Kosovo: A view from the street
Kosovo has seen much progress since its declaration of independence in 2008. One of the most visible signs is the new high-rise apartment buildings that have sprung up in Pristina. But many stand empty, far beyond the reach of most people in a place where the average income is around 250 euros a month.
Pristina’s new shopping mall is as modern as any other in Europe. Like the apartments, for most locals it offers just a glimmer of what the future may hold in store for them. Their primary concern as they head into 2012 is the economy.
Relying on migrant workers
At 45%, unemployment is the highest in Europe. At a second-hand car market on the outskirts of Pristina we meet Fatmir, an ethnic Albanian who has returned home after having worked in Germany for the past few years.
“I’m unemployed at the moment,” says Fatmir. “I worked in a restaurant, then I had my own business, but due to the crisis in Europe it failed.”
Fatmir has come back with a car which he’s hoping to sell at a profit, but admits that the money is not within everyone’s reach. “For a second-hand car like this you have to work for a year in Kosovo, but if you make a bit on the side, like by selling cars or whatever you can make it,” he explains.
By working abroad Fatmir has been able to support his family in Pristina. According to UN estimates, 1 in 5 households in Kosovo are dependent on these remittances. Migrant capital is seen as an indispensable way of stimulating Kosovo’s economic growth, which remains one of the lowest in the Balkans.
“Kosovo is a beautiful country and the KFOR soldiers or NATO soldiers are very welcome here. But I must say that now after 10 years many people are becoming impatient. Because they associate many of the problems they still face today with international organizations,” Fatmir says. “At first they were all very interested in helping Kosovo and then they started to lose interest and only now we are getting a bit more attention again, but not because of us, only because Serbia wants to become an EU candidate.”
For a long time NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Kosovo received little media attention, as the security situation remained calm. Troop numbers have been steadily reduced to a current level of about 6,000.
But since July last year Kosovo has been making headlines again. A customs dispute between Belgrade and Pristina triggerd clashes triggered clashes in the north of Kosovo between local demonstrators and KFOR peacekeepers. In November some 30 KFOR soldiers were injured as they moved to clear a roadblock.
But like Fatmir many Kosovars feel KFOR should do more to clear illegal roadblocks and enforce the freedom of movement.
“We Albanians see ourselves quite disadvantaged recently because of the way KFOR has been tolerating the troubles in the north. Many feel that if we as Albanians had caused half as much trouble with blockades then NATO or the EU would have intervened more forcefully.”
Developing democracy through peace
But NATO says it does not take sides and will continue to remain impartial. Our KFOR guide tells Fatmir that the mission is focused on using the least amount of force possible, de-escalating tensions and promoting dialogue. A principle they both agree is the only way forward.
“We have been neighbours for a long time and we have to live together, everything else is not going to work. We have to accept them and they must accept us,” says Fatmir. Although there are still problems in the area, he believes that NATO has contributed to the new democracy and sees a need for continued support from the Alliance. “We are still learning and we hope that NATO will continue to support us. Despite our current problems right now we will never forget what NATO has done for us. We think democratically, democracy has arrived here,” he says.
Just a year ago Kosovo held its first general election.
Like much of the progress, it was marred by allegations of fraud.
Besides its economy, Kosovo’s democratic institutions will still need support for some time to come, if it is to realise its dream of a future within Europe.