Kosovo, Kosovo, blah blah blah

So Kosovo continues to creep — soooo slowly — towards some sort of independence.

Serbia is having a Presidential election this weekend, with a runoff two weeks later. There’s a tacit agreement that nothing should happen before then… the assumption being that Kosovar independence might tip the balance between the incumbent President (moderate and basically decent Boris Tadic) and his challenger (odious populist-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic).

Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica — who, honestly, seems to be getting dumber and more stubborn with each passing year — has said that if the EU sends a mission to Kosovo, Serbia won’t sign a Stabilization and Association agreement with the EU. Brussels has said it will wait a bit (i.e., until after the election). I can see the case for that, but once the election is over… well, this strikes me as the sort of bluff that’s crying out to be called. “Oh, we won’t take the next step towards EU candidacy!” “Fine… don’t.”

At this point it looks like the EU is going to split on recognition. Britain, France, Italy and Germany are probably going to recognize. Spain, Romania, Greece and Cyprus won’t. The UN never will, until Russia comes around. So we’re going to end up with a Balkan Taiwan: a de facto state without a UN seat, recognized by some nations but not others. That should be interesting.

Of course, Taiwan is a rich country. Kosovo isn’t and won’t be any time soon. Kosovo’s economy continues to stagger. There’s hardly any industry. The large coal and metal mines are operating at a fraction of capacity. Per capita income is the lowest in the region. Unemployment is over 30%. Billions of dollars of foreign aid don’t seem to have helped much.

Serb nationalists like to bring this up, as demonstrating the essential inferiority of Albanians: see, the stupid Shqips can’t do anything right! Albanians point out that Kosovo was always the poorest part of Yugoslavia, that it was systematically raped by the Milosevic administration, and that the UN administration has been sluggish at best and often incompetent and corrupt. Independence and self-government, they say, will fix that.

They’re both wrong. Albanians can run a developing economy just fine. We know this because in Albania they’re doing just that right now. Albania has been growing around 5%-6% per year since 2000, it’s attracting large amounts of foreign investment, and its per capita income is now just about the same as Serbia’s. (In fact, Albania’s per capita GDP is actually higher than Serbia’s… if Kosovo is included as part of Serbia.) On the other hand, independence isn’t going to do much for Kosovo’s economy; getting rid of UNMIK will get rid of a lot of cumbersome bureaucracy, but it won’t magically attract investment, nor will it make the native Kosovar leadership any more competent.

Anyway. The most likely outcome right now seems to be that Tadic will win the election: he beat Nikolic three years ago, after all. And then, not too long after, there’ll be some kind of very qualified, managed independence for Kosovo. Which will be recognized by most of Kosovo’s neighbors, BTW — Albania of course, but Macedonia, Croatia and Montenegro have also made it clear that they’re ready to recognize.

Longer term? Well, Serbia still holds a northern sliver of Kosovo. It’s possible there might be a counter-secession. That would be interesting.

And Russia? Man, who knows. It’s not clear to me what the Russians are after here. It’s not like backing small, poor Serbia has huge strategic implications for them. Sentiment? Internal politics? Improving their bargaining position vis-a-vis Abkhazia and South Ossetia? I’d be interested to hear from someone better informed.

Anyway. After nine years of de facto independence, six years of negotiations, and a bonus-extra year of foot-dragging, something might finally be about to happen with Kosovo. Fingers crossed.

16 thoughts on “Kosovo, Kosovo, blah blah blah

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Serbia: Kosovo - “A Balkan Taiwan”?

  2. Albania’s economy is running at full strength? So what your saying is their cottage and black market operations are going well because without electricity, you have no real economy. So what do the Albanians produce during the large moments of blackouts.

    Do your homework before you write anything in the future as it is clear that you have little to no idea.

  3. @ strav: Serbs seem to be unable to believe that Albania could possibly be anything but a wasteland of drug dealers, prostitution, blackouts and mafia. There’s a certain amount of projection here — the Albanians may have mafia problems, but they’ve managed to keep all their prime ministers alive — but the key point is that Albania’s economy is just about as developed as Serbia’s.

    Don’t believe? Statistics from wikipedia:

    Per capita GDP (PPP)

    Serbia $7,265
    Albania $6,140


    Serbia 20.9%
    Albania 13.9%


    Serbia 6.6%
    Albania 2.0%

    Gini coefficient (inequality)

    Serbia 0.24
    Albania 0.27

    Growth rate

    Serbia 7.5%
    Albania 6.0%

    Percentage of population in poverty

    Serbia 18.5%
    Albania 18.5%

    So, pretty much the same.

    Yeah, the blackouts are a serious problem. Serbia’s economy has no problems at all, so that’s definitely a plus for Serbia.

    I suppose I should mark that last bit as sarcasm.

    Doug M.

  4. The CIA has different figures on per-capita GDP (2006 est. PPP)

    Serbia, including Kosovo: $4,400
    Albamia: $5,700

    As for the Stabilization and Association agreement, it seems that if the EU can get along just fine without wealthy Switzerland and Norway, hearts in Brussels will not break over the lack of Serbia.

