Image source: wikipedia.org

Since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, sovereignty over the 6759 square mile territory of Kosovo has been contested. The local Albanian-majority Kosovar government formally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a decade of interim international governance and autonomy arrangements, following the 1998-99 war. The government in Belgrade does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, maintaining that Kosovo is strictly an autonomous region of the Republic of Serbia.

Serbia 1 2 3

It would be difficult to fully comprehend the current situation in Kosovo in viewing it strictly as a dispute between the state of Serbia and local Albanian population. Since 1900 alone, the territory that makes up Kosovo has fallen within the borders of numerous geopolitical entities. This list includes the Ottoman Empire, the Kingdom of Serbia, the Kingdom of Montenegro, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (also known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), the Socialist Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, the Union of Serbia and Montenegro, and finally, the Republic of Serbia. While Serbs may have been the majority holders of power in most of these states, their regimes, domestic policies, and borders varied significantly. Therefore, regarding the Serbs’ role as a party in the Kosovo conflict, it would be more appropriate to examine Serbia as a “nation”, rather than just a state.

In analyzing the Serbian perspective on the Kosovo conflict, it is inevitable that one will encounter references to “the myth of Kosovo”or some variation of this phrase. It is most commonly seen being used in regards to specific events such as the 1389 Battle of Kosovo or the 17th century flight of the Serbs under Patriarch Arsenije III. On the one hand, the word “myth” is appropriate, as it refers to events which have taken on legendary and/or anachronistic characteristics over the years. Therefore, they have little value as factual historical evidence for serious, scholarly debates on the topic.  However, it would also be a mistake to dismiss such narratives as insignificant or irrelevant on the basis of their factual accuracy. It is important to examine them in order to fully understand how both contemporary and past nationalist politicians alike have framed the ongoing dispute over Kosovo and why many Serbs are still strongly entrenched in the belief that Kosovo is indeed a part of Serbia.

For much of its history, “Kosovo” apolitically referred to a geographic area which loosely corresponds to the contemporary territory. The region of Kosovo was first settled by Slavic speaking peoples around the 10th century, and eventually became the center of the medieval Kingdom of Serbia. At its apex in the mid 14th century, the Serbian Nemanjic dynasty ruled over lands which stretched from the Danube River to the Aegean Sea. Under the rule of Serbian nobles, lived ethnic Slavs, Bulgars, Greeks, Germans, Vlachs, Albanians, and others. Cities such as Prizren, Skopje, and Pristina, located in present day Kosovo and Macedonia, grew into important urban centers of the empire. Not far from these royal cities, Serbian Orthodox monasteries were established during this period in Peje(Alb)/Pec(Serb) and Gracanica, which still stand to this day. They also explain the latter half of the territory’s full name in Serbian: Kosovo i Metohija (Metohija, referring to an old Orthodox monastic territory). Kosovo’s monasteries are treasured cultural and religious sites for the Serbs, and are central to Serbia’s argument of sovereignty over the territory.

Much of Kosovo’s significance for Serbs comes from its reflection of the height of Serbian power and influence. But its role in the narrative of the Serbian Empire’s downfall is equally important for Serbs today. In 1389, a Christian army under the command of the Serbian Prince Lazar met the Muslim Ottoman army of Sultan Murad in a battle which has since been implanted in the Serbian national ethos. Historical accounts are limited, but what is known about the battle is that it essentially resulted in a draw and the deaths of both Murad and Lazar. More significantly, it caused the Serbian Empire to fracture, allowing its lands to be easily conquered by subsequent Ottoman invasions. Over time, the 1389 battle grew into an important cultural narrative for the Serbs. Along with the Serbian Orthodox Church, such tales played a key role in sustaining a sense of Serbian identity under centuries of Ottoman rule. However, in more recent history, these national myths have been cynically used by politicians to stir up a more harmful form of patriotism and entrench the idea that Kosovo is eternally a part of Serbia.

From the period following the Battle of Kosovo to the uprisings which secured Serbia’s independence in the 19th century, much of the Slavic population of the Balkans lived under Ottoman rule. Under the Islamic-inspired Ottoman law code, Christians were considered second class compared to their Muslim neighbors, and this was a major reason for religious conversion during this period. However, the Orthodox church, which preserved Serbia’s culture and historical narratives, was allowed to survive. Therefore, the concept of “Serbian nationhood” was able to survive five centuries of Muslim rule in the region.

