo conflict, all the pre-war and post-war intelligence and other information was handed over to NATO forces. It stayed within Kosovo. Later, decisions were made about what to do with it- it was then handed to the EU, some things were passed on, some not.

CD: What is the typical cooperation practice for the British, between the military and civilian intelligence services?

PI: In any operations, they work together closely. The value of cooperation in intelligence is in trying to build up a total picture from lots of jigsaw pieces. To do this, there is formal, and informal cooperation with various intelligence agencies, both military and civilian, both your own and those of different countries as well.

And this can be mutually beneficial, not only within your own services, but for your partners. Because in many cases you help them to add other jigsaw puzzles, to clarify their own picture as well.

Behind the Migration Crisis: Crime, Political Error and European Security

CD: So now we move on to migration, the current big topic in the Balkans and in European politics. We have been covering the migration crisis for years and now, in the last year, particularly the so-called Balkan route.

Our initial assessment, before the summer 2015 crisis even started, was that the migrant numbers would intensify, leading to a greater EU participation. But even into the summer, no one from out of the region seemed very bothered to do something about it. To what do you attribute this attitude? Who benefits from it?

PI: These are indeed both good questions, with a lot of history. If we go back to the traditional Balkan route for smuggling, this has long been used by people smuggling contraband drugs, weapons, other items and of course human trafficking. That route has always been used.

One vignette I remember well occurred inside Kosovo, after the war. I was talking to one of the senior leaders on one of the opposing sides, who just had gotten a nice new car. I asked his driver if it came from Tirana, where a lot of stolen luxury cars are sold for only a few thousand euros. The driver said ‘no, we paid cash- it wasn’t him [the senior leader] who bought it, it was his wives.’ And by ‘wives’ the driver was referring to prostitution rings in Holland and Germany controlled by that person. So Kosovar criminal organisations are moving people and goods for years. It doesn’t surprise me that refugees are-

CD: Yes, I agree about the organized crime, but in the current period migrants are not going through Kosovo, so I don’t know if their criminals are involved.

PI: Yes, true- the main reason the refugees are not going through Kosovo is the geography. The fastest route is through Serbia and Macedonia. Still I suspect the same people who have been making money over the years through smuggling in the region have at least some role in the current trade.

Now, regarding the lethargy in Europe about the crisis, I believe this was because many of the more northern countries had not yet felt the presence of the refugees, and underestimated their numbers, at that time. And the countries affected, like Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, obviously wanted the refugees to go through as quickly as possible. And also, Angela Merkel was badly advised, when she decided to welcome so many people. She now regrets it.

CD: Well, this is the biggest mystery to me and many other people. I can’t believe that she didn’t know what would happen. Our research indicates that the BND knew everything the whole time, about the situation on the ground, and what could happen later. So how do we explain that Merkel chose to invite so many refugees?

PI: There’s no reason why the Germans would want all these people- I have been racking my brain trying to find some logic behind it.

About genuine refugees, there is of course a legal right they have to protection, and requirements of states to fulfill that, and they are using it. But at the time when Merkel was first commenting on the situation, there was debate about what countries should take leading roles and nobody stepped forward. So she nominated Germany as leader of Europe in this situation, thinking others would follow their lead.

There has since then been a lot of debate about all this in Europe- and especially in the last week, as things have come to a head here in the UK, with Cameron’s negotiations in Brussels and announcement of the June 23 referendum date.

Merkel was probably trying to make a statement to other European leaders: if Germany could accept a certain amount of refugees, she was hoping others would follow suit. She just got that one wrong.

The Upcoming Migrant Surge: Security Assessments for the Balkans and Europe

CD: I still can’t believe she was that naïve or uninformed. This whole thing has to be in someone’s interest.

PI: Well, I don’t think the whole situation was well communicated at a political level, regarding who these refugees were. An awful lot of economic migrants have been among them, and are continuing to be. By effectively opening the European borders to these people, Angela Merkel opened the floodgates.

If it is in someone’s interest to have this crisis, there might be many parties, but most concerning for me is that mixed in with the refugees are a lot of ISIS members and supporters.

CD: Do you have any estimate regarding how many have already entered Europe?

PI: Well, mixed in with ISIS, probably this includes Al Qaeda members too, the numbers vary. But recent international press reports say about 5,000 so far. What’s clear is that they can get people in and out at will- look at the Paris attacks in November. Some attackers came up through Greece, and followed the route to Brussels. They bypassed everything, even though they were known to authorities.

CD: What is your assessment for a spring surge in migrants, as we have recently reported on, and how it will affect the EU? What are your thoughts on the situation and how it will be by May or June, say, by UK referendum time?

PI: I think we will see, as the weather gets better and the seas are calmer, just such a surge, as then it will be easier for migrants to try and make the journey. The other thing we see that can aggravate the migrant flow is the increased military activity now going on in Aleppo, which is forcing people out of their homes. ISIS is also pushing from other sides. There is a bursting point. And the people have to get somewhere.

CD: Looking at this issue in regard to your companies’ focus, do you see any evidence of migrant traffickers using the Dark Web for logistical or tactical purposes in this trade?

PI: We haven’t watched for migrant organizers there. It is unlikely they would need to use the Dark Web, though- they would be operating easily through closed social channels.

What is more worrying, in fact, is that right now we are seeing on Dark Web surveillance clear activity from everywhere in world among ISIS and Al Qaeda channels. These levels and patterns of activity match those that are noted right before big terrorist attacks happen. What these terrorists do is extremely well planned.

CD: Malaysia, is that one of the countries where an attack is expected? We noted the British government very recently issued a travel alert for that country, citing terrorism threats against foreign tourist destinations there.

PI: We haven’t looked at things in detail there recently, though we have historically looked at it quite a bit. And it seems that, yes, ISIS is increasingly recruiting from countries in Southeast Asia, as they find they are stronger fighters, willing to be more extreme and more brutal than European counterparts, and that is particularly worrying.

CD: We have recently reported on Macedonia’s plan to close the border with Greece to migrants. If the border with Greece is closed, what risk scenarios do you see for migrants trapped in northern Greece, and their smugglers, given the differentiated geography of the northern Greek border with four states, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey?

PI: The biggest thing is there could become larger and larger camps of increasingly desperate groups of people situated alongside relatively small rural communities in Northern Greece. These could easily turn into flashpoints and then the security risk will grow.

You will see, like elsewhere in Europe in that situation, an increase of locals protesting against the presence of refugees and migrants, and the latter who can’t stand being stuck there. There is thus a potential for rioting and violent altercations with locals, police and military.

At the same time, criminal gangs will be involved- and when they aren’t moving people they aren’t making money, so they will try to find ways to move the people. Even terrorist gangs can emerge in such a climate and will exploit the unrest. But we have already seen from Hungary, where they are having trouble with refugees- they can’t keep them from cutting the fences to get through. So smugglers will keep trying to find ways to get people out of Greece.

CD: We have most recently reported that, in this case, a new Albanian-Adriatic route could develop, as Bulgaria has moved army units to its border with Greece, making it harder there, and anyway Albania is closer to Western Europe and has a history of people-smuggling by boat to Italy. Do you see this as a possible scenario, if Macedonia manages to keep its border sealed?

PI: All traditional routes will come into increased use in the Balkans. It is like when you squeeze a balloon between your fingers; you don’t know where it will pop out. But if you squeeze a bit too hard in one place, the air will move off to somewhere else. The balloon can’t stay still. The refugees and migrants don’t want to sit still, and the people who are profiting from moving them certainly don’t want them to sit still either.

Provided smugglers can make money – and they do it in very ingenuous ways – people will find a way. Yes, one likely way is to get into boats again, the Adriatic coast from Albania to Italy, and the long coast in Croatia, are all possible points of activity.

What we’re starting to see now with the EU, that the Schengen Zone is almost suspended, and without a central EU decision possible, countries can’t afford to have open borders-

CD: It will make it more expensive for migrants all down the line, and thus more profitable for smugglers-

PI: Yes, and we’re now seeing Austria only accepting 80 a day, and similar reductions will happen and worsen the situation.

CD: Indeed. Also, regarding the Eastern Mediterranean, we are aware that several ‘suspicious’ NGOs run by Islamic groups, including British ones, have been operating from the Greek islands near Turkey for the past year, for migrant facilitation and surveillance purposes. Do you have any further info? Given that there are British citizens involved, is this something British intelligence is concerned about?

PI: The presence of such groups is not surprising. It’s a standard method historically used, to employ front NGOs- if you go back to Al Qaeda’s earliest money movements, money changed hands through NGOs and charities.

I don’t know without seeing the specific details if the British government is doing anything or aware of any particular groups. But I can say that some are known about, but some might not be, so it is something to be concerned about.

Libya Assessments: EU Operations, Criminal Activities and Terrorism Risks

CD: It is also worth noting that, at the same time that exactly nothing was being done about the Balkan route last summer, the EEAS already had a very advanced surveillance and interdiction mission called Operation SOPHIA going in Italy. This was recently revealed by Wikileaks and has caused a lot of media coverage. Why the discrepancy? Why was there something big being done in a maritime area with relatively fewer migrants, considering that Greece, like Italy is a EU state, and had many more migrants?

