Cablegate: Kosovo Celebrates Second Anniversary with Successes And

Published: Wed 17 Feb 2010 03:03 PM
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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Kosovo celebrated the second anniversary of its
independence on February 17. These two years have seen political
stability that has allowed the country to create legitimate new
institutions, including the Constitutional Court and the Kosovo
Security Force, and to start fulfilling its Ahtisaari Plan
obligations, such as decentralization. Challenges remain, and
Pristina and the international community must focus on moving the
country towards eventual membership in the Euro-Atlantic
institutions that will act as a guarantor of Kosovo's viability and
security. Progress towards European Union membership and a role
within NATO will require a concerted focus on building institutions,
strengthening the country's system of justice, protecting its
multi-ethnicity, and developing its economy. In each of these
fields, Kosovo has been active in laying foundations for progress.
However, we cannot ignore that work remains. Political parties need
to move beyond their regional bases for support and cooperate better
in pursuit of national goals. The GOK, with more effective support
from EULEX, needs to build on its initial reforms in the justice
sector and intensify its anti-corruption efforts. Pristina, with
the help of the international community, wants to replicate the
success of decentralization in southern Kosovo that empowers Serb
communities and extend the same hope to northern Kosovo, where
Belgrade maintains an illegal stranglehold on municipal governance.
The GOK must use its string of economic reforms and privatizations
as a springboard to motivate private-sector growth. Eventual
membership in the European Union and other Euro-Atlantic
institutions will mitigate the challenge that Kosovo's small size
poses. The largest threats to this agenda come both from Belgrade
and the risk that Brussels will not use its influence there to
compel Belgrade's greater cooperation in allowing Kosovo to develop
and strengthen. END SUMMARY
2. (SBU) The Republic of Kosovo turned two years old on February 17.
It has been two years marked by a number of successes. Most
notably, we have seen peace and government stability. Kosovo has
taken responsibility for ensuring its own democracy with elections
that it ran on its own for the first time since the end of the
conflict. Serbs in southern Kosovo participated in these elections
and are starting to accept that their survival runs through Pristina
rather than Belgrade. More Serbs, in fact, cast ballots in Kosovo's
municipal elections in November 2009 than in the illegitimate
parallel elections for local Serbian institutions that took place
throughout the year. New institutions, like the Constitutional
Court, are standing up and starting to earn respect as legitimate
bodies. Internationally, Kosovo has secured membership in both the
World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and recognitions of
Kosovo's independence now stand at 65 countries. At the
International Court of Justice, Kosovo (supported by many in the
international community, including the United States) presented a
strong case to challenge Belgrade's contention that the country's
independence fails to accord with international law, and we expect
that even an ambiguous opinion from the Court will open the door for
more states to recognize the country's independence.
3. (SBU) In short, Kosovo has much to celebrate on its independence
day. We must not forget, however, that Kosovo is a nascent state
that still confronts challenges. Its stability is laudable, but
its political scene is fractious as inexperienced political parties
tend to elevate narrow interests above national goals. The legacy
of conflict and socialism has weakened its institutions, and its
economy remains a work in progress. Kosovo continues to look to the
international community for guidance, and it sees in this advice a
path that will lead to eventual membership in the Euro-Atlantic
community of nations, an end-goal that will act as a guarantor of
the country's independence, viability, and stability. In helping
Kosovo ultimately realize both European Union and NATO membership,
we need to focus our efforts in fostering the state's institutions,
developing the rule of law, promoting its multi-ethnicity, and
strengthening its economy.
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4. (SBU) Kosovo's two largest parties -- the Democratic Party of
Kosovo (PDK) and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) -- have
coexisted in stable government since national elections in November
2007. This stability has allowed the GOK to focus on several
post-independence institution building projects: embarking on
decentralization, standing up the Kosovo Security Force (KSF), and
creating the Constitutional Court, among others. The results have
been positive. We have seen Serbs turnout in large numbers to elect
Serb candidates for mayor and municipal assemblies in the new,
Ahtisaari-mandated, Serb municipalities. The KSF has broken ties
with the legacy of the Kosovo Liberation Army and is showing a
commitment to becoming a multi-ethnic force with its new pan-Kosovo
recruitment campaign. The Constitutional Court has earned
legitimacy as the final arbiter of elections-related disputes.
5. (SBU) The stability allows us to focus on critical economic
projects -- like the New Kosovo Power Plant and the privatization of
the state telecom, Post and Telecom of Kosovo -- with a stable
government partner focused on work rather than campaigning. It also
gives us time to encourage Kosovo politics to move beyond its
post-conflict paradigm, when all parties focused on independence to
the exclusion of other considerations. Left-right policy dimensions
do not yet exist here. The large political parties have not yet
developed policy platforms that extend beyond reaffirming promises
to their core supporters. The LDK still sees itself as the
standard-bearer for late President Ibrahim Rugova. The PDK and the
Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) are outgrowths of the KLA
and continue to appeal to regional support bases. These lingering
identities too often obfuscate priorities and encourage leaders, at
times, to forget that national interests must take precedence.
6. (SBU) On February 16, President Sejdiu appointed new Supreme
Court judges and prosecutors. This action builds on a years-long,
continuing process of vetting for professional competence judges and
prosecutors. The vetting process involves both Kosovo and
international community arbiters, and the GOK's full acceptance of
the results shows a commitment to developing an independent
judiciary that will start to fill the gaps that exist in Kosovo's
rule-of-law institutions. A similar process of interviews and
testing went into the selection of the Constitutional Court justices
last year, and we have seen this court grow in legitimacy over the
past several months. It has already had its own minor Marbury v.
Madison moment, exercising unchallenged authority over legislation
that controls the funding of the state radio and television
broadcaster. Although the ruling has invited critics and
controversy, none of these critics has questioned the role that the
Court has played. This is a significant step in shoring up the
independence of the country's judicial institutions.
7. (SBU) There remains a need for more progress. In January of this
year one of Kosovo's most widely read newspapers noted in an
editorial that Kosovo's system of justice needs deep reform. The
GOK, too, recognizes that it faces a challenge in developing its
legal institutions, and the Prime Minister has adopted a legislative
strategy for the year that prioritizes the rule of law. It is a
strategy that will modernize and reform the court structure,
invigorate the country's prosecutorial ranks, and create an
institutional foundation where objectivity has an opportunity to
flourish. Concurrent with this legislative strategy, the GOK --
with more active assistance from EULEX -- will need to strengthen
its anti-corruption efforts, a difficult challenge in a country this
small, where businesses often claim a political patron. Despite the
inherent difficulties, our institution-building efforts must
prioritize the rule of law and the fight against corruption. The
public needs to feel confident that laws apply to everyone. EULEX
needs to step up its activity and deliver long-promised arrests of
high-ranking corrupt public officials, or we run a risk that our
rule-of-law reforms will fall flat and leave the public with a
perception that the government is little more than a kleptocracy.
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8. (SBU) Kosovo has made a strong start in fulfilling its promises
under the Ahtisaari plan to empower Serb communities. Serb mayors,
following municipal elections in November 2009, now hold office in
the new municipalities of Gracanica, Klokot, and Ranilug. In
Strpce, a pre-existing municipality where the Serb majority refused
to participate in the November 2007 elections, a new legitimate Serb
mayor has taken significant steps to undo the influence of the
illegal parallel municipal government that answers to Belgrade. In
Pristina, the central government is devolving more authority to all
municipalities, giving local residents a louder voice in shaping
their communities' future. Most refreshing is that that the GOK
continues to focus on these Serb communities, providing them with
significant new resources in the 2010 budget that will allow them to
strengthen the new municipal structures and develop their
9. (SBU) In northern Kosovo the challenges surrounding integration
are greater. Belgrade's legitimacy outstrips Pristina's in the
northern municipalities of Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan, but
it may not be as unchallenged as Belgrade would like us to think. A
municipal preparation team (MPT) is now working in the planned new
municipality of North Mitrovica, which will hold a special election
later this year to select its inaugural government. This MPT is the
GOK's first step in building on the success of its decentralization
efforts in the South. It has adopted a comprehensive approach to
the North that entails an incremental "hearts and minds" campaign to
win greater support from northern Serbs to work with Kosovo
institutions. The illegal parallel institutions that control the
North are little more than fronts for organized crime, and the
region has become stagnant. The Serbs north of the Ibar River
consistently point to the absence of the rule of law there, and this
could prove to be the tool that begins their acceptance of Pristina
-- if the GOK and EULEX, together, can make meaningful progress in
shutting down the criminal networks that dominate throughout the
North. Pristina can offer hope, but it cannot achieve success on
its own. The Europeans need to contribute. EULEX needs to crack
down on organized crime, and Brussels must use the lure of EU
integration to compel Belgrade to play a helpful role in returning
law and order to northern Kosovo. Pristina cannot return hope to
the North if the international community will not stop Belgrade from
interfering in the region's development.