Six centuries after the Battle of Kosovo, the centrality of these narratives to Serbian identity was demonstrated when Slobodan Milosevic used them to consolidate support for his rise to power as Yugoslavia headed toward collapse. On the 600th anniversary of the 1389 battle, Milosevic held a rally to commemorate the event which was attended by a crowd numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Today, the revanchist attitudes which fueled the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s, have all but disappeared from mainstream Serbian politics. And in 2006, a referendum was held which resulted in Montenegro’s declaration of independence from the then Union of Serbia and Montenegro, which the government in Belgrade peacefully honored. However, for many Serbs, the conflict over Kosovo is perceived as more than a fight over territorial integrity, but as a fight over the nation’s history and identity. In 1989, two years before socialist Yugoslavia would begin to disintegrate, and nearly 20 years before Kosovo would declare its independence from Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic famously once rallied supporters stating, “Every nation has a love which warms its heart. For Serbia, that love is Kosovo. That is why Kosovo will remain in Serbia.”

The Kosovo Albanians 4 5 6

The highly politicized debate of “who was where, when?” makes the task of finding trustworthy sources on Kosovo’s demographics difficult. Widely accepted information about the Albanians’ history in Kosovo is much more scarce than of the Serbs. There are a handful of vague, yet generally agreed upon facts about the Albanians’ presence in the region. Firstly, it can be asserted that Albanian speaking peoples and/or their ancestors have been present in what is now Kosovo to at least some extent since antiquity. Little else can be claimed with certainty until well into the period of Ottoman rule, when many Albanians began moving from their traditional mountain villages to Kosovo’s urban centers. The most widely accepted understanding is that Muslim Albanian speaking people became the demographic majority in the territory sometime in the last four centuries. Finally, it is safe to say that both Serbian and Albanian speaking communities have existed in close proximity to one another within Kosovo for at least a millennium. Throughout this history, there have been both periods of peace and cultural diffusion as well as periods of conflict between the two groups.

While Kosovo has been an epicenter of conflict, Albanians and Slavs currently coexist peacefully within the borders of several other countries in the region. On Kosovo’s eastern border, lies the Presevo Valley region of Serbia-proper, where Albanians make up the majority population in several municipalities. To the Southeast, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albanians amount to just over a quarter of the country’s total populace. Montenegro is also home to fairly significant Albanian communities, most of which lie just within the borders shared with Kosovo and Albania-proper. Aside from the Slavic majority countries in the Balkans, historically substantial Albanian populations also exist in Greece, Turkey, and Italy.

Speaking broadly, there are very few significant factors which distinguish the Albanian communities of different geographic regions from one another; particularly when speaking in terms of the state borders they reside within. Albanians have lived in the region for centuries, yet historically speaking, there was never any prominent centralized or well defined Albanian geopolitical entities. Therefore, there is very little in terms of the existence of a distinct Kosovo-Albanian national identity. Instead, Albanian national unity stems from a common language and cultural heritage, largely disregarding any international borders, both historical and contemporary. Religiously, most Albanians identify as Muslims, including the majority of Kosovar Albanians, but there are significant Catholic and Orthodox Albanian communities throughout the region. Overall, however, Albanians tend to be far more secular than their Slavic and Greek neighbors. As a result, religion has never served as a serious dividing (or unifying) for the Albanian people.

Ultimately, for the majority of Albanians, the conflict over Kosovo has been one of self determination above all else. Ever since Kosovo was first awarded to the Serbs by the Treaty of London following the First Balkan War, the Albanians have been the demographic majority in the territory. Yet, going back to the 1878 Treaty of Prizren, which first laid out ambitions to unify Albanian speaking lands of the Ottoman Empire into a single political entity, the methods and even the goals for an independent state have been hazy. Even in recent times, rivalries and factionalism between various organizations such as the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UCK) in the 1990’s still cause problems today in Pristina’s general assembly. Still, the unanimous vote for independence in 2008 indicated that the Kosovar Albanians are unified in their desire to be independent from Serbia. The question is, are local institutions strong enough to prove to the world that Kosovo can be a liberal European democracy by itself? Or would the international community’s departure result in a return to open conflict and persecution?

1912 – Kosovo is reconquered by Serbia during the first Balkan War

In 1912, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro form the Balkan League and defeat the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of London awards the lands of Kosovo to the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro. It also establishes an independent Albanian state.

1912- Beginning of Slavic settlement policy in Kosovo

Slavic peasants are offered free land in Kosovo by Serbian government in an effort to re-establish an ethnic majority over Albanians within the territory.

June 28th, 1913- Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand Assassinated

Franz Ferdinand, the successor to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is assassinated by Serbian nationalist terrorists, leading to the outbreak of World War I.

December 1st, 1918 – Kingdom of Yugoslavia is established

Following the end of the First World War, Alexander Karadjordjevic is proclaimed regent of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which is also known as Yugoslavia.

1941 – Kingdom of Yugoslavia falls to Axis powers

After the outset of the war and have failed to chose a side, Yugoslavia is invaded by Germany. Fascist puppet governments are established in Croatia and Albania. Kosovo becomes part of a Greater Albanian puppet state.

1945 – Kosovo incorporated into SFRY

After successfully liberating Yugoslavia from Axis forces, the communists establish a new government in Belgrade under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito. Kosovo is returned as a Serbian province.

1974 – Kosovo granted extended autonomy

The 1974 Constitution of Yugoslavia grants increased autonomy to Kosovo Albanians and represents a period of overall improvement in the quality of life for many Kosovars.

May, 1980 – Josip Broz Tito dies

After serving as Yugoslavia’s leader for 35 years, Josip Broz Tito dies on May 4th at the age of 87. Without a clear successor, Yugoslavia’s government is headed by a rotating presidency until its collapse.

March, 1981 – Mass protests against Yugoslav government break out across Kosovo

In Pristina, demonstrations which had started as a protest against poor living conditions for university students rapidly expand into massive anti-Yugoslav/Albanian nationalist rallies and spread to cities across the province. Police and military forces are deployed to subdue the protests.

September 1986 – SANU Memorandum claiming “genocide” against Serbs in Kosovo leaks

As ethnic relations begin to decay throughout the 1980’s in Kosovo, Serbian Academy of Science and Arts (SANU) produces a controversial memorandum in 1985 which argues that “demographic genocide” is being carried out against the Serbs in Kosovo. In September, the memorandum is leaked to the public, causing widespread outrage from Serbs and Albanians alike.

April, 1987 – Slobodan Milosevic sent to Kosovo to “ease tensions” in the province

Slobodan Milosevic, deputy to President Ivan Stambolic, emerges as a champion for Serbian nationalists after an incident in the town of Kosovo Polje in which he admonishes Albanian abuses against Kosovo Serbs. Standing in front of news cameras, amidst a crowd of Serbian protesters he famously proclaims, “Never again should they dare to beat you!”.

March, 1989 – Kosovo stripped of autonomy granted by 1974 Constitution

Kosovo’s assembly is forced to cede its status as an autonomous province, as part of Slobodan Milosevic’s so-called “anti-bureaucratic revolution” to consolidate power.

June, 1989 – Milosevic holds rally honoring 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo

Just under two months after assuming the Serbian Presidency, Milosevic addresses a crowd of hundreds of thousands at the site of the 1389 battlefield in an overt display of pro-Serbian nationalism.

June, 1991 – Croatia and Slovenia declare independence from Yugoslavia

Fearing a continued accumulation of power by Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, simultaneously declare independence from Yugoslavia, marking the beginning of the Yugoslav civil wars. Bosnia declares independence soon afterwards.

September, 1991 – Kosovo shadow assembly declares independence from Yugoslavia

In a secret session, the members of Kosovo’s assembly vote to declare independence from Yugoslavia and proclaim the new “Republic of Kosova” (using the Albanian name for the territory) on September 21st. Belgrade declares the vote illegal but does not militarily intervene.

May, 1992 – Elections held in Kosovo

On May 24th, polls are held to elect the first government for the Republic of Kosova. The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) is voted in as the majority party, with Ibrahim Rugova becoming as the president. The new “shadow government” opts to pursue a policy of passive resistance, and over the next several years, creates a system of parallel Albanian-run institutions.

December, 1992 – President Bush Issues “Christmas Warning”

U.S. President H.W. Bush threatens Milosevic with military action in the event of an aggressive Serbian response to the Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

1993 – Founding of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is formed by a group of militant Albanian nationalists and activists. However, for the first several years of its existence, its operations are limited.

July, 1995 – Srebrenica Massacre

In eastern Bosnia, thousands of Bosniak men and boys are massacred by Serbian paramilitaries after the UN Safe Zone at Srebrenica is overrun. The event is later labeled a genocide and represents a major failure for the international peacekeeping mission.

December, 1995 – Dayton Accords Signed

The internationally mediated Dayton Accord formally ends the conflict in Bosnia and Croatia, but the Kosovo issue is not addressed during the negotiations.

March, 1997 – Collapse of the Albanian government

In Albania, military arsenals across the country are abandoned by the government and looted by the public. Thousands of guns make their way into the hands of the KLA. Guerilla attacks against Yugoslav security forces in Kosovo increase dramatically.

February, 1998 – JNA forces assault Jashari compound, killing 54

Yugoslav security forces attempt to arrest KLA commander, Adem Jashari, at his family compound in the village of Prekaz. The ensuing gun battle results in 54 deaths, including Jashari and much of his family. The event rallies thousands of Albanians around the KLA.

October- 1998 – United States pressures Milosevic to de-escalate Kosovo situation

In a series of meetings and negotiations, the U.S. attempts to push Milosevic to scale back military operations in Kosovo and find a peaceful solution to the crisis or face possible military intervention. Milosevic agrees and initially withdraws a number of troops the province.

January, 1999 – Racak massacre

45 Albanian civilians are murdered by Serbian forces in the village of Racak in retaliation for nearby guerilla attacks. The event is highly publicized and prompts a strong response from the international community.

