The Future Status of Kosovo

May 20, 2005

Staff-prepared summary of the Director's Forum with Ardian Gjini, Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning, The Government of Kosovo

Minister Ardian Gjini began by emphasizing that earlier this week the Bush administration expressed a renewed interest in the Balkans and is prepared to take on a more proactive role in helping solve the regions problems. At a Congressional hearing this week, the State Department announced that if there is progress in the UN's "Standards before Status" program, talks on Kosovo's future status could begin as soon as this fall.

Gjini noted that Kosovo is governed by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which was established by Security Council Resolution 1244 in 1999, which ended NATO's air war against Serbia. One of the largest problems facing Kosovo today is its weak economy. Gjini argued that Kosovo's unresolved status has hampered the economy a great deal, as Kosovo is not able to receive loans from international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. This further hinders foreign direct investment, as international companies are reluctant to invest in an area where the political situation is uncertain. In turn, this contributes to a sluggish economy that is plagued with high rates of unemployment.

Another issue that needs to be confronted is the better integration of the Kosovar Serb minority, now accounting for approximately five percent of the population, with the Kosovar Albanian majority. While Gjini believes that the fear many Serbs have is largely one of perception as opposed to reality, the fear is nonetheless real and Kosovo must face this fact. Fortunately, there have been improvements in relations between the two dominant ethnic groups over the past six years and the integration of Serbs, particularly in governing institutions is slowly, but steadily occurring. In fact, there are now two Serbs in the provisional Kosovo government

Gjini also mentioned that the northern city of Mitrovica remains a challenge for UNMIK and the Kosovo government. Divided along ethnic lines by riots in 1999, the city is separated by the Ibar River with Serbs in the North and Albanians in the South. The city remains divided, but UNMIK and the government continue to try for a settlement.

When speaking about a final status for Kosovo, however, Gjini emphasized that "any status other than independence risks being impermanent," noting that the people of Kosovo nearly unanimously favor an independent state. Like most of the other countries in the Balkans, Kosovars also want to live in a liberal democracy with a market economy where all citizens live in harmony and dignity. Most importantly, Kosovo is striving to create stronger transatlantic bonds and hopes to one day be admitted into NATO and ultimately the European Union. This next year remains an important one for Kosovo, however, as talks on its final status are most likely to begin in the fall of 2005.