PI:I think to analyze that, one has to look at how these international organizations work. Whenever a military force is put together, they will do it where it is politically acceptable, to maximize the political benefit from it. Thus, it might not necessarily be where the real threat is, but where it is seen to be doing something.

If you look at European public opinion in general, whenever the governments say ‘we are doing something,’ people aren’t going to sit and look at the details and analyze what that means. I have seen that with NATO and the EU as well- even if a mission involves a military component, it’s politics that decides it, ultimately.

Coming back to the Libyan bit… the sea crossing are much more dangerous from there to Europe. The Eastern Aegean routes are much shorter, between Turkey and Greece, and there the seas can be calm. From a humanitarian perspective, the latter is the least worst route.

And from Libya, we could see plenty of cases of migrants traveling with overcrowded boats of 500-700 people, with many deaths at sea. So from a humanitarian point of view, the politics would prioritize a mission there. And the criminal networks are more globalized in Libya, because they’re taking economic migrants primarily- the ones out of Libya in particular have been doing this for years.

CD: But from Turkey there are many economic migrants coming, just from other parts of the world- and Libya had fewer when Gaddafi was alive to honor his deal with Berlusconi and restrict migration…

PI: Yes indeed, ever since Gaddafi was kicked out, Libya has been a free-for-all for organized crime. Presently we have very good intelligence to suggest ISIS was sending a lot of people on boats from there, even though it was more dangerous than the Turkey-Greece route.

CD: Really.

PI: Yes, and they have pretty well-equipped boats, separate from the large and overcrowded ones that might not make it, so that they can get smaller numbers of their trusted people into Europe. That is ongoing for over a year now.

CD: Part of what was shown in the EU document put out by Wikileaks is that regular smugglers would give the boats just enough fuel to get, say, 30 miles out to sea and give them a satellite phone and a number to call when they got there- ‘here, call the police and they will save you.’ The smugglers didn’t care if the people or the boat made it to the destination.

PI: Yes, some people smugglers would do exactly what you’re saying, but particularly the unscrupulous ones. The scrupulous ones – if you can have scrupulous people smugglers – on the other hand would make sure that passengers arrived, because word trickles back, and it is not good for business to have people know that you might not survive the trip if you go with a certain guy.

But the more serious aspect of the ISIS infiltration from Libya is that it’s a different model- it isn’t, say, 500 people at once, and they’re charging a lot less. This is primarily for the purpose of building up support and logistics networks all over the place in Europe, by getting these supporters into Italy and even into Greece.

The majority of such traffic has been coming out of Sirte. Possibly, that’s another reason why the EU military mission concentrated around that part of the Mediterranean. Possibly that was the biggest threat that the major intelligence determined at the time of planning.

CD: You spoke with us one year ago for an article about the ISIS expansion in Libya. Again, at that time we were practically alone in making the assessment that the ISIS presence would grow. Now, the US suddenly bombed an ISIS safehouse there last week, which was preceded by a sudden flurry of big media reports on the alleged ISIS threat in Libya. So was the media reacting to an actual buildup, or was it scheduled around and anticipated attack?

PI: ISIS is growing rapidly, so I believe they have been reporting on this because it is happening. And if you look at what the ISIS leaders have done, they sent their mufti into Libya, which is very significant. He is called Sheikh Turki al-Binali, AKA Abu Sufyan al-Sulami, and is 30 years old, a hardline extremist.

So putting in this cleric as ISIS commander in Libya has effectively shown that with their territory in Libya, Islamic State sees it as a third territory, after Syria and Iraq. Among the reasons for that is if they get squeezed out of the Middle East – which is a prospect that will still take many years to happen – then Libya will be the next place to move to. Also, from there they can work on the neighboring countries, and with oilfields in Libya and migrant and other smuggling as two profitable trades, Libya becomes a natural place to focus on and to tap into.

CD: When the US did attack last week, why did their fighter jet take off from England, given that there are much closer NATO bases to choose from? Is there something in their military procedure to explain this?

PI: There are indeed NATO bases closer to Libya, but the things to look at is do those bases have access to the right intelligence at the right time. Further, were the right weapons systems available in those places? Were they committed to the right activities? For example, commanders won’t say to the fighter pilots, ‘okay, you two are going tonight to Syria, then you’ll come back and go to Libya.’ Each base might be geared up for different purposes and missions.

The US has used UK bases in the past. The RAF Lakenheath base in Suffolk, which is where the Sabratha attack was launched, has been used for operations in many countries in the past. So, it is not particularly unusual that it was used in this case. One thing that had to happen, of course, was that the British government had to sanction use of the base for that mission. But that is a routine procedure.

CD: When we spoke with you this time last year, you were highlighting the danger of ISIS possessing radioactive material from hospitals and other facilities they controlled in the Middle East, which could be used as a weapon. I have seen again a sudden flurry of articles on this topic lately. So where do we stand on that now?

PI: The threat remains the same. Yes, some recent reporting on isotopes stolen from hospitals has appeared that suggested that they fell into ISIS’ hands, but there’s nothing specific we have seen to suggest there is some imminently planned operation to use dirty bombs.

But that’s not to say they’re not planning to use it. There is one thing that is clear from ISIS covert discussions we have picked up recently. This is that they have a number of different spectacular attacks being planned.

CD: Really? What kind of targets?

PI: The pattern of traffic we’re seeing in the Dark Web and some social media and other communications channels all suggest this. And the kind of language used suggests advanced planning is now taking place.

The target list is quite interesting- there are some statements specifying Lisbon in Portugal, which is not usually considered a big target. Paris and London, of course remain top targets. And a lot of planning for such attacks seems to be happening inside Germany- whether they want to attack Germany itself, or just use it as planning base and keep quite there, remains to be seen.

Clandestine Cooperation, Media Standards, Brexit, and ‘Going Rogue’

CD: Now finally for some loose ends. I’d love to get your views on some related matters that have a British perspective. First, regarding Syria, Seymour Hersh wrote in the London Review of Books in April 2014 that Obama had at one point averted air strikes against Assad at the last minute, thanks to military intelligence received from British military intelligence which got it from the Russians, samples that showed it was not in fact Syria’s army that launched the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks. Any insights?

PI: The only thing I can say about this case, having read a number of reports about the issue, is that it is still not 100 percent clear who launched the chemical weapons. There is good analysis that both sides [Assad or the rebels] could have done it.

CD: Fine, I just thought the interesting part was about Russian, British and American covert cooperation, since the surface-level political rhetoric is so hostile between Russia and the West.

PI: The services do indeed cooperate- there’s a fantastic phrase security agencies use in reports, when noting that certain information has come from a particular source – when one knows he is dealing with another security agency – at the bottom of the report they will write that the information might be ‘designed to influence as much as inform.’ Often, it just happens to follow what that country wants to do politically.

CD: Fantastic. Another issue we have observed in this region is again with the British, that there is some confusion or uncertainty because of the handling or approach to events, about whether this reflects British central planning and policy, or whether someone in the middle of the intelligence hierarchy is interfering for personal or other motives… in your experience, what is the likelihood of someone ‘going rogue’ within the British intelligence apparatus at present?

PI: What I can say is that there are carefully controlled mechanisms to stop people from going rogue. But in the end of the day, intelligence officers are individuals. They can have personal motivations. In fact, I know of one case during Kosovo, not involving a British operative-

CD: But Western?

PI: Yes, it was a particular Western intelligence agent who went rogue, and it had very bad consequences. It cost a number of people their lives.

CD: What happened?

PI: Well, this individual had a direct line to a senior commander in Kosovo. And he convinced the commander to believe something would happen, contrary to other information from direct channels. At the time, I was still in Macedonia, while the bombing was still going on. It was just an example of bad practice. But the agent was never punished for this. It was a regrettable example of an operator having far too much influence over what senior decision-makers were doing, and a number of people died because of that.

CD: That is a fascinating case. Now, to speak of wrong information and get back to the Syria war: to me, the British military intelligence approach there seems to have shown new strategies- like they are trying to be more ‘hip’ or modern about how to interact. I am thinking of examples like the increased use of ‘citizen journalism’ and ‘outside groups,’ as was seen with ‘regular guys’ analyzing Youtube videos of fighting for making military judgments and putting it in the media. And of course there is that guy they’re always making fun of who is running this ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ from his house in Coventry.

To me, this seems to be a new low, but the media has repeated comments and opinions by such people verbatim. Are standards slipping? Does the government and the media just assume people are stupid, or don’t have much of an interest, or what?

PI: I think the increasing use of so-called citizen journalists, and more of the mainstream press using them, shows a huge slipping of standards.

What it does do, which is very sad to see, is a lot of mainstream media are going for sensationalism rather than well-researched and accurate analysis and good sources. It is definitely taking journalism to a new low.

But it’s not essentially a military thing. If you work in military intelligence, you will take information from everywhere, and then assess it. But I think it’s just some of these individual people doing it, getting their name and information out there- I am not aware of any evidence of someone in the UK cabinet directing them. In the end of the day, it’s a free country, you can’t stop them from giving their view. And that’s why so many military have died- for keeping it a free country. Free speech is a fundamental right of a free and liberal democracy.

