Ramush Haradinaj, who resigned as Kosovo’s prime minister on March 8, had been expecting his indictment for alleged war crimes for almost three months. American and European diplomats spent much of that time coaxing him to surrender voluntarily when the announcement was made. “He started to wobble a bit a couple of weeks before it was made public, but obviously we got over it,” one of them told me in Belgrade.
International representatives put so much effort into persuading Haradinaj to go quietly because they were terrified that Kosovar Albanians might react by going on a rampage as they did in March 2004, almost bringing UNMIK, the United Nations administration that runs the province, to its knees. And boy, did the diplomats let their relief show. “Thanks to Ramush Haradinaj’s dynamic leadership, strong commitment and vision,” gushed Soren Jessen-Petersen, the head of UNMIK, “Kosovo is today closer than ever before to achieving its aspirations in settling its future status. Personally, I am saddened to no longer be working with a close partner and friend.” There was some concern in European capitals that Jessen-Petersen had gone over the top. “After all,” said a diplomat in Belgrade, “let’s not forget that Haradinaj has been indicted for committing the foulest of crimes.”
Yet Jessen-Petersen’s passionate outburst is understandable. International control over Kosovo is fragile. KFOR, the NATO-led force of 18,000 peacekeepers, is designed to prevent an unauthorized return of the Serbian military into the province; as it proved last March, it has no capacity to pacify tens of thousands of testosterone-driven young Albanians who are fed up with being unemployed and having no political control over their lives.
I have spent the past six years watching glumly as the Balkans slide back toward catastrophe as if in slow motion. Only a small minority of the actors involved want this outcome; many are breaking their backs to stop it from happening. But despite their efforts, three factors are driving the region toward, at best, damaging civil unrest and, at worst, a revival of armed conflict: a steady, severe economic crisis; the persistence of weak states caught up in an unholy constitutional tangle; and profound incompetence on the part of the international community.
Until the mess actually collapses into violence, there are real opportunities to halt the slide. But the countdown to disaster has already begun, and the region urgently requires the kind of political adroitness and élan that have been conspicuously absent over the past five years. The Balkans provide the clearest proof that Western military intervention, whether liberal or illiberal, is a complete waste of time, money and life if it is not accompanied by a coherent, long-term attempt to address the root causes of instability after hostilities have ceased. But as Western Europe and the United States are learning, it’s easy to defeat small countries with limited military strength, and mind-bogglingly hard to create a working system of governance from the ashes of victory.
NATO supposedly dealt with the southern Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999 by going to war against Yugoslavia. (For those who have missed the past few episodes, what’s left of that country has been refashioned as Serbia and Montenegro, although nobody believes this latest incarnation will last for very long.) In the past five years Kosovo has become unrecognizable, but in a very recognizable way. Its crumbling roads, heaving under the weight of civilian and international military vehicles, are punctuated every half-mile by gas stations trading under different, perhaps unique, emblems: Kospetrol, Kosova Petrol, Djukagjini Inc., International Gas and Petrol, ShqipGas, etc. Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and Lukoil (the Russian company ubiquitous elsewhere in the Balkans) are absent–a blow, perhaps, against the multinational giants and in favor of the small trader. Er, not quite.