Considering Kosovo

Last week I dove into the complicated constitutional history of Kosovo. The youngest country in the Western Balkans, Kosovo first achieved independence in 2008, after centuries of subjugation under Serbian and Turkish regimes. Eventually, during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Kosovo’s leaders, responding to Serbian chauvinism, attempted to break free from their overlords. A brutal civil war ensued, and only UN intervention in 1999 ended the violence. However, a final peace settlement defining Kosovo’s status was never signed, and, following its unilateral declaration of independence in 2008, Kosovo finds itself recognized by only about half of the global community.

Despite this awkward geopolitical situation, Kosovo is committed to European integration, although the fact that several EU member-states – most notably Spain – refuse to recognize it continues to hamper its accession to the Union. Driven by a desire to join the EU, Kosovo adopted a constitution heavily influenced by American and European ideals, and the government has initiated constitutional reforms, such as new vetting procedures for judges, to align Kosovo with EU standards and prepare it for eventual accession.

Not all steps toward EU accession have proved popular, however. Of particular controversy is the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a Kosovo national court based in Den Haag which prosecutes members of the Kosovo Liberation Army – the militia force that led the fight against Serbian rule in the 1990s – for crimes committed in Kosovo from 1998 to 2000. Modeled on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which prosecuted Yugoslav war criminals such as former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, the international community hoped the KSC would achieve post-conflict justice and promote reconciliation. Unfortunately, this has not come to pass. The Kosovo Assembly only approved the establishment of the KSC under intense international pressure, and most Kosovo Albanians perceive the institution as corrupt, unfair to them, or nothing more than a tool of foreign powers.

The KSC is currently prosecuting four prominent Kosovo politicians – including the former President, Hashim Thaçi – for war crimes they committed or oversaw as leaders of the KLA. Perhaps, by exposing the evidence of their crimes, the KSC will win over the Kosovar public, but the court of public opinion seems to have rejected the KSC’s legitimacy long ago. In 2017, in fact, a group of government MPs attempted to abolish the KSC and may have succeeded if not for the tremendous pressure exerted by the US and the UK. Ultimately, while Kosovo shows many promising signs, it must first come to terms with the legacy of the civil war and reach an accord with Serbia before it will truly be welcomed into the European family of nations.