February, 1999 – Rambouillet negotiations

The international community makes a final attempt to mediate a peace deal between Kosovo and Serbia, but neither side is willing to compromise on the issue of Kosovan independence. The final draft of the agreement proposes extensive political autonomy for Kosovo but maintains Yugoslav territorial sovereignty. Neither side is pleased with the terms and the negotiations end in failure.

March, 1999 – NATO Intervention begins in Kosovo

The JNA offensive against the KLA causes a mass exodus of civilians from Kosovo. With two failed peace talks and the threat of violence against civilians, NATO launches Operation Allied Force on March 24th, targeting Yugoslav strategic sites and military assets in Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro . The stated objective is to get “Serbs out, Peacekeepers in, [and] Refugees back”.

June, 1999 – Kosovo War ends; province placed under interim UN administration

After 78 days of sustained bombing, Milosevic capitulates and the UN Security Council passes resolution 1244. Kosovo is placed under the authority of the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which is supported by a NATO peacekeeping force. Kosovo legally remains part of Yugoslavia.

October, 2000 – Fall of Slobodan Milosevic

On October 5th, Slobodan Milosevic is forced to abdicate after mass demonstrations follow allegations of fraud during the 2000 election.

March, 2004 – Anti-Serb riots sweep across Kosovo

Hundreds of Serbian homes and churches are destroyed in riots across Kosovo following reports that three Albanian boys were drowned after allegedly being chased into the river by Serbian villagers. The violence results in the emigration of thousands of Serbs from the province.

2006-2007- Negotiations to resolve “final status” question

Following the 2004 riots, the UN mediates talks to reach a final consensus on the Kosovo issue. Former Finnish President and chief diplomat, Martti Ahtisaari, proposes a plan which all but explicitly proposes Kosovan independence. Serbia rejects it and with Russian support in the Security Council, the Ahtisaari plan is axed.

February, 2008 – Kosovo declares independence from Serbia

With tacit support from the EU and U.S., the Kosovan assembly votes to declare independence on February 8th. Serbia immediately rejects the motion but many states are quick to acknowledge and recognize Kosovan sovereignty.

2010 – International Court of Justice rules on legality of Kosovan independence

The Serbian government pressures the ICJ for an opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence within the framework of international law. After extended deliberation, the panel concluded only that the referendum “had not been conducted illegally.”

2011-2013 – Brussels negotiations

The EU moderates a series of talks between the Kosovan and Serbian governments in order to resolve technical issues and to encourage a normalization of relations.

The Rambouillet Accords 14 15

In early 1999, the diplomats from the Kosovo Contact Group (United States, France, Russia, Italy, and the United Kingdom) met in Rambouillet, France in an attempt to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the ongoing war in Kosovo. The final draft of the accords presented terms for an autonomous, self governing Kosovo province within Yugoslavia. The locally elected government would maintain the right to levy its own taxes, determine local policy, and have an independent judiciary. JNA and KLA forces would immediately cease hostilities, withdraw, and disarm. International peacekeepers and aid organizations would oversee the transition process, reconstruction, and facilitate the return of displaced peoples. Crucially, the final agreement contained a clause calling for an international meeting to occur after three years to “determine a mechanism for a final settlement of Kosovo.” This final addition secured the Kosovo delegation’s signature, but caused the Serbs to walk from the negotiating table.

The unwillingness to compromise by either party on the question of Kosovo’s final status all but guaranteed failure from the beginning. As U.S. diplomat Richard Miles more precisely summarized, “Momentum had developed on both sides that made it almost impossible to prevent war.” To this end, the Rambouillet talks were, in large part, an opportunity for parties to conduct necessary pre-war posturing. For the Western powers, the collapse of the talks resulted in the final consensus to militarily intervene in Kosovo

UN Security Council Resolution 1244 16 17

UNSCR 1244 represented a significant turning point in the history of the conflict. On the one hand, it was the final success of the international community to bring an end to the war. It also marked the de facto end of nearly a century of Serbian control over the territory. However, it failed to bring about final resolution to the conflict. Milosevic’s agreement to the international community’s terms had essentially been procured by force. Although the resolution was written to be diplomatically agreeable with the key Serbian demand to leave the country intact, the outcome clearly represented a loss from its point of view. Military and diplomatic force rather than diplomatic talks between Kosovo’s and Serbia’s respective governments had brought 1244 into fruition.

As astutely summarized by Victor Chernomyrdin, the Russian special envoy to the G8 negotiations, “This sort of document hardly ever satisfies those who take part in the negotiations. The important point is that this document should allow us to achieve the objectives that we had, which is to stop the war in the Balkans.” To this end, and perhaps even a bit more, resolution 1244 and UNMIK was successful. The war had ended; the majority of refugees returned, and Kosovo’s homes and roads were rebuilt. However, in failing to adequately answer the question of status, it ultimately failed to bring final resolution to the conflict.

