by Rafiq A. Tschannen
The impressions a traveller receives when visiting Kosovo these days are bound to be manifold. One will come across many shocking scenes of destruction and atrocities, but also of signs of joy at the end of oppression and at the many positive efforts now being undertaken.
The reason why the crossing for the relief materials is so slow might also be a result of the fact that the Macedonians must be feeling rather frustrated to see so much wealth flow into Kosovo, while they themselves could use a lot of this help as well.
Consequently, the Macedonians are checking all supplies in detail before they leave Macedonia. Surely, the NATO states must be paying a few billions of dollars for the privilege of using Macedonia as their “back-door” into Kosovo, however, naturally one always could use a few billion more…
On the other side Montenegro has even started with a tax of 5 per cent for all goods leaving Montenegro.
The international relief organisations have nearly completely “distributed” Kosovo among themselves, both bringing in emergency relief supplies as well as arranging for reconstruction. On the emergency relief side many different items are being distributed such as food items and toiletry, mattresses and blankets, kitchen stoves and fire wood. On the reconstruction side in some aspect the distribution of shelter material might be like this: some relief organisations have for instance decided to repair the houses completely, as they were before the war, supplying building materials for complete reconstruction up to and including tiles for the roofs. Others might have decided to “look after” more villages, and so they supply only plastic sheets for missing doors, windows and roofs. The idea being to enable as many families as possible to have at least one warm room for the winter.
Both approaches have their validity but naturally for the persons affected it will be of much greater benefit to be able to repair the house completely rather than temporarily, never knowing whether any help for complete reconstruction will follow at a later stage or not.
With all these efforts going on one gets the impression that hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into Kosovo through these relief agencies. This is wonderful news for those who benefit, but let us pause a little and reflect…
First of all, even with hundreds of millions of dollars in relief materials entering the country, first of all, those countries benefit where all these millions are spent. Relief materials are being purchased primarily in the surrounding Balkan countries including Greece and Turkey. That is good news for all of them. However, we must not forget that in such cases there are always a lot of people that are somehow left out.
For instance, one house owner, whose house burnt down, was in the next town looking for work when the relief agencies passed to decide whether they should put his name on the list of houses to be reconstructed. He was not considered (and did not find a job).
There are thousands and thousands of stories like that. Moreover, is all this aid needed in the first place? Why cannot Kosovo “repair itself”? The answer is simple: Unemployment may be in the region of 90 per cent. Schools were effectively closed for Albanians for the last ten years. Some fortunate individuals were able to study in Albania or in Turkey and lately also in Bosnia. However. the vast majority of persons are not well-educated and do not have any work experience.
There is, of course, hope also for the economic future of Kosovo. Kosovo has a good agricultural base and, Inshallah, with this year’s harvest the country-side will quickly recover. Some assistance is needed for the agricultural sector this spring and several Government and Non-Government Agencies are already arranging it. The more difficult problem will be faced in the urban centres. Unemployment is high due to the non-functioning industrial sector. Estimates go as high as 90 per cent. The problem has further deteriorated due to the migration from war-torn villages into the towns. In the long term this migration will weaken the countryside (taking away part of the labour force) and increase the pressure on the labour market in the towns.
May we reflect on the reason why about 300 international aid agencies are registered as active in Kosovo? (Out of these about 10 per cent are Muslim organisations). Well, it is of course for Allah to decide each individual “niyyat” (intention). Most of them may have really been moved by the tragedy of the Kosovars and tried to help.
At present however one main problem remains and that is the importance of various ethnic groupings. National origins have become more important than religious background. Actual Albanian speakers consist of about 85 to 90 per cent of the present population. Other substantial minorities are of Turkish, Bosnians (both Muslims), and Serbs (Orthodox Christians). While present discrimination of Serbs can be understood due to the very recent war experiences, it is a bit more difficult to understand why Bosnians should be discriminated against just due to the fact that their language is not Albanian. Of the Albanian speakers 98 per cent are Muslim and about 2 per cent are Catholics. Before the war the Serb population was around 10 per cent, now about 1 per cent.
