'Tito, We Miss You' Young Kosovars Lose Patience with Foreign Helpers
Part 2: Puppets Acting in Their Own Interests
Thaçi's coalition government is weakened, now that the prime minister, a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), has been accused of having rigged the last parliamentary election. A European Council report also alleges that he was involved in trafficking organs from Serbian prisoners of war. Thaçi denies both charges. His former transportation minister and other close confidants are being investigated for corruption. The editor-in-chief of the largest newspaper in Kosovo, Koha Ditore, isn't the only one who believes that the only reason Thaçi is still governing the country is that the United States is protecting him.
"Governing?" Kurti asks, sharply raising his eyebrows. "Our politicians are nothing more than businesspeople acting in their own interest." But most of all, he says, they are puppets.
There are photos of the US ambassador to Kosovo, Christopher Dell, sitting on the stage in the parliament building during the February presidential election and sending text messages to his preferred candidate, the wealthy developer Behgjet Pacolli, giving him instructions on what to do to secure a majority. When Pacolli's election was ruled unconstitutional, it was Dell who proposed a politically inexperienced police chief as a consensus candidate. Atifete Jahjaga, 36, is now the first female president of Kosovo, as well as the youngest. Little has been heard from her since her inauguration, however. Dell, on the other hand, had already been dubbed "Zeus" before her election.
Failing to Live Up to Expectations
Kurti and the growing number of Vetevendosje supporters complain that the international presence is stifling development in Kosovo. A senior EU adviser says self-critically: "It's true. There are too many of us. This is a small country, and not everything we are doing for it is good." The average monthly income in Kosovo is 200 ($284), while a UN official earns 40 times as much.
According to one much-repeated anecdote, an Indian UN police officer had an Albanian farmer arrested because he was driving his cow with a stick. The woman in charge of the UN Development Programme in Kosovo says she understands the resentment against foreigners. The divide is enormous and the results, she says, are not always visible. "Nevertheless," she adds, "it's important that we are here."
But it is precisely this that Kurti questions. His success is partly the result of the international community not having lived up to expectations.
The border region in the north remains a lawless area where EULEX officials are powerless. Their way of dealing with the election farce in December was simply to call upon Thaçi not to include in his administration any individuals who are under investigation.
Although the EU has been involved in Kosovo since 2008 through its EULEX mission, corruption has increased in the parties and in parliament, according to the anti-corruption organization Transparency International. And with unemployment at 50 percent, it is a cruel irony that Kosovo uses the country code for Monaco, the tax haven on the French Riviera, for some of its mobile communications.
Since the war ended in 1999, the international community has spent about 4 billion on this small country. Kosovo has virtually no industry -- even onions and garlic have to be imported from China. Most people survive on remittances sent home from Kosovars living abroad. And the mismanagement continues, even within the UN administration. In one example, the government is now building a highway to the Albanian capital Tirana, a major project for which the contract was awarded to the US consortium Bechtel-Enka. Under the current arrangement, Kosovo is expected to pay twice the market price for concrete, sand and gravel.
Kosovo's misery is considerable, and there is massive frustration among its population. It is a young country -- half of its population is under 30 years of age.
Kurti, the young opposition leader, isn't the only one who says that the direction of politics in Kosovo is a generational issue. Edita Tahiri, the deputy prime minister, agrees.
Tahiri, 55, is sitting behind a wall of opaque glass in her office in the government building. Her Harvard diploma is displayed in a gold frame on the wall, next to a copy of the country's declaration of independence. She says: "We were the ones who fought the war and brought freedom to Kosovo." There is more to politics than just criticizing others, she adds. For Tahiri, the old coordinates are still valid, namely that Kosovo's goal should be NATO membership and that the United States is the country's only reliable partner. The question of self-determination does indeed seem to be a generational one.
Not far from the government building in Pristina, there are two graffiti messages sprayed onto a wall. The first reads: "Vetevendosje! is the future."
Next to it is a second message. It is slightly faded, but still legible. It reads: "Tito, we miss you."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Young Kosovars Lose Patience with Foreign Helpers
- Part 2: Puppets Acting in Their Own Interests