10. (SBU) At the central level Kosovo has laid a strong foundation
for economic reforms. In recent months the Assembly has adopted a
debt law that sets rational limits on the amount of debt that the
country can incur and should allow Kosovo to pursue a sovereign
credit rating that will permit it to finance its development. The
IMF has provided guidance on a Central Bank law that will both
strengthen the institution and open opportunities for more
development assistance. And, the GOK is demonstrating an ever
improving control of its budgetary process, delivering a
comprehensive and reasonable 2010 budget to the Assembly that
prioritizes critical needs. Amid these steps, privatization
continues. The GOK hosted a pre-bid conference for representatives
from three pre-qualified consortia interested in entering into a
public-private partnership for the Pristina Airport which we expect
will attract a 100 hundred million Euro investment, with a contract
awarded in April. Further cause for optimism is on the near horizon
with the upcoming privatization of the Kosovo Energy Corporation and
development of a new 500MW power plant that will put an end to the
rolling blackouts that still affect the country. When this plant
comes online, industry will find a more inviting environment for
setting up business.
11. (SBU) These important steps do not mask Kosovo's current
economic woes that leave many Kosovars without work. With an
unemployment rate of greater than 40 percent, the economy is
suffering. There is little industry, the private sector is
underdeveloped, and the country's greatest natural resource --
lignite -- is underutilized due to a dilapidated power
infrastructure. At present, the government remains the primary
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engine that drives the economy, a model that is not sustainable.
Government contracts for road-building projects help to provide
temporary employment, but they do not offer the longer term economic
stability that the country requires. In the coming years, both the
government and the international donor community need to redirect
their efforts towards projects that will spark greater dynamism and
diversity within the private sector. The central reforms that have
occurred -- and will continue throughout the rest of the year --
provide hope that Kosovo will soon feature a strong economic
framework where private sector growth will necessarily follow.
12. (SBU) Kosovo's small size presents a challenge for its survival,
a challenge that the international community can help surmount with
its Euro-Atlantic institutions. The lure of these institutions --
in particular, the European Union and NATO -- are tantalizing
opportunities that focus the attention of the GOK. With a small
population where family and klan ties provide dominant affiliations,
Kosovo is susceptible to corruption that will retard development.
On the security front, Kosovo is currently a NATO protectorate, but
those forces are beginning to withdraw, and Kosovo leaders are
wondering whether or not the small (no more than 2500 active members
according to the Ahtisaari Plan) and lightly armed Kosovo Security
Force (KSF) can fill the void that KFOR will leave. The antidote
for both of these problems is membership within the European Union
and NATO, and this Euro-Atlantic orientation is the primary issue
that unifies the country's dueling political forces around a core
national vision.
13. (SBU) Prime Minister Thaci, daily, expresses his commitment to
readying Kosovo for EU consideration, and he regards the next
European Union Progress Report on Kosovo, due in June, with a mix of
anxiety and optimism. He wants to show the electorate that his
leadership is bringing Kosovo closer to Brussels, and he wants to be
the person who brings EU visa liberalization to Kosovo. Over the
longer term, the country needs EU membership as an outlet for its
young workforce and as a unified market for exports. It also needs
to define its future relationship with NATO. Every Kosovar desires
full membership in an institution second only to the United States
in the hagiography of Kosovo's recent history. The limitations that
the Ahtisaari Plan places on the Kosovo Security Force are going to
prove contentious over time, especially once KFOR withdraws
completely. Without an agreed and viable connection to NATO, we run
the risk that unofficial militias will again develop out of fear
that the country is unable to defend itself from aggression.
14. (SBU) Kosovo's independence has been a success story. The worst
fears -- large scale population movements and outbreaks of violence
-- following February 17, 2008, never materialized. The political
scene, while fractious, works together on the big issues, like
decentralization and establishing new institutions. The
international community and the Kosovars, themselves, can feel good
about the positive steps that have occurred over the past two years,
but we cannot ignore the challenges that remain. With each passing
day we need to see the GOK take more responsibility for securing the
country's future -- more activity on lobbying for recognitions, more
temperate political debate, greater respect for the rule of law, and
a concerted focus on national interests -- but there remains an ever
present role for the international community. Pristina cannot yet
extend its authority across its entire territory. The International
Steering Group on February 8 gave its blessing to a comprehensive
approach that will bolster Pristina's presence in the North, but
this approach will also require international support. Indeed, each
of the steps towards Kosovo's eventual membership in the European
Union will require international attention, and we need to make sure
that Brussels gives Pristina the same consideration that it pays to
Belgrade. Above all, the progress that Kosovo makes in overcoming
the challenges it confronts should play the determining role in the
country's qualifications for European Union and NATO membership. We
need to keep the GOK's focus squarely on its responsibilities while
reminding our European partners that they too have a role to play.
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