The Future for Kosovo: An Interview With Delfin Pllana

Am Johal, Vancouver, Canada, March 11, 2008

Sunset over a construction site in Pristina on Feb. 24, 2008, seven days after Kosovo's parliament declared the province's independence from Serbia, giving Europe a new nation and marking an historic turning point in the volatile Balkans. (Photo: Daniel Mihailescu / AFP-Getty Images)

Delfin Pllana, born in 1980, is a Kosovar democracy and media activist living and working in Pristina, Kosovo. He earned his M.A. in international relations/European Union Studies from  the Institute for Social and European Studies/Corvinus University in Hungary, and his B.A. in political science from Pristina University with a yearlong stay at Passau University in Germany. Pllana has worked with local and international civil society organizations in various capacity building projects including with Kosovo institutions, and collaborated with local and international media. Currently, he is the executive director of the Association of Professional Journalists of Kosovo.


Johal: It seemed rather inevitable that Kosovo was going to declare independence given the historical direction of events and the 90 percent ethnic Albanian population. Kosovo is supposed to become a multiethnic nation, but it of course is built on ties of kinship and ethnicity. Given the trauma of the events leading to 1999, can there really be peace in the region and accommodation of the Serbian minority, let alone normalized relations with a jilted Serbia?

Well, first of all, declaration of Kosovo independence was a historic moment not only for people of Kosovo, but for the region and the EU as well. Further, Kosovo independence was the last chapter of the dissolution of former Yugoslavia, and by right so people of Kosovo have deserved the youngest state in the world. Kosovo is already a multiethnic society, and it is on a good path to become a functional multiethnic state, and the very fact that Kosovo has chosen a flag with six stars representing major ethnic communities in Kosovo where more than 90 percent are Albanians, proves it.

It is of course Belgrade that is still inciting post-independence violence and disorder elsewhere in the world and not only in Kosovo. With politicians such as Vojislav Kostunica and the radical Tomislav Nikolic, I don't think Serbia will go far in terms of reconciliation with countries of the region and the Western world.

Since their establishment, Kosovo institutions were equally open to all communities. Serb minority was offered 10 extra seats in Kosovo parliament and was given reserved ministries, and one would argue rightly that Kosovo is more democratic in this sense than majority of countries in the world. However, due to specific constellations and Belgrade interference local Serb politicians didn't always benefit from this institutional reality.

I am very sure that Serb minority will have equal treatment and by far better perspective in an independent Kosovo rather than within a different political constellation. I believe that the promised EU perspective for the region in whole will help countries of former Yugoslavia to institutionalize their relations and deal with joint development issues, which are so many.

What do you see as the role of each of the European Union, the United States, NATO, and the United Nations related to Kosovo and regional matters? What safeguards are in place that this region is going to be protected from another regional war over the next decade?

U.S., EU, and especially NATO will have a key role in providing for a stable and secure Kosovo, at least in the near future. And they have to provide the above because they have been co-fabricators of the newborn state of Kosovo, let alone legitimacy of people of Kosovo to deserve their state. Geopolitically and geo-strategically, it is an imperative for U.S. to remain strongly in the region, especially in Kosovo as it has been the strongest advocate for Kosovo independence and also as a counter balance determination against Russia's tendencies for "expansion" in the Balkans.

Kosovo will still have international political (through International Civilian Office) and military presence (KFOR). This continuous undertaking is to ensure proper status settlement, provide political advice and support to local institutions, and provide for security, all in benefit of creating a functioning state of Kosovo.

With the solution of the status of Kosovo, the international community has avoided possible tensions which could have led to repetition of violence in Kosovo. It has been expected that proclamation of Kosovo independence would incite unpleasant events; however, reality in the ground tells that proclamation of the independence of Kosovo was an expected event to happen and it is slowly being accepted by all Kosovo citizens, and countries of the world.

Kosovo still needs the international presence, it needs further capacity building support through U.S., EU, and U.N. development agencies, and the further the institutional and economical development goes the better will be the perspective of the region. By far the strongest imperative for the latter is the EU perspective, which will hopefully neutralize ambitions and appetites for further bloodshed and possible warfare.

Can such a small country such as Kosovo possibly survive on its own? Do you see some kind of more formal alliances with Macedonia or Albania in the future?

There are smaller countries than Kosovo in the world, smaller with the number of population as well. However, given specific position within former Yugoslavia, and due to events in the nineties that led to 1999 war, Kosovo is considered to be one of the poorest and most fragile countries in Europe.