CD: Thanks, that is very interesting. So then, what are your thoughts on Brexit and Cameron’s deal with the EU, speaking as a British citizen? He says it is in the security interest of the country to be in the EU. Is this the case? And especially given Scottish leaders’ recent retort that if the UK leaves the EU, Scotland will declare independence and join the EU.

PI: As a British citizen, I have to say that realistically the risk is none- leaving the EU will have no effect on British security. The whole Brexit thing is political noise.

The one thing that is certain is that if it leaves, Britain will have to renegotiate all agreements currently in place and it will take a lot of effort and time and you can’t guarantee content- it could be worse. But it is not likely to affect security. It will affect economy, of course- though in a positive or negative way, is still unknown.

CD: Indeed. Philip, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today. It is much appreciated.

PI: And thank you as well.

Kosovo after Supervised Independence: Interview with Petrit Selimi

Balkanalysis.com Editor’s note: September marked the end of the four-year period of supervised independence that followed Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. The transition was met with fanfare by Kosovo Albanians, with trepidation by Serbs, and with some amount of relief from the oft-beleaguered international overseers charged with overcoming the many challenges of Kosovo state-building and multi-ethnic relations.

In this new interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gets the insights of Petrit Selimi, the Deputy Foreign Minister in Prishtina and an active participant in outreach efforts of a government that is trying to move Kosovo forward towards modernization and greater acceptance by international bodies and countries that have thus far not recognized its independence. The wide-ranging interview covers not only these topics but broader issues of political, social, economic and other factors affecting the lives of everyday people and what they might mean for the future.

Petrit Selimi is not the most typical of Balkan diplomats. He was a youth activist before the war of 1999 and, after studying social anthropology in Oslo, he was among a new wave of young Kosovans who launched several diverse civic initiatives. A decade ago, Selimi opened a small comic-strips shop and café, still popular among both artists and politicians. He convinced a Western telecom operator to bring the American performer 50Cent to Prishtina, and organized the star’s concert in a memorable night that put Kosovo on MTV a year before the declaration of independence.

At the same time, he wrote for a host of publications, and was one of the founders and publishers of a daily newspaper called Express. In the whirlwind of post-independence transition, Selimi was picked by Kosovo PM Hashim Thaci as Deputy Foreign Minister of the government created after the 2010 elections. There, he currently works with Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj, a prominent member of Kosovo’s post-war academia. Traces of Selimi’s past engagement remain in his new position, in the form of public diplomacy as a favorite tool; this has included establishing partnerships with the Aspen Institute, the European Council of Foreign Relations and even ecumenical organizations and art galleries. We talked with Selimi on the margins of the Aspen Institute’s recent conference on security in SE Europe, in Durres, Albania.

Strategic Diplomatic Goals

Chris Deliso: Could you give us a short recap of diplomatic achievements your government has made during 2012, including new recognitions by foreign states, and what led to these decisions?

Petrit Selimi: There are still a few intense months to go in 2012, but I hope to be able to report a very intensive and successful year for Kosovo’s diplomacy.

The Prime Minister had official visits with Prime Ministers or heads of royal families of Norway, Sweden, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Hungary, most of our neighbors and many more, while the MFA has quadrupled the number of bilateral agreements from all walks of life with over 90 countries.

According to Deputy Minister Selimi, the Kosovo MFA has “launched a massive public diplomacy effort, and we have worked with top foreign policy institutions to facilitate a greater understanding of Kosovo in the global processes, and vice versa.”

The Kosovar passport is acknowledged as an official document by over 150 countries, including China. And President Jahjaga is among the few heads of state to have met President Obama three times in over a year. She is currently organizing a global gathering of women dedicated to women empowerment, with [former US Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright as a keynote speaker.

Minister Hoxhaj has also had a record number of visits, and cooperation agreements and recognitions have not abated. It has been a great experience seeing him in action. Deputy Prime Minister Pacolli has also contributed, particularly with Kosovo’s increased interaction with all of Africa.

Further, our Europe Minister, Vlora Citaku can report on several big milestones reached on Kosovo’s long path to EU membership. Never forget that this is the year we received both a visa roadmap, as well as the Feasibility Study for an SAA. In dialogue, Kosovo has proven to be an exporter of peace, and a reliable partner in efforts to implement the Copenhagen criteria for the Balkans. This has included good-neighborly relations.

Kosovo sports and culture had a great year, adding power to our fight for a place under the sun. The MFA launched a massive public diplomacy effort, and we have worked with top foreign policy institutions to facilitate a greater understanding of Kosovo in the global processes, and vice versa. So all in all, I was proud to have made a small contribution to this enormous team effort.

CD: You have said that in 2012-13 the Kosovo government plans to put new focus on the EU member states that currently do not recognize it to change their policy. Can you describe what tactics you will be using, if they are different for different countries, and to what degree of success you estimate you will have by this time next year?

PS: I’ll have to go into this one a bit in depth. We have met all our ambassadors abroad, and the Minister has brought in some top experts, even statisticians, since we needed to understand where are the gaps and what are the priorities.

A new strategic approach was thus initiated, and Minister Hoxhaj has increased the portfolio of geographic coverage. Listen- Kosovo is independent because it’s a principled cause. We can get confused in the noise, especially in this Internet age, of relativization of the wars and the principles. The people of Kosovo had an undeniable right to choose where they wanted to live after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, as well as after the Second World War, and at both times were snubbed and forced into relationships of constant ill-treatment by the successive Belgrade regimes. We declared independence after every path was researched and every rock was turned.

The peaceful movement was harassed by Milosevic, and the armed resistance was crushed by a cruel and inhuman genocidal attempt. Serbia lost every right to Kosovo, and sovereignty was granted to the UN, until a UN envoy could propose a solution.

Then, [Former Finnish President Martii] Ahtisaari – who has high credentials in peace-making – came up with a plan based on the principles of the Contact Group, which included Russia. It gave Kosovo independence, conditioning it with a long list of reforms to be implemented, not least of which was the protection of the Serbian minority. Serbia said it would object to this declaration of independence legally, and it lost heavily in a landmark decision from the International Court of Justice.

Kosovo is already a member of two UN Bretton Woods institutions, namely the World Bank and IMF. We are the least-indebted country in all of Europe, and in 2011 we had the third-highest growth rate in Europe, after Turkey and Estonia. So why would countries not recognize Kosovo?

We must just explain the context, and we have to alleviate fears that were either inflamed by Serbia, or which are a genuine part of the internal debate in some countries. The European Commission declared, a day after the coordinated Declaration of Independence, that Kosovo’s independence is a “sui generis” case due to a truly unique set of legal circumstances, with references to Rambouillet documents, UN resolutions and the history of crime in Kosovo.

When we tell the real story, backed up by records from the Hague, by the documents and evidence, we don’t need to come up with any tactics, to lie to anyone or to spin a PR narrative. We will have over half of UN members formally recognizing Kosovo as a sovereign state soon. Later we will have two-thirds, and then three-fourths. We will be a part of weather maps and sporting events. We will be in the Olympics- and we will win medals in the Olympics. We will take our seat in the UN, because we are a successful UN story.

CD:  Turkey is an important actor in the Balkans, but seems to be less active in Kosovo in certain areas, such as education. Is there any reason for this? In general, to what extent and in what ways is the Erdogan government helping Kosovo abroad- whether in terms of political support, economic assistance, or other means of building connections?

PS: We have a very long relationship with Turkey. [Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu remarked some weeks ago that over 25 Ottoman Prime Ministers were Albanian. There are tens of thousands of family ties and an old connection between the two countries. It wasn’t always easy to define the relationship in the past – there were many painful moments too, but now it’s a really close connection.

Today, Turkey is responsible for 300 million euros of FDI over the last year or so, while the total value of contracted works has surpassed one billion euros since independence. Turkey does have a presence in Kosovo’s health care and private education. The Turkish republic has also provided essential support in diplomatic lobbying, as a member of the International Steering Group, and on a bilateral basis.

CD: What is Kosovo’s relationship with the African states? Is this something you see as being useful in future? I understand that there are certain food processing companies run by ethnic Albanians in the Balkans, for example, that use certain vegetable oils from these countries. Do you see any specific economic or other benefits from African countries, or are relations with them more or less being done to get more recognitions?

PS: We’ve had a good majority of the last 15-20 recognitions from Africa. And we have had real movement there, as more African countries get the proper information and engage us bilaterally. We have had many visits.

Several African countries that had been fully behind the Serbian interpretation have now visited Kosovo, and promptly recognized, basing their decision on seeing the facts, and following documents such as the ICJ opinion and the UN General Assembly resolution on dialogue. The Organization of the Islamic Conferences has also invited all of its members to recognize Kosovo, which strengthen the multilateral dimension.

CD: In addition to the above, what would you consider to be Kosovo’s top strategic diplomatic goals for the next two years? And how will a possible eventual integration with Albania be managed in this light?