The Ahtisaari Plan 18 19

In November 2005, Former Finnish President, Marti Ahtisaari was selected to lead negotiations to settle the question on Kosovo’s final status. The UN Office of the Special Envoy to Kosovo (UNOSEK) was established and talks between the Kosovo and Serbian governments began in July. As before, neither side appeared willing to budge from their position on Kosovo’s final status. Nonetheless, Ahtisaari submitted his proposed plan in February of 2007. It contained 14 articles, covering many familiar issues such as ethnic community rights, economic development, religious and cultural rights, and property rights. The word “independence” was never explicitly included in the document. However, the proposal made provisions for a full constitution, which Kosovo’s government would adapt and implement in compliance with the plan. Additionally, Kosovo would be allowed to adopt a flag, national anthem, and autonomously conduct diplomatic relations. UNMIK would draw down, while the European Union would take on a greater role in state building process.

The plan was well received by the Kosovo government, as well as internationally; especially by the EU and United States. However, Serbia would not support the plan. With Russian support, the Ahtisaari plan was defeated in the Security Council. It was clear that Serbia and Kosovo were not going to agree on the issue of independence, and with a permanent chair on the Security Council in Serbia’s corner, the issue of final status was therefore, not going to be settled in the United Nations. The failure of Ahtisaari peace process was a direct precursor to Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February of 2008. It established the framework for an independent Kosovan government and provided favorable diplomatic conditions for Kosovo to confidently make its bid.

The Brussels Agreement 20 21 22

In April of 2013, the first bilateral agreement between the governments of Kosovo and Serbia was signed in Brussels. The Brussels Agreement represented the culmination of two years and ten rounds worth of talks between Pristina and Belgrade, which were facilitated by the EU. The actual content of the agreement was limited in its scope. The terms mandated cooperation in border security policy and telecommunications networks, as well as the creation of an Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo, which would increase the autonomy of Kosovo Serbs. Additionally, and perhaps most significantly, the agreement charged that “neither side will block, or encourage others to block, the other side’s progress in their respective EU paths.” In this, the significance of the Brussels Agreement was sign of willingness on the behalf of both governments to cooperate for the purpose of EU accession.

Rather than seeking a final resolution to the conflict over Kosovo, the main result of the Brussels Agreement was a significant step towards normalizing relations between the two governments. The real stakes of the agreement were not final peace, but the EU accession process for Serbia and Kosovo. As per the terms of EU accession, both Serbia and Kosovo are obligated to meet the necessary prerequisite of peaceful and normalized relations with neighboring states. The most significant impact of the Brussels Accords has been the advancement of both governments in their bids to join the European Union. With Serbia moving forward in its member status negotiations and Kosovo being promised a future Stabilization and Association Agreement, both governments have signaled an aligned goal of European integration.

Demographics and Social Issues 23 24 25

Kosovo’s population is estimated to be around 1.9 million as of 2015and is the youngest in Europe. As mentioned previously, many Serbs have boycotted Kosovo’s censuses, making precise statistical analysis of the population difficult. However, most estimates place Albanians roughly around 90 per cent, with the remaining ten per cent being split fairly evenly between Serbs and “other” minority groups, referring to Roma/Ashkali, Egyptians, Turks, Muslim Slavs (Bosniak), and Gorani. Although Kosovo’s constitution guarantees minority rights, in practice, minority issues remain a challenge for Kosovan society.

In particular, the poor state of relations between Albanian and Serbian communities remains a hindrance to Kosovo’s peace building. The rate of ethnically motivated violent incidents between communities have subdued in recent years. Total separation rather than confrontation has come to define the relationship between the two groups. The Serbs of Kosovo do not recognize its independence, and thus, boycott most Kosovan institutions. Until recently, these isolated enclaves of Serbs continued to rely on Belgrade for support. This is particularly true of communities in the north around the city of Mitrovica, close to the border of Serbia-proper.

As part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement, the Association of Serbian Municipalities promises greater local political autonomy to Serbian municipalities in exchange for Belgrade’s agreement to end direct involvement in governing these communities. The hope was that by decentralizing political power away from Albanian controlled Pristina, Serbs would be more willing to work within the framework of Kosovan institutions. Some have criticized the deal, pointing to Bosnia as an example of a stagnant, if not failed system of decentralized power sharing. In 2015, the agreement was resisted heavily by many Albanian Kosovars, with opposition parties inciting protests and obstructing Assembly sessions with tear gas. The movement was lead by the nationalist Vetevendosje (Self Determination) party, who argued that allowing more municipal autonomy would simply result in indirect, rather than direct violation of Kosovo’s sovereignty by Serbia.