As the international community showed no interest whatsoever to assist the Albanians, the Kosovar Albanian population saw no other alternative but to take up arms. This resulted in an increased persecution and finally the expulsion of a large part of the Kosovar Albanian population. Finally NATO intervened with a massive bombing campaign. During the bombing campaign the Serbs had time to destroy large sections of Kosovo. (This could all have been avoided if the NATO forces would have had the courage to enter Kosovo while the Serb army was still present). At the end of this campaign the Serb army withdrew and the NATO forces moved in. In addition to the NATO forces other international army and police forces were invited via the United Nations resulting in an international presence from more than 50 countries.
UNMIK, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, has been entrusted to establish a Civilian Administration in Kosovo. They have started to register births and deaths and marriages. They have started to register cars, etc. Their scope of activity is greatly hampered by the fact that they go on pretending that Kosovo is still part of Yugoslavia and do not (yet) want to admit that Kosovo needs to be independent.
For instance, the Postal Services in Kosovo do not yet function. The reason is simple: if the UN wants to pretend that Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia then Yugoslavian postal stamps need to be used. Yugoslavia sees no reason why they should put at the disposal of Kosovo stamps at all and the Kosovar population in any case do not want to use any Yugoslav stamps. Similarly the banking system cannot operate. Banks active in Kosovo have funds in foreign accounts. These are blocked as being “Yugoslav funds”. If the UN would make efforts to unblock these funds, they would have to admit that Kosovo is independent.
Another aspect is the fact that with Kosovo not (yet) being an independent state, no Kosovar passports exist. The UN administration still sends any applicants for travelling documents to the still remaining Yugoslav Passport Office in Pristina (Kosovo). Naturally, no Kosovar Albanians wish to enter that office. Consequently, anyone finding himself in need of a passport is actually totally blocked inside Kosovo.
This is a violation of the UN Human Rights Declaration which provides for freedom of movement. This make-believe world of Kosovo still being part of Yugoslavia will continue to make any real progress impossible. Is that what the international community really wants?
While watching the build-up of international forces (and also international NGOs) one gets the impression that they are all having a nice time. Just imagine: If a German tank commander wants to cross a road back home in Germany he will have to inform the local Police Force to ensure that the road is cleared and safe. In Kosovo “everything goes”. All the forces from more than 50 countries are able to show off their hardware and move around in full force. Interestingly, many of these internationals after some time in Kosovo have time to reflect upon their presence here and express various feelings. One feeling that has gained the upper hand recently is very important and needs to be reflected upon carefully.
The Dutch contingent in Kosovo lives in tents. The German contingent in Kosovo lives in tents. The Russian contingent in Kosovo lives in tents. The Swiss contingent in Kosovo lives in removable containers. All these “internationals” thought they were here on a temporary basis.
At the same time however the US contingent has signed a lease agreement for 64 square kilometre of land for an Army Base for the period of 99 years. This is the largest overseas base the US Army is arranging since the Vietnam War. Do they intend to leave after a few years? Definitely not. The USA would not invest in their largest overseas base hundreds of millions of dollars (probably billions) if they had any intention to evacuate this property again in the foreseeable future.
After all, the benefit of a large Army and Air Force Base in the Balkan is large: EU countries have become rather reluctant hosts to large US bases and would prefer them to fade away. NATO at the moment needs Turkey as their most eastward base. NATO bases in Turkey have their reach far into the Middle East and Eastern Europe. With a large presence in Kosovo, NATO would have an alternative and Turkey, consequently, would have a very much reduced bargaining position.
When strolling through cities in Kosovo – one is impressed by the hustle and bustle that has quickly returned and the happy mood of the people enjoying their new-found freedom, the longer-term future is a bit depressing.
What will happen when the International Aid Agencies move elsewhere? What will happen when the Media interest in Kosovo fades? The long-term lack of employment is far from being solved. International aid continues to be needed for Kosovo. And, if such international aid and investment could come more and more from Muslim countries, where we can hope that the “niyyat” (intention) is positive then, the future of Kosovo will look bright.
The writer is a Swiss Muslim
The Independent – Bangladesh