For almost 11 years, Kosovo has been ruled by foreigners: mainly the United Nations through its former mission in the country (UNMIK), along with the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Most Americans are aware of the derelictions of the U.N. in crises afflicting countries from Rwanda through Israel to Kashmir. And Americans have a healthy suspicion about the EU, because of its political competition with the U.S. and its intrigues with Russia. Unfortunately, few Americans have heard of OSCE, to which the United States belongs, alongside (among others) Russia, Belarus, Serbia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—bastions of antidemocratic politics and sources of regional instability. Yet the OSCE intervenes boldly and often crudely in “managing” the transition to democracy in the troubled Balkans and other states.
Two years ago this month, Kosovo proclaimed its independence, which has since gained recognition by 65 countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, France, and other Western European powers, along with Japan. The Kosovo Republic has joined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The new republic maintains diplomatic relations with its Slav-majority neighbors, Montenegro and Macedonia, but has gone unrecognized by Serbia, Russia, China, and most Muslim states. Kosovo is about 85 percent Muslim, but does not belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Power within Kosovo is still exercised by alien administrators rather than its own government. UN-EU-OSCE meddling in its affairs persisted after the declaration of independence. At the end of 2008, a new foreign body, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), took over policing, the courts, and customs collection. But EULEX takes a “neutral” position on Kosovo’s status, and thus administers a territory whose political authority it does not fully recognize.
EULEX, as an embodiment of European resistance to the new republic’s independence, is resented by Kosovars. Anger against continuing European interference focuses on a festering case that began three years ago--a year before independence--on February 10, 2007. That day, Romanian police, assigned by the U.N. to duties in Kosovo but known for their totalitarian habits carried over from the Ceausescu dictatorship, fired rubber-covered metal bullets at about 20,000 marchers for self-determination in Pristina, the Kosovo capital. Two Kosovars, Mon Balaj and Arben Xheladini, were killed, and more than 80 people were wounded. The Romanians share the Christian Orthodox faith with the Serbs, and like Serbia, Romania has been a willing partner of Moscow in mischief directed against the Balkans. Immediately after the clash, eleven Romanian police were withdrawn from Kosovo and were decorated by their government. U.N. representatives in Kosovo declined to investigate those responsible for the attack on the demonstrators.
Instead, agents of the so-called “international community” arrested Albin Kurti, leader of the Self-Determination Movement which called the protest, along with more than a dozen other participants. Kurti was held for several months in 2007 before he was charged with participating in and leading a crowd that committed a criminal act, leading a call for resistance with violence, and participating in a crowd that obstructed official persons performing official duties. But the trial of Kurti collapsed when Kosovar attorneys refused appointment by the U.N. to conduct his defense, and after more months during which he was held in jail and house arrest, the proceeding was suspended in 2008.
With UNMIK then replaced by EULEX, the European forces of order in Kosovo chose, late in January of this year, to revive the case against Kurti, announcing that his trial would resume on February 15, 2010. But Kurti refused to go along with the latest attempt, and, as in 2007, his designated defense attorney also declined participation. The EULEX prosecutors again put off the trial, until February 22, but in the meantime 40,000 Kosovars, from all over the republic, signed a petition calling for Kurti’s release. Kosovar discontent with the charade of independence has been aggravated by the persecution of Kurti, a highly-cultivated and respected intellectual with years of prison time under Serbian rule. Ilir Deda, research director at the Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development, warned that the new trial of Kurti would have a “destabilizing” impact in Kosovo. Further, Kosovar law professor Ismet Salihu condemned the trial as illegitimate and illegal. Salihu supported Kurti’s refusal to participate in it, and declared that organizing and participating in protests is a lawful act. According to Salihu, whose view is supported by the majority of Kosovars and a few outsiders who have observed Kurti and his movement over time, Kurti has done nothing wrong.
Kurti himself notes that the Romanian police responsible for the deaths three years ago have returned to Kosovo and are now employed by EULEX, although Romania did not recognize the republic’s declaration of independence. It is absurd that in Kosovo, which is governed by Western Europeans, the right to protest must be defended against repression.
Americans should pay attention to the unfortunate outcome of UN-EU-OSCE rule in the Balkans, since the abdication of global responsibility proposed by the Obama administration is predicated on a greater world-wide role for these increasingly-discredited international organizations. Kosovo’s independence should be guaranteed, to defeat radical Islamists who have returned to the Balkans as a theatre for their malign operations, as well as to hold the line against Russian scheming in the region. America made a promise to the Kosovars, and the Kosovars believe that America keeps its promises. The Kosovars should not see their hope in our integrity disappointed. It's time for EULEX to go home.
Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor.