There is a potential uprising brewing in Kosovo among people who are growing increasingly tired of an international presence that, to date, has failed to foster economic growth, combat corruption, and build state institutions as it promised to. This uprising could manifest itself in one of two ways: It could democratically tell the international community its assistance is no longer needed or wanted, or it could use the much more extreme violent methods we are beginning to see. If the international community wants to continue utilizing armed, humanitarian interventions as a method of battling oppressive governments, the case of Kosovo needs to be a positive model of U.S. and its allies’ involvement.
In 1999, the U.S. and NATO carried out a 78-day bombing campaign in Kosovo and Serbia that ultimately resulted in the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. Since Kosovo’s independence, the country has failed to markedly improve due to high unemployment, stagnant economic growth, corruption, a lack of transparency in public institutions, and marked ethnic divisions between Albanians and Serbs.
The government of Kosovo collapsed last November, following a “no confidence” vote in the ruling Democratic League of Kosovo Party. There was alleged widespread voter fraud in the snap elections that were held a month later, resulting in re-votes in three of Kosovo’s municipalities and recounts in another two. In the end, a number of new political parties — including the Vetëvendosje Party, or self-determination movement — have made their way into Kosovo’s political sphere. However, the political landscape of Kosovo is not the only thing that appears to be changing. Taking a slightly closer look, one can see an emerging discontent festering beneath this young country’s surface.
Until recently, the Vetëvendosje has been a group synonymous with holding protests that result in riots, the destruction of property belonging to the EU and UN, and the deaths of two protesters. The group is staunchly against the international presence and hopes that Kosovars, rather than international organizations and foreign powers, will decide Kosovo’s future.
The Vetëvendosje has appeared to make a relatively smooth transition from radical activist group to legitimate political party, despite the fact that the party’s website states it “is working to achieve radical social and political changes.” In fact, it is quite reassuring and admirable that the Vetëvendosje has opted to take this route. It is a testament to the potential of younger generations of Kosovars. Yet, there is a less-reassuring flipside.
In March, a lone gunman from Mitrovica, Kosovo, named Arid Uka opened fire on a busload of U.S. Air Force troops in Frankfurt, Germany, killing two and wounding a number of others. Another man from Mitrovica allegedly solicited money from the alleged North Carolina co-conspirators to establish a base for jihadist operations in Kosovo. Two weeks ago U.S. prosecutors returned from a “fact-finding trip” in Kosovo while building a case against Betim Kaziu, a U.S. citizen of Albanian descent who sought training and weapons from Kosovo, among other places. According to one witness in Kosovo, Kaziu “wanted to die a martyr for the cause of Islam.”
The Vetëvendosje and the aspiring Islamist jihadists are signs of a shift in the feelings young Kosovars harbor toward the U.S. and its allies. While the vast majority of Kosovars have nothing but respect and gratitude for the West, there is a coming expiration date on the patience of Kosovo’s people for the international community.
The U.S., EU, NATO and the UN have 12 years of time, money, and human capital tied up in Kosovo. If they are to make a case for future interventions on humanitarian grounds, there must be a positive precedent set in Kosovo. Then the international community can point to Kosovo when making a case to intervene in future situations, such as in Libya, where individuals’ rights are being denied.
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