What is the Question of Kosovo?
Kosovo is fascinating precisely because it eludes the framework of so many questions. Formulating the right question will help us arrive at an answer. But first, we must ask how to frame the question itself.
Is Kosovo a state?
This question doesn’t quite arrive where we need to go. We are drawn back to the answer that only 3/5 of the world’s states recognize Kosovo. That although a child of the UN, it does not have a seat at the table.
Alex Anderson of the International Crisis Group called Kosovo a “smothered child” of the international community. But asking if Kosovo is a state misses the crux of the Kosovo question.
Why is Kosovo stuck?
Closer, but not quite. There is the obvious Serbia-Russia alliance that keeps the world’s remaining states from bestowing recognition upon Kosovo.
There is the systemic problem; nation-states do not want to recognize secessionist movements for fear of stoking separatism within their own borders (like Spain).
Internally, although having one of the youngest and most politically engaged populations in Europe, let alone the world, Kosovo’s political disposition is completely stuck, accepting the reality of a clientelistic, corrupt, stagnant, brutally capitalist political system.
Is Kosovo truly a multiethnic state?
Getting warmer. Embedded in the Constitution, the question of Kosovo’s multi-ethnic project gets closer to the kernel of the Kosovo problem. Created as an Albanian safe haven after the brutal Serbian onslaught of 1998-1999, the Ahtisaari Plan enshrined Kosovo as a multiethnic prayer call, within the heart of the Balkans where such projects have only found fruition under empire or communism, but rarely democracy.
When interviewing politicians, they all recenter their remarks around two things: anti-corruption and multi-ethnicity. To be fair, anti-corruption is the main focus of the Kosovo political party scene. But what type of project is this? Holding the state accountable is simply part and parcel to the functioning state. Vetëvendosje, a leftist-populist party that has surged ahead in the polls over the last few years, puts anti-corruption at the center of its party platform.
So what about the multiethnic project to which so many pay homage? Throughout my interviews and time in Kosovo, when asked about the proposed Association of Serb Municipalities, no one wants to talk much about this. In fact, it is always the last question interviewees elect to answer.
The Association of Serb Municipalities is the brain child of the 2013 Brussels Agreement. It would devolve power within Kosovo to its Serb minority populations -- to manage their finances, healthcare, education, culture, and urban planning.
While the OSCE painted this project as fruitful, as divvying out more independence to local minorities, the Vetëvendosje former Foreign Minister Glauk Konjufca went so far as to paint the OSCE as preferring Serbia’s interests over Kosovo’s. Serbia is an OSCE member state, unlike Kosovo, and so this is not such a wild accusation.
What's the harm in devolution along ethnic lines? Vetëvendosje party officials point out devolving power to local Serb groups just gives more influence to Serbia, particularly to infiltrate Kosovo’s resources where Serbian-majority areas are located. Moreover, they claimed the constitution can’t be recalibrated to contain another layer between municipality and parliament, where the Association of Serb Municipalities would institutionally land.
Of course, Kosovo was created for an Albanian minority brutalized by Serbia, left in limbo by the UN, and even rejected by Albania in their irredentist efforts. Delineated as a state for an Albanian minority-turned majority, how realistic is it that Kosovo meaningfully integrate its Serb minority?
The Ahtisaari Plan outlined twenty permanent seats for minorities in the Kosovo Assembly: ten for Serbs and ten for the Egyptian, Roma, Ashkali, and other ethnic minorities. As it stands, this sizable -- permanent -- share of seats at best means Kosovo parties must court the minority parties and at worst makes these parties kingmakers.
In reality, the minorities of Kosovo are not “integrated” into the folds of Albanian society; they live more separately now than they did during the time of Tito. Some young Serbs living in the north of Kosovo have never even met an Albanian.
Devolving power along ethnic lines -- which is precisely how Kosovo came into existence -- makes meaningful multiethnic integration impossible.
We can call this the regressive minority problem. Consider this dizzying calculation: the proposal to create an Association of Serb Municipalities would give protections to Albanian minorities within a Serbian minority protection scheme within a state created for the Albanian minority who broke off from the Serbian state. It is dizzying precisely because the minority logic becomes infinitely regressive.
What, then, is the project of Kosovo?
Ah, here it is. We’ve arrived precisely by going back to the beginning.
Kosovo has demonstrated it cannot be a multiethnic idealization of the U.S. melting pot (or salad bowl); to be fair, it’s unclear if even the U.S. can live up to this dream. The main political project in Kosovo at present is simply making the state run, seeking recognition, and keeping Serbia at bay.
When Kosovo sat in limbo from 2000-2008, the vast majority of Kosovars did not want independence. They wanted to join with Albania. To some, the revolutionaries always go looking for new masters once the terror is over. But in order to break out of the UN-induced deadlock, the Kosovo Assembly declared independence and has been stuck ever since.
What, then, is the project of Kosovo? Just as they sit in international limbo, they sit in limbo searching for this unifying project. The passion for ethnic integration is simply not there, and it doesn’t seem it will arrive anytime soon. Anti-corruption, a near impossible task, remains a hollow unifier, something that shears rather than cultivates.
This is not to dismiss Kosovo as a state or its people as a nation. Rather, this is to point to the need to cultivate something that unifies the nation-state, that gives Kosovo something to point to on the international stage, to say “recognize me, look at what I have,” rather than “look at what I lack.”