PS: Our top strategic goals are to enmesh Kosovo in the web of [international’ connections so that our independence confirms our place as a true component of the regional and European family of nations. Progress in EU integration, progress in NATO relations, membership in an increased number of multilateral agreements, and good-neighborly relations are the immediate objectives.

Improving Kosovo’s overall image and making sure our message is clear, via public diplomacy efforts, is also essential for more recognitions and more investments. I don’t think Kosovo has to re-invent the wheel- we must just heed the good advice of the many friends we have been lucky to gather since our liberation efforts began. As for uniting with Albania, though there are some circles that seek that solution, it’s clear and beyond doubt that the focus of the entire mainstream of Kosovo society and politics is EU integrations. We will cherish increased trade, cultural and human links with all our neighbors.

Political Pressures and Unresolved Issues

CD: The issue of the Serbian-majority north of Kosovo is constantly brought up in every discussion of Kosovo’s unresolved issues by local and foreign observers. Strictly from the political angle, how does the stand-off benefit the Kosovo Albanian political parties currently in the opposition, in trying to put pressure on your government to be tough on the Serbs? Are they winning points on this issue among the public at large, or increasing their base? If so, has this pressure forced the Thaci government to make certain concessions in other areas or on other issues?

PS: I will be honest – there are parties in opposition, even among the so-called ‘liberal’ circles, who argue that the Kosovo government must use force and “return the north back to the fold.” Some of it is nationalism of the worst kind, some of it is just frustration with over a decade of blockades by illegal parallel structures, and some of it is just plain partisan politicking,.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that a problem that has existed for 14 years can’t be solved in 14 days. No amount of force can solve political challenges of this type. Serbs in the north are citizens of Kosovo. According to Ahtisaari, they are entitled to very wide decentralization and the power to run the health and education system, local policing, etcetera.

We have used robust power to establish a presence at the border posts, in order to implement measures of reciprocity. KFOR and EULEX help to keep the clarity of the Kosovo as a single legal zone. The EU is mandated by the UN General Assembly to facilitate dialogue on non-status issues. Kosovo must be confident, and the Thaci government is very much so, in believing that nothing bad comes out of dialogue, out of discussions, out of increased outreach.

After all, we have proved that animosities can be reduced in the southern enclaves, and we can reach this aim in the north as well. The people there are also tired of criminals, as you may have seen from the last episodes of Serbian B92 TV series on the hundreds of millions of euros that have disappeared in the north.

CD: People are constantly bringing up all sorts of creative solutions and conjectures for how to ‘solve’ the problem of the north. What I wonder is whether time will actually take care of the problem- if you look at cases like Northern Ireland or Northern Cyprus, or Abkhazia, these are stalemate situations that have been managed peacefully. Why not follow the same approach in Kosovo? For the past few years have shown beyond doubt that whenever KP or KFOR goes in with force, they are met by force. It does not seem likely that this will change. So is it more a chronic issue of pride among the Albanians to take the north, or something else? What should be done?

PS: The northern municipalities are six times smaller than Abkhazia, and seven times smaller than Northern Cyprus. Lichtenstein has more inhabitants [than the north]. So we have to keep a realistic perspective.

Three problems in the north can be solved: EU and members states have conditioned Serbia’s EU path with full closure of illegal security apparatus, which have been operating in violation of UNSCR 1244 for nine years, and against the Kosovo constitution for another five years. Another condition for Serbia was to allow EULEX to operate without hindrance and to establish a system of European integrated border management with Kosovo. These are now sine qua non for Serbia.

A second challenge is ensuring democratic representation, which can be arranged easily and we have the good will to enable such a process without meddling in the local landscape, as we have shown with the OSCE facilitation of the Serbian elections in Mitrovica for dual citizens. The third problem is economic, and herein lie the alpha and omega of integration. If people see a profit in turning to Prishtina for services, this will be a natural progression. However, as I have said, we must solve the two initial problems first- crime and parallel structures, and the lack of legitimate interlocutors.

CD: Another issue about the northern municipalities is that there is an ethnic Albanian minority in various parts of it, which seem to get along without problems. On the other hand, there were another two elderly Serb returnees in the south who were murdered just a few months ago. I don’t know the exact figures, but I would estimate that since 1999 few if any of the many murders of Serb civilians have been solved. So the Serbs would argue that while they cannot live safely in areas with an Albanian majority, an Albanian minority can generally safely in areas where there is a Serb (or any other) majority. What do you have to say about these issues?

PS: I don’t think you have the correct information. There are numerous incidents in northern municipalities [against Albanians]. Over 10 killings in the last few years were committed in the area. Radical Serbs have killed or maimed other Serbs who work for the Kosovo government, including sitting MP’s in the Kosovo parliament, such as Petar Miletic. Radicals have bombed and burned Kosovo-Albanian property. Hundreds of attacks are recorded against NATO forces and EULEX. These are well documented attacks, which add to the tension.

All of the most wanted criminals of Serbia and Kosovo are hiding in the north. Neo-Nazi Serbian football hooligans are also based there. These are facts known by our own security service, but also from KFOR data and Serbian reports too. In the south, on the other hand, one now can find a progress not seen in the last 10 years. Serbs are participating [with the state] at the municipal and central levels, economic benefits are slowly trickling down- too slowly, one might add, but still progress is being marked. Investments in skiing tourism in the very south, and investments in mining in the north, will bring even more ethnically Serbian] people closer to Kosovo’s legal framework.

CD: I had an interesting conversation with a Pentagon official who disagreed with the possibility that Kosovo might solve its problems with neighbors, and appear less of a threat, if it were to just declare neutrality as a state policy. But this military official said that after analysis they were sure that with the paramilitary tradition among Albanians, there were no way that this would work, and that without a properly overseen army paramilitaries would emerge anyway. What do you have to see about this assertion, and about the concept in general?

PS: I think Albanians don’t have a more paramilitary tradition than any of our neighbors. We also cannot declare neutrality, as the political consensus among all parties is NATO membership for Kosovo. At the MFA, we are dedicated to Euro-Atlantic integration, as this constitutes the backbone of our foreign policy. Neither can any “paramilitaries emerge,” as the Kosovo police is more than sufficient for our internal security apparatus.

The [Kosovo Security Forces] is also undergoing a positive evolution, following the close cooperation and support of NATO countries. The KSF has also entered into a productive state-partnership program with the Iowa National Guard.

So I must say that I have a problem with the general concept of ‘feisty Albanians in their little clans, always ready to take up arms.’ It follows a somewhat old narrative, one never really reflective of the real life of the wretched and oppressed inhabitants of these lands. That being said, Kosovo is becoming rapidly a modern and sustainable state – in some respects far more advanced then even our supporters expected – as was proven by the decision of the ISG to end the supervised period of independence.

CD: To what extent is youth unemployment causing frustration among ordinary citizens that can reflected in violent means or protests, or support the opposition? Are there any concrete steps your government is making to fix this problem, whether through work assistance or job training programs?

PS: This is the crux of the current conundrum. We have the lowest debt in Europe, and registered the biggest growth in the Euro-zone, but we are in the midst of a region that is going through painful economic crisis. Our economic model is essentially Keynesian, and that was supported by the ability to increase the tax base by eliminating gray economy. But we will soon reach the limits of efficiency.

This is why we need more FDI, in direct but friendly competition with our neighbors. We at the MFA are working to increase the overall promotion of investment opportunities. Luckily, we still haven’t privatized our crown jewels, such as the telecom, mining or energy generation sectors. This means we can sustain a prolonged cycle of investments to reach an increased numbers of employment and substantial growth of the middle class.

The government is thus engaged in directly investing in infrastructure project that enhance competitiveness, including major highways. We have built a major artery to the Adriatic coast eight months ahead of schedule, with zero cents of debt. We are also facilitating investors in critical industries. Education is essential in this forthcoming phase.

CD: A few months ago, there were unconfirmed reports that certain Syrian opposition militant groups were receiving training or at least some kind of support within Kosovo itself. Is this true? If so, what kind of details can you provide?

PS: There were no unconfirmed reports, just complete fabrications. The only time Kosovo officials ever met any Syrians was in a single meeting between the MFA and two members of a Syrian liberal civil society diaspora [group]. They came as part of a tour to Europe supported by the Open Society Foundation, so there was no militant element to this visit.

Unfortunately, a spin put forth by a Serbian tabloid took on a life on its own in this era of Internet reporting. I will repeat it again though, just for the record: Kosovo doesn’t train any militants. We are committed to the EU’s joint foreign policy with regards to events in the Middle East, and always in close coordination with the [position of the] USA.

Religion and Governance

CD: In May, you held an event marking the 1700th anniversary of Byzantine Emperor Constantine the Great’s conversion to Orthodox Christianity. This was somewhat creative, in any case, it was not one of the Balkan anniversaries that we had put on the calendar. And as far as I understand the pitch was to 1700 years of “monotheism” in the Balkans, which would presumably include Islam as well. So can you tell us who came up with this idea to celebrate such an event, and present it in this way?

