Forging Kosovo: Between Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence

by Arben Hajrullahu (Volume editor) Anton Vukpalaj (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 332 Pages


For many areas of social science research, including conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and international state-building, Kosovo remains a uniquely interesting and relevant case. This book is motivated by the belief that there is much to be gained, analytically and empirically, from bringing together local scholarship that focuses on Kosovo-specific issues. It helps understand how pathdependent historical legacies set in motion prior to and during the war for independence, coupled with contemporary processes of dependence on and interdependence with external actors, shaped contemporary Kosovo society and institutions. It brings together a methodologically diverse set of local scholarly perspectives on contemporary political, legal and societal developments in Kosovo.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Local Perspectives on Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence in Europe’s Newest State: An Introductory Remark
  • State and Belonging: Collective Memory and Identity Formation in Post-War Kosovo
  • “No Bodies-No Crimes”: The Reburial Operations of the Serbian Forces in Kosovo in 1999
  • Cleavages: Explaining the Social Basis of the Political Conflict and Political Change in Kosovo
  • Individual-Level Determinants of Civic and Political Participation in Kosovo
  • The Relationship between Power-Dividing and Power-Sharing Institutions in Kosovo: The Correlation of Constitutional Review and Minority Veto
  • Minorities in Societies Emerging from Conflict: Approaches in Accommodating and Integrating Non-majority Communities in Kosovo
  • Making of a Country: Constitutional Identity in Practice
  • Kosovo and the United Nations: An Unusual Relation
  • The European Union’s Relations with the Republic of Kosovo
  • Representative Bureaucracy in Kosovo – a Friend or a Foe?
  • Education in Kosovo – a Struggle in Progress
  • An Overview of Intimate Partner Violence against Women in Kosovo
  • List of Contributors
  • Series Index

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Arben Hajrullahu

Local Perspectives on Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence in Europe’s Newest State: An Introductory Remark

“Stay away from and fear murky waters, fire, and the state!”1

Fearing the repressive state apparatus is a long and understandable tradition in the “collective memory” of the ethnic Albanian majority population in Kosova/Kosovo.2 The international humanitarian intervention in 1999 and the subsequent declaration of independence in 2008 fulfilled the enduring political goal of achieving statehood, and shifted how the majority of people in Kosovo relate to the state. The hopes and aspirations of the Kosovar people are tangible expectations to be protected against exploitation, discrimination, and repression from the state apparatus.

This volume brings together a methodologically diverse set of local scholarly perspectives on contemporary political, legal, and societal developments in Kosovo. Put briefly, this is a book written by Kosovar scholars working on understanding how path-dependent historical legacies set in motion prior to and during the war for independence, coupled with contemporary processes of dependence on and interdependence with external actors, shaped contemporary Kosovo society and institutions.

Since the fall of communism, many books have been written on Kosovo. Regarding many areas of social science research, including conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and international state-building, Kosovo remains a uniquely interesting and relevant case. Many of these publications, however, tend to neglect the perspectives and views of local scholars. While enormously useful, such works have also disproportionately focused on a ←9 | 10→narrow set of topics or approaches that are more pertinent to wider academic audiences. This edited volume is motivated by the belief that there is much to be gained, analytically and empirically, from bringing together local scholarship that focuses on Kosovo-specific issues. Existing literature on Kosovo has largely neglected certain topics covered in this volume including, for example, how the legacy of the Yugoslav self-management socialism impacts contemporary social stratification in Kosovo (Mustafa). The same is true for the study of aggregate levels of civic and political participation in Kosovo (Kelmendi, P.), the challenges of education reform in Kosovo (Pupovci), or the analysis of the prevailing evidence on intimate partner violence and causes of violence against women in Kosovo (Kelmendi, K.).

To understand the context for the political, legal, and societal issues discussed in this volume, it is especially important to appreciate the complex relationship and long-lasting dispute with Serbia. Serbia’s attitude towards Kosovo remains unchanged, leading to the real risk of new tensions, conflicts, and wars. In this sense, the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Serbia remains a crucial underlying factor in all key ongoing developments in Kosovo. It should also be understood in a regional and supra-regional context determined by interdependence. To overcome the lasting dispute between Serbia and Kosovo is the quintessence for establishing functioning constitutional states and integrated societies in both countries. This assumption is supported by past experiences and contemporary empirical evidence. Serbia’s and Kosovo’s diametrically opposed positions on Kosovo’s political status, however, show that the basic requirements for a “reconciliation process” as the prerequisite for integrated societies and states are still not in place.

International Intervention and State-Building in a Former “Apartheid-Like Society”

The most recent dispute between Serbia and Kosovo unfolded immediately after the death of the Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito, with the re-emergence of the idea of “[t]‌he removal of all Albanians from Kosovo – 90 per cent of the population of 2 million – the proclaimed aim of Serb ←10 | 11→leaders including Milosevic from 1980” (Calvocoressi, 2001, XVI.) The Serbian repressive and discriminatory policies applied against the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo led to intense conflicts, as well as to a rapid decline in the value of life (Bellamy, 2000). Exposing entire communities to systematic state-driven discrimination and coercing people to leave their homes, aiming at changing demographic composition and expanding state territories, are not unknown phenomena for the world, including Europe’s history, for instance, throughout the 20th century. However, at the end of the second millennium, the Serbian policies in Kosovo confronted the international community with a serious dilemma, namely whether such an “apartheid-like society” (Independent International Commission on Kosovo, 2000, 1) should be further tolerated in the European soil or not.

Since World War II, the Kosovo people, composed mainly by an ethnic Albanian community, did not see themselves as a national minority, but as a people, as a polity, as Kosovo, with the right to internal and external self-determination. Yet, according to Serbian expansionist interpretation, Kosovars do not comprise a people according to constitutional or international law, but can at best be considered a minority. However, until the beginning of the 1990s, the demands of the Kosovo people were not aimed at secession. Instead, since the 1960s they focused exclusively on formal recognition of the Republic of Kosovo within the Yugoslav Federation. Only when martial law was imposed on Kosovo in the late 1980s and Kosovo was de facto and de jure occupied by Serbia, another constituent part of the joint Yugoslav federation, