Editorial: Kosovo's grim future

Published on August 29, 2007, The Washington Times

Category: Organized Crime in Kosovo

By David Binder

Forget about status negotiations for a moment. The near-term outlook for Kosovo is unalterably grim: An economy stuck in misery; a bursting population of young people with "criminality as the sole career choice;" an insupportably high birthrate; a society imbued with corruption and a state dominated by organized crime figures.

These are the conclusions of "Operationalizing of the Security Sector Reform in the Western Balkans," a 124-page investigation by the Institute for European Policy commissioned by the German Bundeswehr and issued in January. This month the text turned up on a Web log. It is labeled "solely for internal use." Provided one can plow through the appallingly dense Amtsdeutsch "German officialese" that is already evident in the ponderous title, a reader is rewarded with sharp insights about Kosovo.

The authors point out a "grotesque denial of reality by the international community" about Kosovo, coupling that with the warning of "a new wave of unrest that could greatly exceed the level of escalation seen up to now," The institute authors, Mathias Jopp and Sammi Sandawi, spent six months interviewing 70 experts and mining current literature on Kosovo in preparing the study.

In their analysis, political unrest and guerrilla fighting in the 1990s led to basic changes which they call a "turnabout in Kosovo-Albanian social structures." The result is a "civil war society in which those inclined to violence, ill-educated and easily influenced people could make huge social leaps in a rapidly constructed soldateska."

They continued: "It is a Mafia society" based on "capture of the state" by criminal elements. ("State capture" is a term coined in 2000 by a group of World Bank analysts to describe countries where government structures have been seized by corrupt financial oligarchies.

In the authors' definition, Kosovan organized crime "consists of multimillion-Euro organizations with guerrilla experience and espionage expertise." They quote a German intelligence service report of "closest ties between leading political decision makers and the dominant criminal class" and name Ramush Haradinaj, Hashim Thachi and Xhavit Haliti as compromised leaders who are "internally protected by parliamentary immunity and abroad by international law."

The U.N. Mission in Kosovo, they add, "is in many respects an element of the local problem scene." They describe both UNMIK and KFOR as infiltrated by agents of organized crime who forewarn their ringleaders of any impending raids.

The justice system's 40,000 uncompleted criminal cases.

- The paucity of corruption-crime investigations: 10-15 annually.

- 400 gas stations (where 150 would suffice), many of which serve as fronts for brothels and money-changing depots.

The study sharply criticizes the United States for "abetting the escape of criminals" in Kosovo as well as "preventing European investigators from working." This has made Americans "vulnerable to blackmail." It notes "secret CIA detention centers" at Camp Bondsteel and assails American military training for Kosovo (Albanian) police authorized by the Pentagon.

Concerning the crime scene the authors conclude that "with resolution of the status issue and the successive withdrawal of international forces the criminal figures will come closer than ever to their goal of total control of Kosovo." Among the dismal findings of the German study are those on the economy:

- Sinking remissions of money from Kosovans working abroad, a primary source of income for many Kosovo families pegged now at 560 million Euros per annum.

- 88 percent of the land now in private ownership, meaning ever more subdividing of plots, usually among brothers, leading to less efficient agriculture.

- A hostile climate for foreign investors, frightened by political instability and the power of Mafia structures.

A central issue in Kosovo is an "inexhaustible supply of young people without a future and therefore ready for violence," the study says. The only remedy for dealing with this "youth bulge" is to open Northern Europe's gates to young Kosovans seeking jobs, the authors say.

In anticipation of a transfer of oversight from the UN to the European Union, the authors warn: "[The] EU is in danger of following too strongly in the wake of a failed UN and [disintegrating] under the inherited burden unless they make an open break with practices and methods of UNMIK."

One of the experts they interviewed put it more bluntly: "EU is inheriting from UNMIK a fireworks store filled with pyromaniacs." But in their depiction, Kosovans appear beholden to their legend of historic exploitation such that if they finally achieve independence, all will suddenly be well. In the past Kosovans could and did always blame somebody else for their troubles: Ottomans, Yugoslavs, Serbs.

Now they have begun to blame UNMIK. But what will happen if they have only themselves to blame?

David Binder worked for the New York Times reporting from Germany and the Balkans.

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