PS: Well, Kosovo is a very diverse country in terms of religion, and this is our collective wealth. The vast majority of people declare themselves Sunni Muslims, but you have a very dynamic Catholic community, an old Orthodox and Byzantine heritage, a famous and tradition-rich Sufi community, and traces of a Jewish presence. The Sunni Islam is also rooted in local traditions and practices.

Saint Paul the Apostle passed through our lands on his third mission. Constantine was also from Dardania, and he was critical for the major shift from polytheism to monotheism. So, I’m not surprised that Kosovo would host meetings, workshops and projects dedicated to cherishing this richness. We must help the inter-faith dialogue to alleviate any fears about the important role that the Serbian Orthodox Church plays in our religious and societal landscape. The MFA of Kosovo has indeed supported several important initiates in this regards.

CD: Related to this was the visit to Prishtina in May of UNESCO representatives and Tony Blair, in his new incarnation as an inter-faith dialogue expert. So can you comment on this diplomatic dilemma, how your government handles these different outside parties who of course have their own interests, and goals, and whether you see an intensification or suppression of these kind of activities in future? In short, what is best for Kosovo’s long-term interests in this regard?

PS: The MFA and Ministry of Education are cooperating with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to openly discuss the ideas of religion in a time of globalization. We must not shy away from debating and supporting critical thinking in today’s world. Mr Blair has played a very positive role in fostering the tolerance agenda. He is an icon of Kosovo liberation and we are proud to be able to work with his Foundation. UNESCO on the other hand was [in Kosovo on] a private visit. We have welcomed hundreds of guests from around the world this year. This has helped improved understanding.

CD: You have made a point of noting that Prizren is a case of co-existence wherein you have Serbian Orthodox, Albanian Catholic, and Albanian and Turkish Muslim houses of worship all in close proximity. Do you think this is more or less a historical accident, or something that can be replicated in other parts of Kosovo? Also, there is still (or at least was) some form of KFOR protection for the Serbian church. Is there still a concern that it will be attacked if that protection is removed?

PS: Most of the churches are now being protected by the local police. There are no attacks on churches, except for theft and occasional vandalism- nothing more serious than theft and vandalism of churches in Serbia. Prizren is a symbol of tolerance because the vast majority of the population is tolerant. It’s an old Albanian city, but it has a centuries-old Serbian, Turkish, Jewish, Roma and Gorani heritage also. It is also one of the cities which luckily escaped the full brute force of the Serbian military offensive of 1998-99. Cities such as Peja or Gjakova, and regions such as Drenica, were hit very hard and lost thousands of members from different families. Reconciliation will go slower there, especially in the absence of any sign of regret from the present Serbian government.

CD: We have good information that on the local level mayors and other municipal officials are in some cases coming under pressure from Islamic leaders and interests. Do you have any comments?

 

PS: Kosovo is a secular state. As many Westerners note, one sees fewer hijabs in Prishtina than in any other European city. The overwhelming majority of people in our society is respectful of other faiths, but are not particularly religious. Some of the best mojitos in Balkans are made in Prishtina bars.

I have not heard of problems in municipalities but I know that in a few mosques, less than one percent of the total [number of mosques], the state has had to intervene to expel figures unwanted by the local community due to extremist discourse. I don’t think we should sugar-coat the reality. Kosovo must dispel some of the prejudices. In the most dangerous form, these prejudices have inspired [people like] Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who mentions Kosovo as an Islamic threat over 80 times in his vile “manifesto.” In a more benign manner, they still instill a dose of unhealthy skepticism. Islam in Kosovo has always been a force of tolerance and love. The wars and conflicts in the modern Balkans were ethnic and political, not religious. Framing the conflict in religious terms is intentionally done by some circles.

CD: What is the role of the Vatican in Kosovo currently? We understand there is a nuncio appointed by no information about how active he is, whether there any plans for developing a clergy so that one day there might be a Kosovar cardinal, etcetera.

PS: The Holy See has always been with the people of Kosovo. We have frequently been in the prayers and thoughts of Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI has a proven track record as an instigator of dialogue and peaceful resolution. And Mother Theresa’s father comes from Prizren.

Many cardinals came for the inauguration of the works on the  new cathedral built in the centre of the capital. And the Community of St Eggidio has been an early facilitator of dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. So there are multiple and strong bonds between the Holy See and Kosovo. These will only strengthen over time.

Good Housekeeping and Infrastructure

CD: One achievement of which you are most proud is the completion of the highway linking Kosovo with Albania, done by Bechtel, which you have said finally gives Kosovo a ‘port’ with the city of Durres. Have you been able to assess yet any changes in volume of imports or exports due to this more rapid connection? Are there any other quantifiable indicators of the economic benefit of this impressive bit of engineering?

PS: It’s easy arithmetic – Kosovo citizens previously needed over eight hours of driving time to arrive at Podgorica, and more than six hours to reach Tirana. The geographic distances are not that great, but there were no major road arteries connecting Kosovo with neighboring states.

The new highway to the Adriatic connects the Kosovo borders with Serbia and Albania, and continues via the longest tunnel in the Balkans to the fork where one can choose to continue to Montenegro or to southern Albania. The highway was constructed in record time by US giant Bechtel. And we have not taken a cent in credit for its construction.

And so, nowadays the travel time to Montenegro and Albania has been cut by half- four hours to Montenegro,  and four hours to Tirana. Multiply that by 650,000 border crossings on this new highway during last 12 months. Need I say more? Plus, both Macedonians and inhabitants of southern Serbia are now using this new link to reach Montenegro.

CD: Any visitor to Kosovo immediately notices the main roadways ringed by gas stations, stacked materials for construction, random small motels, and other structures that make it look essentially like some sprawling industrial zone.

Two questions arise from this. The first is whether there is or could there be any sort of aesthetic development plan – on a national or municipal level, or both – that would make Kosovo look less like an industrial zone and more attractive?

PS: It’s funny you asked me that. In my past life I loved studies of urban anthropology. The gas stations in Kosovo, some resembling Star Trek buildings, the others more like Victorian houses, I called them Gas Vegas in a lecture I had in Zagreb and Amsterdam. They leave quite an impact on the physical and urban landscape. I wish our mayors were more updated regarding the latest methodology and best practices in urban planning- alas, this is not yet happening. Yet there is some charm in the grit of Kosovo. Prishtina is ugly, but full of surprises.

CD: The second, more pragmatic question concerns the industrial sprawl so close to the roadside, particularly in the case of the Prishtina-Skopje road. You have said that the government plans to build a modern highway on this route next year. Will the existing structures that block the widening process be relocated? Is the land owned by the state or private individuals? How problematic will the construction process be because of these factors?

PS: The Kosovo government is now considering the second highway project to Skopje, an important trade artery and connection to Greece. Highway plans are well underway. I think a portion of it may be built in different trajectories, because the cost of land in some of these urban zones is prohibitively high. The Ministries of Transport and Finance are hammering out the last details, always in consultation with the IMF. These rounds of investment cycles in road infrastructure were essential for us to even have a chance at a competitive free economy.

CD: Finally, in your opinion what sort of infrastructure is most urgently needed for the modernization of Kosovo and to increase its viability as a business destination? Is the government working on any such projects in a concerted way and what are the prioritizing?

PS: Personally, I think energy generation is an urgent and fundamental need. We have increased energy usage, and we will increase it further, but no new plants have been built since the 1970’s. We sit on coal, which is a dirty word in some circles, but then again new capacities in coal energy will speed up closure of the old 1950’s plants, which are the cause of 80% of particle pollution. So we need to provide long-term solution for energy independence.

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Kosovo’s EU Relations and Reform Process: Interview with Lutfi Haziri

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: Although its 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia has still not been recognized by many nations, Kosovo is pressing on with its attempts to acquire greater global stature and hopes to eventually join the European Union. In the following new interview, Balkanalysis.com contributor Maria Neag in Brussels gets the views of Lutfi Haziri, a Kosovar MP and Chairman of the Committee for European Integration and Head of the Parliamentary Group of LDK on Kosovo’s need for reform, EU-visa liberalisation schemes, the situation of the Roma minority, Kosovo’s dialogue with international legal entities.

………………………………

Kosovo and the EU

Maria Neag: First of all, let me warmly thank you for your interest in expressing your views about Kosovo’s latest developments. I will start pragmatically by asking you if the EU’s policies and funds have an added value in Kosovo. What is the public ‘s current opinion on Kosovo’s EU perspectives?

Lutfi Haziri: Currently, public opinion appears to be very positive towards EU integration. A general improvement of the political and economic situation is linked with those who support Kosovo’s EU perspective. One of the main reasons is that people believe that Kosovo’s integration in the EU would allow them to improve their living conditions, which means higher incomes, more jobs, more security and a higher rate of democracy. Above all, Kosovo’s citizens feel European.

"Public opinion appears to be very positive towards EU integration," believes MP Haziri.

MN: In order to achieve the EU integration targets, certain efforts need to be done by Kosovo’s administration. What are the priorities of the present political leadership?

LH: One of the priorities of the Government during the last three years was the implementation of the Ahtisaari plan: [by] now most of its parts have been implemented, and as such the proposal is fully enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo. Currently, the priorities of the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo are very much oriented towards a European Integration agenda, not just by ticking the standards but by fully fulfilling the European criteria as this contributes towards improving the political and economic situation.

