Why Does the West Insist on a Multi-Ethnic Kosovo?

06 tetor 2023 13:52

Artikulli i përkthyer.

Kosovo is the most ethnically homogenous country in the Western Balkans with an estimated 92% of its population being ethnic Albanian, but at the same time, it is a multi-ethnic country as defined by its constitution.

The second largest ethnic minority in Kosovo is the Serb community at around 5% of the total population. The discussions about minority rights predominantly focus on the Kosovo Serb community. The rest of the ethnic minorities, such as Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, tend to be overlooked or marginalized.

People from these communities often endure difficult conditions and receive minimal government support, leading to a sense of underrepresentation and difficulty in forming connections with Kosovo and its institutions.

A 25-year-old woman from Prishtina recently asked me if Roma could represent Kosovo in a sport. To her, only ethnic Albanians hold the status of Kosovo citizens.

Most countries are inherently multi-ethnic and those that embrace this diversity, no matter how small or difficult, reap the benefits of cultural richness, in sports, innovation and economic growth.

However, at the insistence of the West, especially the United States, Kosovo embracing its multi-ethnicity goes beyond the socio-economic advantages. It traces back to the years following the war when there was much debate about Kosovo’s future status: Would it become a protectorate, a territory, or an independent country?

Following decades of systemic discrimination of Albanians in Yugoslavia – it became impossible for Kosovo to remain part of Serbia. The populace wouldn’t accept that.

But a major objection was how would Albanians treat the Serb minority. And in the early 2000’s there were concerns due to post-war revenge attacks on Serbs and other minority groups (e.g. Roma) suspected of collaborating with the Yugoslav regime.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) estimated that 50 people a week were killed directly after the war in June 1999.

Then came the March 2004 attacks on Serb communities and their cultural heritage that were violent and shocking. The international community had to address this directly.

Human Rights Watch recommended to the Kosovo provisional government, “Commit Kosovo to a multiethnic future, and make clear that attacks against minorities will be vigorously prosecuted.

The March 2004 incident represents a turning point in the discussions about the future status of Kosovo. 

Four years later, with significant support from the Western nations, particularly the United States, Kosovo declared its independence.

The constitution of Kosovo was crafted based on liberal democratic principles and included comprehensive rights for ethnic minorities. This included provisions such as reserved seats in the Assembly to ensure their active participation in civil life.

The Serbian language became an official language and Serbs were also granted the right to their own schools, cultural and religious institutions and later on healthcare.

Despite ongoing tensions and the absence of normalized relations with Serbia, Western nations persist in advocating for a multi-ethnic Kosovo.

In 2013, Kosovo pledged to implement an Association of Serb-majority (ASM) municipalities that would give extensive autonomous provisions to local Serbs in urban planning, economic development, health care and school system, among other things.

However, the Kosovo government has refused to implement it. In 2015, the Constitutional Court of Kosovo, the highest court in the country, ruled that some of its executive provisions were not in line with the constitution of Kosovo.

Since then, Kosovo has declined to draft a new statute and implement the agreement, creating an obstacle in the relations between Albanian and Serb communities in Kosovo.

The US continues to insist on the ASM for three key reasons: First, the US sees it as a mechanism that effectively ensures the rights of the Serb minority. Second, it eliminates any potential excuse for Serbia to claim that the rights of Kosovo Serbs are not safeguarded. Third, it allows deeper integration within the Kosovo state by making all financial support to the Serb community more transparent.

One potential issue with the ASM is the risk of perpetuating segregation among communities. Although many Serb-majority communities are diverse, consisting of Gorani, Bosniaks, Albanians, and Roma, there is a concern that the ASM might inadvertently reinforce divisions.

Another possible drawback is that the ASM could isolate other minority communities particularly Ashkali and Egyptians, who still do not receive enough support to fully integrate from the state.

However, even with an ASM, the Kosovo state is still ultimately responsible for all of its minorities. The ASM essentially turns over that responsibility to Kosovo for Serb majority communities and preserves their rights to self-manage education, cultural issues and health.

But this shouldn’t be an excuse to simply walk away from minority issues altogether.

The establishment of an ASM – implemented correctly – would ideally lead to a decentralization of the economy and bring communities closer under the Kosovo flag.

It remains essential that there are more connections and exchanges between all communities in Kosovo on a daily basis and it's not just the same group of NGOs or criminal figures practicing multiethnic relations.

It is only this cultural change in Kosovo’s mindset on all sides, when there is meaningful integration that will make the legal and structural reforms sustainable.

The US and its allies had to – and still have to – guarantee its partners that Kosovo will always be a multi-ethnic and diverse state. The US Ambassador, Jeffrey M. Hovenier, reiterated this once again after the recent attack in Banjska.

The United States has supported Kosovo as a sovereign and independent country, and that support is based on the understanding that it would be democratic and multi-ethnic, and over the years we have invested a lot of effort to improve the country's multi-ethnic character,” said the US ambassador.

When a 25-year-old from Prishtina understands that Kosovo is made up of many people from many cultures and they represent her country as much as she does, then Kosovo will have made Kosovars.

06 tetor 2023

Bronwyn Jones