Economic Challenges 26 27 28

Widespread unemployment, underdevelopment, and heavy reliance on remittances represent a few of the biggest economic challenges facing Kosovo today. While the economy has trended positively since 2008, Kosovo’s GDP per capita is around $10,000 making it Europe’s third poorest country, after Moldova and Ukraine. Similarly, while unemployment is shrinking, it still hovers at around 35 per cent. It is estimated that as many as 45 percent of Kosovans live below the poverty line. Many in Kosovo rely heavily on remittances from family members working abroad in Europe and the United States. Additionally, Kosovars commonly engage in parallel or “off-the-books” economic activities such as small scale sustenance agriculture or illicit logging.

Following the war, Kosovo’s economy and general infrastructure was understandably devastated. Therefore, economic development has been a central aspect of the international community’s mission in Kosovo. In more recent years, issues like privatization, fiscal policy, and foreign direct investment have been key issues in Kosovo’s development process. While progress has trended positive, growth has been constricted by a number of factors. Foreign investment and trade, in particular, are hampered by issues such as Kosovo’s contested status, high levels of corruption in the government, and perceived risks of instability. However, in spite of current disincentives, Kosovo’s large youth population and rich natural resources could very well prove to be advantageous if structural and diplomatic problems are successfully addressed.

The European Union 29 30 31 32

Surrounded almost completely by EU member-states, the Western Balkans is frequently referred to as “Europe’s soft underbelly”. While perhaps insensitive, this sentiment essentially encapsulates the European Union’s main stake in the region. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia, war, instability, and weak states have made the Balkans a major security concern for Europe. Europe has expended much time and resources on state building in the region as a bulwark against these threats. The overarching objective of the EU’s policy is to facilitate the conditions necessary for accession into the EU itself. To these ends, the EU has undertaken a massive and ongoing effort to promote issues such as democratization, positive ethnic relations, rule of law, and good governance. In the cases of Kosovo and Serbia, the diplomatic conflicts pose an added challenge to the process.

Since 2008, the European Union has largely replaced UNMIK as the facilitators of Kosovo’s state and institution building process as outlined by UNSC 1244.  In terms of manpower and resources invested, the EU is the biggest international stakeholder in Kosovo. Since 1999, the EU has provided Kosovo with over 2.3 billion Euros of assistance in the form of emergency relief, reconstruction, institution building, and other stability promoting projects. Additionally, the 2,000 officials assigned to EU missions in Kosovo at their outset made it the second largest home of EU employees after Brussels. Since 2008, the EU has focused on the parallel goals of institutional capacity building and European integration. The former task is overseen by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo(EULEX), and the latter by the European Union Special Representative(EUSR).

In April 2016, the EU and Kosovo formally entered into a Stabilization and Association Agreement. It marked a milestone in Kosovo’s EU accession process, and was the first formal treaty signed between the EU and the government of Kosovo. Although, several months earlier, the Kosovan government was threatening a non renewal of EULEX’s mandate. After seven years of the EU’s mission and the talk of accession had yielded little actual change and public opinion of the EU was in the decline. As with UNMIK, the process of meeting standards was incremental and, in the minds of many Kosovars, happening too slowly. Though the signing of the SAA may have been more symbolic than substantive, it reaffirmed the underlying ambition on both sides to fully bring Kosovo into Europe.

Russia 33 34 35

 The Kosovo conflict represents one of the first major diplomatic standoffs between Russia and the West in the decade following the end of the Cold War. Although Russian influence had been notably weakened by the collapse of the USSR, Serbia has consistently relied on Russian support since the 1990s. The end of their once opposed communist regimes allowed Russian and Serbs to rekindle their historical  “special friendship” based on shared Orthodox and Slavic culture. Russia’s position on the UN Security Council has proven to be one of the most effective bulwarks against Western diplomatic efforts to push for settlements perceived by Serbia as unfair or unfavorable.

During the war, Russia strongly condemned the NATO intervention as an intolerable violation of Serbia’s sovereignty. It had even previously gone so far as to proclaim that Western military involvement would be perceived as an act of aggression, not only against Serbia, but against Russian interests as well. Ultimately, Russia was unable to prevent NATO’s intervention and begrudgingly accepted the peace terms of SC resolution 1244. However, two days after the June 10th ceasefire, Russia took the bold decision to deploy troops to Pristina airport and head off the KFOR peacekeepers advancing from the south. The crisis was peacefully settled, but the incident left no doubts as to how serious Russia’s opposition was to the whole affair. In the end, Russia was prevented from establishing a sector of influence as it had intended, but it remained a faithful diplomatic ally to Serbia.

However, going beyond the desire to be a faithful ally of Serbia, Russia’s primary interest in Kosovo has always been the concern over the legal precedent. At the same time that war raged in Kosovo and the international community considered armed intervention, Russia too faced ongoing separatist insurgencies in its provinces of Chechnya and Dagestan. To this, Russia’s concerns were and remain valid. If Kosovars have the right to secede under the auspices of international law, and on top of that, reasonably anticipate NATO to intervene on their behalf, what does this signify for Russia’s 21 autonomous provinces? To this end, Russia, as well as many countries around the world grappling with domestic separatists are particularly wary about how the issue of Kosovo’s final status should be resolved.