Visas

MN: The Western Balkans countries are part of a Visa Liberalisation Scheme. Kosovo, even if it would fulfil the technical requirements, such as biometric passports, will not be able to participate in the visa liberalisation scheme as certain member states have not recognized yet Kosovo’s independence. What do you think is the way forward in this sense as to avoid Kosovo’s isolation in terms of free movement in the EU?

LF: The fact that five member states of the EU did not recognize Kosovo does not mean that Kosovo cannot be part of the visa liberalization process. As is the case with the SAP which has a tailor-made approach towards Kosovo, we believe that the EC and Kosovo will find and apply a tailor-made approach which will allow Kosovo to become part of the full visa liberalization scheme.

MN: The issue of freedom of movement is subject to the Belgrade-Priština dialogue too. Please describe briefly the state of play and relate to our readers if you expect any progress in the near future?

LF: Kosovo during the past years has actively been engaged and looked for solutions for free movement of people, goods and services to the region not only with Belgrade. Belgrade has been constantly blocking the process of free movement by not recognizing the independence of Kosovo and has also been putting pressure on other countries in applying the same measures.

On the other hand, Kosovo has long supported the idea of free movement since it believes that this brings more prosperity, peace and stability to the region. As such, we believe that EU’s role in this dialogue is critical. More pressure would have to be put on Serbia by the EU, so we could achieve free movement of people, goods and services in the region.

MN: The EU has raised concerns regarding mafia activities, human and organ trafficking, drugs smuggling etc. This is one of the reasons why the EU is not keen on starting yet the visa dialogue with Kosovo. Do you think this is a justified concern? What do you think that can be done in this area and who should be responsible for these aspects?

LH: Although during the year Kosovo has been faced with several negative reports regarding human and organ trafficking, drugs smuggling etc, I believe this is not a justified concern. Kosovo has called on EULEX to conduct an independent investigation on these matters. I agree that there is more to be done and Kosovo institutions should be more actively engaged in regional initiatives which aim to fight these bad phenomena. At the same time Kosovo should also establish more concrete relations with Interpol and Europol.

Justice and Home Affairs Issues

MN: The 2010 progress report on Kosovo concluded that the capacity of the public administration is weak, the judiciary is not functioning effectively and the rule of law remains a serious concern. How does the current government intend to tackle the reform of the public administration and judiciary?

LF: Public administration in Kosovo is newly established and continues to be fragile. During the last years, it went through a serious transitional process and after the declaration of independence it rests fully in the hands of Kosovo institutions. The Kosovo government has drafted and passed new legislation in conformity with the Ahtisaari package and EU requirements; however its implementation remains a challenge for the current government.

We, as the opposition, believe that the government should pay high attention to the reform of public administration, as this would enable the citizens to receive better services.

MN: We have witnessed lately some criticism related to EULEX’s activity in Kosovo. How would you assess its impact on the judiciary investigations, corruption cases and constitutional reform?

LF: The expectations about EULEX’s activity were considerably high, specifically about the execution of its mandate in the field of justice, police, and customs. I believe it continues to be at the same level. There are many cases under investigation, and I hope that during this mandate, EULEX will exercise its constitutional role, since it is an organization which has been invited by the state of Kosovo.

MN: In your opinion, does EULEX still have the necessary legitimacy to continue carrying on its mission?

LH: EULEX continues to further extend its legitimacy, especially in the northern part of Kosovo, where its presence is a must.

MN: Apart from the EU, do you believe there is any national or international legal entity to offer more reliable support to Kosovo?

LF: I don’t believe there is a need for another international organization to support Kosovo in legal matters. For many years the United Nation has assisted Kosovo in these matters through its Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and now we have the EULEX mission. I believe the time has come for Kosovo to be part of these and other reliable international organizations.

The Situation of the Roma

MN: Recently, a major concern of the EU, especially of the Hungarian Presidency is the issue of Roma inclusion. How is Kosovo dealing with this issue? What initiatives do you believe to be successful in this field?

LF: The government of Kosovo has adopted a strategy and action plan and has allocated sufficient budget for the return, readmission and reintegration of all the citizens of Kosovo, regardless of their ethnicity, race, or religion.  Kosovo is creating the necessary conditions for Roma inclusion; however unemployment remains a major challenge for the communities. I believe that the proper implementation of the strategy and action plan will positively impact the situation on the ground.

What is more, the rights of the Roma community and other communities are granted by the Constitution of Kosovo and we already have Roma representatives (MPs) in the Parliament of Kosovo. In cases where there is a larger Roma community they are also represented in the Municipal Councils. The Government of Kosovo has put a quota on the employment of minorities in the public administration.

MN: As a last question, for those who were disappointed by the outcome of Kosovo’s independent existence, what message would you pass on regarding its situation and future development?

LF: Kosovo has declared its independence under the will of its citizens and by respecting the highest international democratic standards; this has also been confirmed by the decision of the International Court of Justice. The independence has brought stability to the region, has ensured the highest democratic standards for its citizens. Furthermore, the Republic of Kosovo has been recognized by a large number of countries, it is engaged in contractual relationships with major international organizations, thus confirming the development of a stable and democratic country.

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An Insider’s View of Recent Affairs in Kosovo: Interview with Gerard Gallucci

In the following interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso obtains an invaluable insider’s view on Kosovo’s recent history, from a former American diplomat who found himself at the epicenter of diplomatic turbulence while serving as UNMIK Regional Representative in the ethnically-divided city of Mitrovica (2005-2008).

In this all-new interview, Mr. Gallucci discusses the unique working conditions he faced while in Kosovo and the international community’s successes and failures, both in general terms and in regard to specific incidents such as the now-infamous Mitrovica courthouse raid of March 17, 2008. The interview ranges from the chronic effects of Balkan “tribalism” on international peacekeepers and the EU’s attempt to replace the UNMIK practically via sleight-of-hand, to organized crime- the only “real inter-ethnic activity” in Kosovo.

Prior to his UN position in Kosovo, Mr. Gallucci served for over 25 years with the US State Department in various high-level postings, primarily in Africa and Latin America. These positions included serving as Charge’d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Khartoum (2003-2004), Charge’d’Affaires in Brasilia (1999-2000) and Deputy Chief of Mission in Belize (1994-1996). Mr. Gallucci also has served within the State Department in numerous roles such as National Security Council Director for Inter-American Affairs (1998-99), Coordinator for Intelligence Resources and Planning (2001) and Director for Inter-American Affairs in the Intelligence and Research Bureau (2000-2001).

Today, Mr. Gallucci retains an interest in Kosovo’s future course and his commentaries, some of which expand on the issues discussed in the present interview, are to be found on his independent blog, Outside the Walls.

Diplomatic Intrigue and the Run-up to Kosovo Independence

Chris Deliso: First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, I appreciate this rare opportunity to take readers behind the scenes into what really has gone in to making the modern Balkans from the diplomatic perspective.

Gerard Gallucci: Glad to have this opportunity to chat. Though I must say that perhaps we are still waiting for that “modern” Balkans. Kosovo – the last act of the break-up of Yugoslavia – is the “fat lady” who has not sung yet at the end of the opera, so we really don’t know how things will turn out.

CD: You served as UNMIK Regional Supervisor in North Mitrovica from June 2005 through October 2008, a fairly tumultuous period in Kosovo’s recent history. Can you give us a sense of what it was like at the beginning of your term? Was there a generally recognized feeling that the West would grant Kosovo independence, and that UNMIK – especially in Mitrovica – was an obstacle to this process?

GG: For me personally, it was a bit like coming home to be in Mitrovica… in the sense that I had spent half of my career in the State Department dealing with tribal conflicts in Africa. I recognized at the outset that the ongoing conflict between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo was also a tribal one. I believe some misunderstood the situation between the two sides as simply “ethnic differences” and therefore in some way bridgeable. But in Mitrovica, the Bridge over the Ibar literally divided the city rather than joined its two halves.

By 2005, I think it was generally understood that the Albanian majority in Kosovo was never going to submit itself to Belgrade again and that Kosovo’s status would have to be resolved to the satisfaction of that majority, and fairly soon. But at that time, UNMIK was still seen as an advantage by the Albanians and as a humiliating imposition by the Serbs. In the Mitrovica region, as I was an American, I was seen as an enemy by the Serbs and as a great friend by the Albanians. Neither was true. The UN – and I as a UN peacekeeper – were neutral, and simply did what we could to help both sides avoid further violence.

CD: To the best of your knowledge, when was the date of February 2008 decided by the US and its allies for Kosovo’s independence, and under what circumstances? Was it meant to be timed with other events, or in light of other events? Had any earlier or later projected date been decided on, but ultimately withdrawn, and if so, why?

GG: I believe the timing was determined mostly by the fact that throughout most of 2007, it was still hoped that a status agreement could be achieved and efforts were still being made vis-à-vis Russia to reach an agreement within the Contact Group. Then there was winter. The Albanians had been following a plan of gradually moving toward something to be seen as inevitable. This was, from their side, a form of pressure on its international friends. Given increasing Kosovo Albanian impatience – and that by the end of 2007 there seemed to be no point in delay – I suppose February was seen as a good month with promise of spring not so far off.

