Radio Netherlands explores the future of Kosovo. Kosovo is where Nato decided Albanian Islamic ethnic cleansing against Christian Serbs was preferable to Christian Serbian ethnic cleansing against Muslim Albanians. No one will be able to cleanse the hypocrisy of the venture, but is there a lesson to be learned for Iraq? Does ethnic cleansing explain what is happening in Iraq today? Is the same thing happening with Sunni and Shiite?
Kosovo: too heavy a burden for the EU?
by Vanessa Mock
The European Union will face one its biggest challenges when it has to supervise the democratic process in a newly-independent Kosovo. The United Nations special envoy Martti Ahtisaari will present his vision on the fate of Serbia's breakaway province on Friday. Although he is likely to avoid using the term 'independence' for fear of upsetting the Serb government in Belgrade, his proposal will effectively amount to some form of self-rule for ethnic Albanians. Self-rule but with strings attached: the government Kosovo in Pristina will be closely monitored by the EU in its efforts to kick-start the devastated economy, purge the country of crime and, most importantly, heal the deep ethnic divide.
The EU mission to Kosovo will consist of 2,000 officials at most - but it will be loaded with responsibility. It's not just the future of Kosovo that is at stake: the reputation of the EU itself is also on the line, says Lucia Montanaro-Jankovski, a Balkans expert at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre:
"I think it's the most daunting responsibility that the EU has ever taken on. It's a huge challenge.The European Union was considered to be very weak in the 1990s when they didn't manage to prevent certain conflicts in the Balkans on their doorsteps. And now there is a consensus among EU member states to take on this responsibility however daunting it is. They are the ideal interlocutors. But it will clearly be very difficult and they will have to be there in the long-haul."
For Joost Lagendijk, the rapporteur on Kosovo at the European Parliament, the biggest worry is the fate of the 100,000-strong Serb minority. Serbs are currently mostly confined to their own ethnic enclaves, separate from the rest of the ethnic Albanian population. Although the UN envoy will push for them getting a certain degree of autonomy from the Kosovar government, ultimately it will be the EU's job to make sure they are not persecuted.
"The EU will have to see to it that Serbs living in Kosovo will have all the rights that Kosovars have - the right to move, to travel - the same rights that the Albanians have. It is questionable whether Kosovars are ready to fully govern the country in a democratic, open and transparent way. So I think there will be a continuing role because the EU is already doing that to support the government."
A major fear is that there will be a repeat of the violent rioting that erupted back in 2004, when ethnic Albanians leashed out at Serbs and other minorities. Nineteen people were killed, thousands were displaced during two days of violence. NATO already has a massive 16,000 troops on the ground, which it says will stay put for the foreseeable future and which are already bracing for trouble. But for NATO to keep the peace, it has to work with the EU. NATO's Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop-Scheffer, has complained in recent weeks that that isn't happening:
"What I repeat is that it is important that after a status settlement, everybody knows exactly what they are going to do. The EU will play a very important role and NATO K-For will play a very important role. So we do need the contacts NATO and European Union at the staff level, at the technical level but also at the political level."
Building up a state infrastructure is just one of the challenges facing the EU. It will also have to kick-start the economy, currently one of negative growth. That will mean a complete crackdown on corruption and crime, as Lucia Montanaro-Jankovski, explains:
"This will be a crucial issue for EU. Kosovo is considered to be the heart of criminal activity in the Balkans, where there is huge amounts of drug trafficking - particularly heroine, huge amounts of human trafficking, and therefore of women for prostitution and trafficking of arms. It's a huge threat to internal security. And it is crucial that the EU dare to be much more courageous and robust in its fight against organised crime."
The EU still has a long way to go before it will be ready to move in to help set up a more independent Kosovo. Luckily, it has time on its side. It's likely to take months of hard political wrangling before the status of the province is finally decided by the United Nations Security Council. But even after that milestone, there will be plenty more challenges in store for Kosovo.