As the Ahtisaari negotiations were underway in 2006, Russia summarized its general stance on the question of Kosovo regarding its final status:

“A priority objective is for practical application of standards with a view to ensuring respect for fundamental rights and freedoms of all ethnic groups in the region. We insist that the settlement process should evolve in strict compliance with Security Council resolution 1244… We consider it necessary that negotiations on the future status of Kosovo be preceded by a decision of the UN Security Council based on the results of the Council’s review of the progress in the application of the standards. At the same time, it would be counterproductive to set any deadlines for the negotiations on the status. It is a matter of principal importance to assume that the decision on Kosovo will be of a universal character. It will set a precedent. Any speculation about the uniqueness of the Kosovo case is just an attempt to circumvent international legal rules, which distracts from reality.”

The United States 36 37 38

America has traditionally been one of the strongest advocates for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. Though the 1999 NATO intervention was technically neutral on the matter of independence, American policy has always been supportive of Kosovar Albanians. In 2008, the United States was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence. As a result of its policies, generally speaking, the U.S. is held in high regard by most Albanians and resented by many Serbs.

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush warned Slobodan Milosevic about responding violently to Kosovo’s first declaration of independence. Under President Clinton, American foreign policy was highly influenced by the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. As a result of this policy, the U.S. first took on a major role in the former Yugoslavia during the war in Bosnia. It had taken a hard stance against Slobodan Milosevic and his role in supporting ethnic cleansing during the conflict. The Dayton Accord, which ended the war, represented the commitment of the U.S. with its European allies to bring an end to bloodshed in the Balkans.

Unfortunately, less than two years after Dayton had been signed, the situation in Kosovo was turning increasingly violent. From the start, President Clinton, at the urging of Secretary Albright, took a much harder stance against Milosevic regarding Kosovo. With Srebrenica fresh in everyone’s memories, Clinton was willing and ready to utilize force to prevent further possible renewed ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. When peace talks failed in Washington, and then again at Rambouillet, there was little hesitation on the U.S.’s part to wage war against the Serbs on the grounds of humanitarian intervention.

Following the war’s conclusion, U.S. troops under KFOR partook in the peacekeeping mission and many American civilians served as part of UNMIK or the OSCE. However, after September 11th, 2001, America’s foreign policy dramatically shifted towards counter terrorism and the Middle East. Kosovo and other humanitarian missions lost the priority they had taken in the 1990’s. Nonetheless, the United States remained a faithful and powerful diplomatic force on behalf of Kosovan independence. Additionally, the U.S. retains a substantial military base at Camp Bondsteel, in southeast Kosovo. Overall though, in more recent years, the United States has played a comparatively minor role in Kosovo. Compared to EU and Russia, Kosovo is of less geostrategic interest to American foreign policy.

Normalizing Relations 39 40

Since declaring independence, the situation in Kosovo has remained stable, but positive peace has yet to be achieved. For nearly 20 years, peace has been enforced in Kosovo with virtually no contact between the governments of Serbia and Kosovo. The same reality holds true regarding the ethnic communities living within Kosovo’s borders. In the end, Belgrade and Pristina will have to normalize relations, and ultimately reach a final agreement on Kosovo’s status. Additionally, Kosovo’s Serbs and Albanians will have to find a way to put the past behind them on their own terms and reach a point where both communities are comfortable and willing to participate in the same institutions and civil society at large. Though it is a narrow patch, the common ground shared by the participants of the conflict may prove to be enough to eventually lead to a final and stable peace.

The goal of achieving EU integration has been a significant, shared aspirations for Kosovo and Serbia. Social and economic stagnation is a problem shared by both societies, and the free movement and markets of Europe are viewed by many as the best hope for the future. Many EU officials, too, have placed high expectations in the accession process. From the beginning, normalizing relations has been emphasized as a precondition of membership for both polities. The process of implementing the Brussels Agreement and ongoing dialogue reflects some degree of progress in the EU-guided mediation between Belgrade and Pristina. With the goal to incorporate both Kosovo and Serbia into the EU, the common assumption is that they will reach a settlement and enter together or if the process fails, not at all.

The Threat of Right Wing Populism 41 42 43

One key area of concern regarding the settlement process is the wave of anti-EU populism which has risen across Europe in recent years stemming in large part from the influence of Russia. For Serbia, if the perception of Moscow as an alternative to Brussels grows, it would not be difficult to imagine Belgrade taking a harder stance on the issue in the future. Indeed, in recent years the two nations have been strengthening ties. In 2015, Serbia hosted a military parade for Russian president, Vladimir Putin and in 2016, Russia agreed to provide a number of tanks and aircraft for the Serbian military. Additionally, incidents such as the Belgrade to Mitrovica train being emblazoned with Serbian nationalist slogans seemed to show a sudden step backward regarding the Kosovo normalization process from the Serbian government.