CD: The independence initiative required the transformation of the international presence in Kosovo. Thus was born the European Union’s ‘law and order’ mission, EULEX, which started work on 9 December 2008.

When was the structure and projected reach of this mission decided, and what sort of compromises did the US and EU sides have to make in order for it to happen as it did? For example, we had received information from high-level officials that the EULEX mission had been decided in 2006 in consultation with the US State Department. Another source mentioned that Greece was specifically excluded from discussions because of its opposition to Kosovo independence. What’s the story here?

GG: I was not involved in those deliberations. However, in the second half of 2006, we in UNMIK – including in the Mitrovica Region – did begin interacting with the EU Preparation Team (EUPT). This was the organization that prepared for EULEX. But by the end of the year, it became clear that the EU saw itself as the “white knight” that would clean up the “mess” in Kosovo left by the UN, while at the same time looking to us in UNMIK to do the “heavy lifting” of getting the Serbs, especially in the north, to accept the Ahtisaari plan.

As UNMIK was not in the position of being able to support a final status approach not approved by the UNSC, we could not meet their expectations. We in Mitrovica Region especially could not do what the EUPT (and the ICO) wanted from us.

In the end, the EU team simply waited for the UN to run out of options, and in November 2008 essentially seized UNMIK’s mandate under UNSCR 1244 in order to provide “legal” cover for its support in extending Pristina’s control over the Kosovo Serbs both north and south.

CD: As a career US diplomat working in Kosovo for the UN, did you ever feel that local parties (whether political, NGO leaders or other) wanted to try and influence US policy through you, even though it was not your mandate? More broadly, was it difficult to balance the demands of your new role with your previous career background?

GG: As I mentioned, both sides saw me first of all as an American. Of course they sought both to use me to try to influence Washington, but also to seek to gauge what the US position really might be. Some thought I must be CIA. I did not go out of my way to disabuse anyone of any supposed influence they thought I might possess.

But in truth, I had no lingering connection to the US government, and had had no previous involvement with US policy in Europe, and therefore no stake in it. I worked as a UN peacekeeper, and this meant acting in a status neutral way. By 2008, the US was not status neutral and viewed those who were, even US citizens, as obstacles.

CD: In the same direction, please explain for readers what special conditions apply for any international working in the divided city of Mitrovica (as compared to the rest of Kosovo). Is it possible that other international officials stationed elsewhere could have been unaware of any such special local realities- or were they aware but simply chose to ignore this when enacting policy?

GG: I was told, by those who had been in UNMIK (and OSCE) longer, that Pristina HQ and Mitrovica Region had almost always seen things differently. There may have been various reasons for this. But it seemed to me that since Pristina HQ was in a mono-ethnic environment, it saw things in one shade only.

In Mitrovica, we had to live everyday with a divided reality. UNMIK staff in other regions where non-Albanians lived in significant numbers – in the enclaves – also tended to see a more complex reality.

CD: To what extent did diplomatic intrigue, subterfuge, obstructionism and petty careerism play a role in the day-to-day working of the international administration in Kosovo? And to what extent did the local actors, whether Serbs, Albanians or others, play a role in directing internal relations to their own ends? In all this, does Kosovo differ much from other crisis areas in the world where you have worked?

GG: The simplest answer to all these questions is “yes.” The UN mission to Kosovo, like all UN peacekeeping missions and all governmental and non-governmental organizations everywhere and at all times, experienced every type of bureaucratic, political and personal dynamic. And for sure, the local inhabitants vigorously sought to “colonize” the mission and turn it to their ends. In this, the Albanians had long practice with the Turks and were much better at it than the Serbs, who often seemed more comfortable with resistance.

The greatest difference between Kosovo and other places I have worked, however, is that Kosovo is part of Europe. With the higher levels of development of the former Yugoslavia and the support of the developed democracies of Western Europe – its near neighbors – it should have been easier to get Kosovo through the rough period of its part of the decay of Yugoslavia. The Albanians are intelligent and hard-working, the Serbs have many professionals and a proud intellectual history. But the Western Europeans have so far not risen to the occasion, and have treated the Balkans more like Africa than part of Europe. They have mismanaged, and taken sides.

The Mitrovica Courthouse Debacle, and Relevant Background

CD: Most Balkan observers know of the now-infamous “Mitrovica Courthouse Episode” of 17 March 2008, when international peacekeepers stormed a courthouse being peacefully occupied by Serb protesters, leading to a chaotic and deadly clash with other local Serbs- and a subsequent internal diplomatic skirmish in which you were personally targeted. I’d like to get some further clarification here on what occurred and why.

GG: As I mentioned, there seemed to be a built-in tension between internationals working in Mitrovica and those in Pristina. In Mitrovica Region, we were trying to constantly walk the line between the two communities along the Ibar, Albanians and Serbs.

With Pristina’s unilateral declaration of independence – unilateral in the sense that it was outside the process foreseen by UNSCR 1244 – it became harder to do that without risking losing credibility with one side or the other. If we pushed the Ahtisaari Plan in the north, we’d lose any ability to work with the Serbs, and if we did not assist the Pristina institutions and the Albanians to move into the north, we’d lose legitimacy in their eyes.

Because the UN was status neutral as long as the Security Council left [Security Council Resolution] 1244 unchanged, we had to remain neutral also, and to focus on helping to ensure peace until final status might be resolved.

As peacekeepers needing to work with both sides, this made our work increasingly difficult. UNMIK in Pristina – and to a degree, KFOR HQ – did not understand this reality. They increasingly saw us and our reporting on what we saw on the ground as “pro-Serb.” UNMIK HQ had also been pressured by the five Contact Group countries supporting Kosovo independence – the Quint – to “do something” to bring the Serbs in the north to heel.

When Kosovo Serb court officials – they had been working in the local Serbian courts – occupied the north Mitrovica courthouse on March 14, the UNMIK leadership decided to take advantage of this to use force to remove the local Serbs and subject them to the Kosovo justice system in Pristina. Other moves were planned, including arrests of northern political leaders, to subdue the north entirely. UNMIK HQ did not inform us in the region until the eve of the planned action.

It went as we had warned such use of force would go – violence, death and the collapse of UNMIK’s presence in the north. I wrote a critical “after action” report that put me crosswise with the UNMIK leadership. They tried to remove me, but UN HQ in New York intervened.

CD: At the time, outside media generally were blaming the Serbs for the incident. It was amusing to me to find certain editors in total disbelief that events might possibly have not gone down as reported. I myself had traveled to Mitrovica to analyze the incident for Jane’s Intelligence Digest (fortunately, most of my findings were published, despite differing from the ‘accepted truth’ of the moment).

Before getting to the actual incident and your role in it, let’s provide some context. One month earlier, Kosovo had controversially and unilaterally declared its independence, angering Serbia and her international allies. And March 17 was, as everyone knows, the anniversary of the bloody 2004 riots targeting Serbs across Kosovo. Anyone could surmise that this would be a very sensitive time.

So, in March 2008, or even earlier, did you ever receive any information that some aggressive move from the side of Pristina was going to occur to punctuate the UDI? Or did the courthouse raid come completely out of the blue?

GG: Before the date of the UDI [unilateral declaration of independence], UNMIK HQ in Pristina was very concerned about the Serb reaction: would the Serbs in the north attack the local Albanians; would the Serb members of the KPS take off their uniforms; would the Serbs cut off the water from Gazivode Dam or the electricity routing through the north; would they attack internationals, or our facilities?

Mitrovica Region UNMIK discussed these “red-line” issues with the northern Serb leadership. They understood the need to not cross these lines, and didn’t. It was only after Kosovo Albanian KPS were seen at the boundary gates that the Serbs attacked those gates and burned them down (without causing injury). No Albanians at the boundary was a Serb redline.

When Pristina saw that the Serbs did not react the way it was feared, but also did not accept the declaration, UNMIK and KFOR began looking for ways to complete the picture by forcing the Serbs to surrender, to “take out” the so-called radical local Serb leadership in the SNC. (Pristina HQ always seemed to believe – as the EU and ICO group do now – that it was only these radicals that were preventing the Serbs from accepting independence.)

In Mitrovica Region, we could sense that all HQ was waiting for was an excuse to do something. I have come to believe that the original seizure of the court by the Serbs, on March 14, may have been a set-up. I learned afterwards that the UN Police command in Pristina ordered the UN police guarding the court that day to let the Serbs enter the inner courtyard. In all the previous days the Serbs gathered to demand use of the building for their courts, this had not been allowed. In the event, Pristina HQ immediately launched preparations for the operation, not informing me until late evening of March 16.

CD: One contemporaneous storyline had it that backers of Kosovo independence, chiefly the US, were spoiling for a violent showdown in Mitrovica. Other sources were implying that a show of muscle on the part of the Thaci government was needed to silence the objections of Haradinaj supporters- or, that the Thaci government simply sought to pull something anyway, and cited this political concern internally. Are any of these explanations accurate and if so, what was the story?