Starting almost from scratch in 1999, with the help of international community, today Kosovo has managed to build its own state institutions and its own state identity. Dealing with establishment of new institutions, rather than having to deal with their reform, for Kosovo it was easier to adjust to high standard legislation, policies, and practices, a process that is still continuing. For example, Kosovo has promulgated new laws since 1999, a process that was subject to adaptation of Kosovo legislation with the EU acqui communutaire [that is, with all the laws and regulations of the EU].

In this sense, Kosovo doesn't lag behind other countries in the region. But Kosovo has a long way to reach EU standards, and the biggest challenge will be to endorse the new state identity built upon citizen-oriented values with high references on diversity rather than ethnically oriented. Kosovo will aim friendly bilateral relations with its neighbors and the relations will have to be developed in terms of economic, trade, and cultural interaction, especially with Albania and Macedonia, and (why not?) with Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other countries of the region.

Will an ethnic Serb ever be considered a Kosovar in reality?

I think there will be a process where every citizen of Kosovo will be in one way or the other attached to Kosovo—economically, politically, culturally, socially; at the very end Kosovo is home of all of its citizens! It is sad that Belgrade is still misleading Kosovo Serbs and obstructing their willingness to develop and prosper in their living places. If ethnic positive discrimination has a meaning in theory and practice then Kosovo is the place … where all communities have accepted the hand of Kosovo government, civil society organizations, and international community to be part of various activities and undertakings for the benefit of communities. Serbs have every right and obligation to be considered Kosovars and to accept Kosovar citizenship because they live in Kosovo. But if they won't express willingness to be attached to Kosovo then it is an issue that should be resolved.

How long do you see the international community acting as a protectorate force in Kosovo and is the new army sufficiently resourced to protect Kosovo from internal and external threats?

Kosovo has declared itself a sovereign state with territorial integrity, and as such it has been recognized many countries, including key NATO countries, who in turn have guaranteed to safeguard Kosovo borders. On the other hand, political and security sensitivity, not only in Kosovo but in the region as whole, makes it necessary for the NATO troops to still remain in Kosovo. It will depend on interstate, interethnic relations in this part of western Balkans whether NATO troops will leave sooner or later. And it is NATO troops that today still have the ultimate security authority protecting Kosovo borders as well.

As for the second part of the question, I don't believe and I wouldn't dare to think that Kosovo can be threatened externally—this is like threatening NATO countries. As for internal threats, it is the authority of Kosovo Police Service to firstly deal with possible threats that can lead to obscurity or unpleasant events, while NATO troops remaining on alert always. Ahtisaari's plan foresees establishment of Kosovo Security Force (K.S.F.), a multiethnic and professional body that will replace K.P.C. (Kosovo Protection Corps) and will be also be composed of K.P.C. merit members. K.P.C.'s role so far has been mainly emergency related. So it will take some time for K.S.F. to become functional and ready to replace NATO troops.

Are the institutions of civil society adequately developed to ensure the proper transition to full independence?

Well, this is a topic which needs long deliberation, but I will be short. Civil society in Kosovo is weak, very weak! It quite often is manipulated and, what is more unfortunate, it almost always is donor-driven with very few grassroots and individual creative initiatives. Lately, a phenomenon that is accompanying civil society sphere in Kosovo is the fact that quite some "faces" are entering active politics, putting membership for political parties—this way they have further weakened an already weakened civil society, but on the other hand there is a small hope that they will do more within to put pressure where it is needed.

So to answer your question I think Kosovo civil society lacks more initiative, it lacks more grassroots culture, and also we lack donors that should adjust their agendas based on the needs expressed by the civil society and the facts in the field.

What are the economic prospects for Kosovo in the future?

Economically, Kosovo is not as weak in comparison to countries of the region; howsoever, nineties and the war of 1999 were unfortunate for Kosovo, in all aspects, economy as well. But, experts say Kosovo has a very bright economic prospect, and it is by right so because Kosovo is small, easy to access, and it has a young working population with almost 60 percent under their thirties, plus a diaspora with sincere desire to come and invest in Kosovo, bringing thus capital and know-how. Thus, Kosovo quite easily can become an Ireland of the Balkans. Further, the promised EU future will bring Kosovo quite some possibilities, which definitely will incite economical development. So, yes, I see Kosovo prospering and implementing good policies in areas related to economy, trade, and industry.

Will Kosovo have a team for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver?

I truly believe Kosovo will take part in Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, let alone 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. As for the team, I think for Vancouver participation will be enough for Kosovo!

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