Addressing Lingering Domestic Issues 44 45

Domestically, widespread corruption and weak institutions are major obstacles which both governments must contend with as they look to the future. Pursuing reform and strengthening democracy is not only essential for the EU accession process, but also for establishing a positive peace between Serbs and Albanians within Kosovo itself. The empowerment of local institutions in Kosovo, as highlighted during the Brussels negotiations, will be particularly important in rebuilding trust between Kosovo’s ethnic communities and generating faith in the government itself.

Only after the government can generate faith from all constituent groups can a strong Kosovan civic identity begin to form and transcend ethnic boundaries. The vitality of institutions such as the Truth and Reconciliation Committee announced by the Kosovan government in October, 2016 will be a major factor in regenerating trust. Another area in which civic identity could be strengthened is in education. The parallel education received by Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo has traditionally served to reinforce traditional ethnic perspectives on the conflict. However, it is an area in which could be most promising in fostering a new and shared identity.

Looking to the past as a whole, Kosovo’s education could better reflect the centuries of known peaceful coexistence of Serbs and Albanians. On a whole, the culture and lifestyle factors which have been shared between the two groups over the many hundreds of years far outnumber those that separate them. In fact, like the Serbs, the Albanians of Kosovo have traditionally passed down the tale of the Battle of 1389. Though minor details such as names are changed in the Albanian telling, it ultimately tells the same story of the heroic stand of a people against an invading army. Thus, even in this event widely perceived as one of the most divisive in Kosovo’s history, a case for unity among its people begins to appear.

January 5th, 2017 46Former Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, is arrested in France on allegations of war crimes committed when he was a leader in the KLA. Haradinaj was released from police custody on January 12th, but unable to leave country until French courts decide whether or not to extradite him to Serbia.

January 14th, 2017 47 – A train from Belgrade emblazoned with images of the Serbian flag and nationalist slogans was stopped at the border with Kosovo, sparking a confrontation between Kosovan and Serbian authorities. Both governments accused the other of trying to stoke ethnic tensions between Serbs and Albanians.

February 13th, 2017 48Kosovo’s President, Hashim Thaci, announced the establishment of a Post-War Reconciliation Commission with the stated goal of improving relations between Kosovo’s Serbian and Albanian communities.

April 27th, 2017 49 – Ramush Haradinaj returns to Kosovo after French government decided that it would not extradite the former Kosovan Prime Minister.

Judah, Tim. Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know. Though only 151 pages long, Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know, is one of the most highly informative and widely cited primers on the conflict in Kosovo, covering the arrival of the Albanians and Serbs to the region all the way to Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. As The Economist’s former chief Balkan correspondent, Tim Judah is not only academically familiar with the subject matter, but also has the advantage of having lived through a great deal of it, himself, making him one of the most acclaimed experts on Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia as a whole. Critically, Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know gives perhaps the most balanced account of both sides’ perspective of the conflict.

Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo: A Short History. At 492 pages, Noel Malcolm’s Kosovo: A Short History can safely be considered the most comprehensive and painstakingly researched English language resource on Kosovo’s history. With Malcolm’s familiarity with and access to a vast wealth of original source material he, more than anyone else, is able to provide a complete and unbiased analysis of the many controversial events from Kosovo’s long history. Malcolm goes into far greater detail than what is needed to comfortably understand the conflict, but in doing so, he has allowed following scholars to confidently make assertions based more on strong historical evidence rather than hearsay. Given its 1998 publishing date and the author’s expertise as a historian, the analysis weakens and becomes far more narrative as the timeline moves farther into Socialist Yugoslavia and towards its collapse.

Phillips, David L. Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and U.S. Intervention. David Phillips is an academic with an incredibly dense resume in the field of Peacekeeping. As the then Director of the Program on Peace-Building Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Phillips’ strongest suit is his access to many of the actors directly involved with the international effort to bring peace to Kosovo. It is fairly clear that the book has pro-Western, American-centric point of view which, at times, casts the Serbs in a negative light. However, it provides the most detailed accounts of the major negotiations regarding Kosovo from the mid-1990’s to the mid-2000’s.

Mehmeti, Leandrit and Radeljic Branislav. Kosovo and Serbia: Contested Options and Shared Consequences. Published in early 2017, Kosovo and Serbia: Contested Options and Shared Consequences consists of compilation of essays from a variety of local experts who cover a range of relevant contemporary issues in Kosovo. It is academically dense and clearly intended for an audience already familiar with the conflict and/or the field of peacebuilding. Although authors’ individual biases occasionally show through in small ways, as a whole, it is a serious  academic resource, particularly due to the wealth of regional experts, resources and data which would be otherwise inaccessible to non-Serbian/Albanian speakers.

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