  5. Well, including Kosovo pulls Serbia’s numbers way down. Per capita income in Kosovo is something like a third or a quarter of Serbia’s.

    I’ve been around all three places, though, and I have to say: Serbia feels a little more advanced than Albania, but not much.

    Both countries have nice capitals with all the amenities — fancy hotels, nice shops, good Internet connections. Both have some interesting stuff going on in the smaller cities, and a lot of grinding rural poverty. Serbia has a lot more unemployed hanging around doing nothing; Albania has more young people going abroad as guest workers. But, you know, they’re not that different.

    Kosovo is something else again. Once you’re outside of Prishtina, it’s a mess — no industry, no investment, people working as subsistence farmers or not working at all.

    As for the EU getting along: there’s a school of thought in Brussels that thinks Serbia should be bribed into accepting Kosovo with a fast-track to EU membership. This is about three different kinds of stupid. (If Brussels Gonzo is attending this thread, I’d love to hear his take.)

    Doug M.

  6. Unemployment in Kosovo is over 60% and that figure is given by their friends so as someone else commented, do your homework for goodness sake. Serbia, and for that matter the rest of the former Yugoslavia, had a much higher living standard before the collapse of the country. Those nice people in NATO, the EU and the US put paid to that. They’ve made us into little banana republics. They have poised our air, water table and earth. We have so much to be grateful for. We can only wish them the same largesse they have bestowed upon us!

  7. @ Spence: the figures for unemployment in Kosovo are disputed. I said “over 30%” because that’s a minimum. 60% is too high, though if you have a good cite, I’d be happy to see it.

    Banana republics: The Yugoslav republic that avoided war — Slovenia — is doing just fine, thanks; rich, peaceful, and a member of the EU.

    It’s interesting to note that 20 years ago, Serbia was part of the richest country in Eastern Europe, while Albania was by far the poorest. Now they’re at almost the same level.

    Doug M.

  8. well regarding the killing of premier in Serbia…did similar thing happend in USA…on 22. november 1963…they killed Olof Palmme in Sweden,Aldo Moro in Italy…
    so be carefull what you are saying.it could bounce right into your head…because…well read it by yourself…

    [links snipped]

    [Miki — our blog software won’t allow more than two or three links in a comment — spam protection. Your comment was put in the spam trap. I rescued it, but had to remove the links. If you really want to give them, put one or two apiece in separate comments. Sorry for the inconvenience. — Doug M.]

    and regarding our economic growth compared with Albania… we waged 3 wars in 10 years and we were bomabarded by NATO resulting $33b of total damages and 4000 people dead…so i think we are doing just fine when you look at things this way…

  9. Killing of Djindjic: you know, of course, that it’s not just Djindjic. Ivan Stambolic, and others.

    My point is, Serbs have very strong negative stereotypes of Albanians: violent, dirty, drug dealers, ignorant, traffickers in prostitutes, mafia… you know. But at least some of these are Serbian problems that the Serbs are projecting on to the Albanians. The political culture of Kosovo is not more violent than the political culture of Serbia. (At this point, the political culture of Albania may be better than either.)

    Wars and bombardment: the point here is, Serbs like to consider themselves as superior to Albanians in every way. If you look at the numbers, though, that’s no longer true. The average Albanian is now about as rich, healthy, and educated as the average Serb. Tirana is not quite as nice a city as Belgrade, but it’s not far behind — and it’s much nicer than Kragujevac or Nis.

    But I still encounter Serbs (and others) who talk about “the lawless wastes of Albania” and such. The average Serb seems to think that Albania is a hellhole of crumbling buildings, blackouts, drug gangs, and blood feud.

    I say “seems to think”, but maybe “wants to think” is more correct… if I say, “no, Albania is all right, it’s really not that different from Serbia,” people sometimes get upset.

    The funny thing is, it’s not hard for a citizen of Serbia to visit Albania. Very few do, though.

    Doug M.

  10. h b, th shthd s gttng mr mbrssng vr d. frst f ll, lbn s stll fld stt, ccpd jst s ksv. ksv wnt b knd f twn, cs twn knws t s dpndnt n bth, chn nd s, nd thrfr s wlth psd-stt. nd twns knw tht th wll gn nd p n chn! ksv wnt hv drnkng wtr, lctrct, gs, th wll nvr ntr n, , nt, wrld bnk. thts th knd f stblt th wstrn cntrs brng t th blkns, blck hl. vn thr “pssprts” wll hv lss lgtmc n th wrld thn th psd-pssprts ssd b th n. nd gss m nt th nl srb tht cn prfctl lv wll wth tht knd f “ndpndnc”. ctll t wrks vn nw prtt fn, wth lbnns strmng ns fr srbn pssprts!

  11. You know, there aren’t a /lot/ of rules on this site.

    Try to be sort of on-topic. Don’t call each other, or us, nasty names. No commercial spam. No racism.

    This shouldn’t be hard.

    Doug M.

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