GG: I don’t know for sure. But I believe it was entirely a Quint-ordered action with the US calling the shots.

CD: Do you think that anyone in the leadership of KFOR or UNMIK-Pristina was genuinely surprised that the Serbs would react as they did?

GG: I know for a fact that the top leadership was surprised from the frantic phone calls I got that morning, after they saw what happened and had a group of Kosovo Serb prisoners in Pristina – where they had taken them after the “arrest” – that they no longer wanted to keep. They wanted our help in getting them back to Mitrovica. The Serbs were apparently demanding lunch first.

CD: After the courthouse raid, you attempted to resign (though UN headquarters in New York did not accept the resignation). At the same time, you crafted an internal memo, Report after Defeat, which pulled no punches in explaining why the incident had damaged the stature of the international peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and how it could have reasonably been avoided. It was leaked soon after and excerpted in parts by local media (see B92 here), though curiously international media did not make use of it and to my knowledge is not published officially anywhere.

So, the question is, why did you write this report? Did you think it might make some difference in the way international policy in Kosovo might be conducted in the future? Partisan critics at the time just accused you of using the medium to take shots at Pristina. What do you say to such commentary?

GG: I wrote it because I knew Pristina HQ planned further dangerous actions and I wanted to make clear that the actions on March 17 had left the international community and security in the region in a very precarious state. I also wanted the record to be clear- I had learned that in the UN, many people sought above all else to protect their own butt.

I wanted to be on the record what had gone wrong, so that no one could claim later that they did not know if they tried something else [equally] dangerous. The independent investigation ordered by the UN Secretary General later supported what I wrote that day. (It has never been made public). The leak of my report was unfortunate and beyond my intent.

CD: One result of you standing up for yourself and the UNMIK-Mitrovica approach in this way was to further inflame relations with UNMIK-Pristina and, as was widely reported at the time, the UNMIK deputy there, former American diplomat Larry Rossin. Had you had policy disagreements with him previously, and if so, had UN headquarters weighed in on any such disagreements?

GG: Larry first hired me in 2005, we knew each other from our days in the US Foreign Service. He was a professional and we always worked well together. But in the days before the March 17 event, he did not bring me into the picture. Perhaps he was under pressure.

CD: In order to evaluate events correctly, it might be useful to establish some background context for readers. According to Mr. Rossin’s UN bio (.PDF), he had “opened the U.S. office in Pristina in July 1999, and headed it through February 2000… in that capacity, he was responsible for direction of all U.S. policy initiatives and oversaw the work of all U.S. government agencies in Kosovo.”

That strikes me as a pretty wide berth. Do you have any idea why he specifically was chosen? And, considering the unprecedented and large-scale nature of the Kosovo intervention, why would so much power have been given to any one man? In your experience in other crisis areas around the world, is such a scenario standard practice?

GG: I have no comment on this.

CD: Not to dwell on this topic excessively, but a missing part of the historical record should be clarified here. After Mr Rossin’s first Kosovo posting, he returned to Pristina as UNMIK Deputy Special Representative from October 2004 until March 2006. And then he took up the same position (under then-Special Representative Joachim Rucker) on 9 January 2008. Mr Rossin replaced Steven Schook, a former US general whose contract was not renewed in December 2007. Mr Schook had stated three months early that a UN internal investigation was targeting him for allegedly keeping overly close relations with Kosovo Albanian politicians such as Ramush Haradinaj.

At this point the pivotal question comes up. Was Larry Rossin brought back because of his previous important positions in the country, at a time when the US wanted to direct the independence drive? Or was the UN basically rushing to find anyone with the right experience who could step in to fill in after Schook’s unexpected departure?

GG: I worked very well with Steve Schook and was sorry to see him go. He had a good sense of realities on the ground, and had been very supportive of us in Mitrovica Region. I know nothing about why he left. But Larry was brought back perhaps because a deputy was needed urgently for the crucial time coming up, and he already knew the account.

Language Games

CD: There are numerous subtle uses of language and terminology that affect the public discourse concerning Kosovo. For example, its Albanian leaders frequently refer to the local Serbs as perpetrating ‘parallel structures’ in regards to their attempts to self-administer their affairs. Of course, for Serbia, the whole independent Kosovo project is defined as a ‘parallel structure’ in deviation of international law.

The international community, at least the states that recognize Kosovo independence, tend to side with the Albanians in damning alleged Serb ‘parallel structures’ in the north. In your diplomatic experience, is this a concept with widespread usage in disputed areas? If so, were the Albanian and/or the Serb sides formally introduced to this as a ‘talking point’ by outside advisors, and if so, how?

GG: I believe that during the Yugoslavia period and under Milosevic, the Albanians themselves had used – and perfected – using “parallel” institutions to meet local needs and to govern themselves when Belgrade sought to deny them sufficient control.

CD: Perhaps the key divisive term in Kosovo since independence has been the phrase “status-neutral.” It refers to the mandated role of the international administration in Kosovo as decreed by UN Proposition 1244, created after the NATO intervention. For Albanians, people who use this term are deeply suspect as being ‘Serb sympathizers’ who refuse to accept an independent Kosovo.

On the other hand, internationals who see themselves as responsible to the original mandate, and this includes the OSCE, tend to regard it as a matter of principle- that is, doing the job without getting involved in larger political questions. Do you think there is a point to be argued here? Or, has the phrase been manipulated in a way that perpetuates an impasse in resolving relations between the ethnicities and their future status together?

GG: Status neutrality is the required stance of all international actors working under the mandate of UNSCR 1244. The ICJ in August reiterated the legality of that mandate and of the UN mission working under it. The OSCE and KFOR remain in Kosovo under 1244 and therefore also must act in a status neutral manner.

Status neutrality is also a practical matter. The UN and its partners are in Kosovo to keep the peace while the political issue of Kosovo’s status is resolved. Straying from that approach and taking the side of one or the other party – working for or against independence, or for or against Belgrade’s claim – is bad peacekeeping. It compromises your ability to work with both sides. In peacekeeping, it is probably better to have both sides dislike you, but be able to accept working with you, than to be loved by anyone.

Loose Ends: Organized Crime, Status Dilemmas, and the Effects of EULEX and the ICO

CD: In April this year, the Serbian intelligence agency (BIA) won public praise from the American Drug Enforcement Agency as being the best in the region. It came as an acknowledgement of the Serbian intelligence agency’s assistance to the DEA in cracking a Balkan narcotics trafficking gang operating in faraway South America. In October 2009 it was reported that the joint operation seized 2.7 tons of cocaine destined for Europe. Considering that you have had several prior diplomatic postings in South America, it would be interesting to know if you can recall any examples from previous decades of formerly Yugoslav involvement in the drugs trade there, and whether there was similar cooperation at that time between the two governments.

GG: This is beyond my knowledge.

CD: There have also been numerous reports of Albanian and Italian mafia activities in importing drugs from South America. Can it be said that such groups work together with Serb and other organized crime entities? Considering that in the Balkans organized crime and politicians are often closely intertwined, are there any cases of diplomatic “sacrifices” that may have been made in Kosovo, between the DEA’s war on drugs and the political exigencies of the moment?

GG: What I can say about this is that the Albanian-Serbian mafia operating on both sides of the Ibar was the only real inter-ethnic activity in Kosovo.

EULEX’s current program of arresting those involved in organized crime potentially has a rich array of targets north and south. Hopefully, EULEX will resist pressure, though, for performing “political” arrests. This could destabilize Kosovo- both north and south.

CD: In your mind, who benefits most from the continued impasse between Belgrade and Pristina over the status of Kosovo and their bilateral relations? Is it the politicians themselves? International workers wishing to remain employed? Organized crime? Islamic groups? Or anyone else?

GG: No one really gains from the current frozen conflict. Normal economic activity is required for growth and job creation. Investing in Kosovo is very risky, given the continued political uncertainty. Belgrade has recently been raising too the issue of outstanding property claims and the “privatization” process. Status issues include not only the political but questions of who has rights or claims over property and resources.

I suppose unresolved status does offer some perceived benefit to those politicians in Kosovo who use the issue – especially about the north – to distract attention from unmet popular expectations. But this is not much of a gain for anyone.

CD: Is EULEX, as some have criticized, a toothless tiger? To the best of your knowledge, do they have the security capacities in place to deal with anything more than putting out fires between the ethnicities as they occur?

GG: I would not point the finger at EULEX in this regard. They have often acted in violation of status neutrality – allowing or supporting Albanian efforts to bully local Serbs – but they do not lack capacity, as far as I am aware.

I would instead point at the Internal Community Office (ICO), also headed by Pieter Feith. It has the mandate of ensuring the full and fair implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan. However, in the south, where the local Serbs have been bullied into accepting their place in the plan, the ICO does little to meet its mandate.

The recent decision to destroy the phone infrastructure serving Kosovo Serbs in the south apparently was left entirely in the hands of the Albanians. One might have thought that the ICO would have at the least sought to insist on dialogue with the local Serbs first? Maybe some preparation and planning on how things might go afterwards? Apparently now, in some places, Kosovo Serbs cannot even call an ambulance.

–END–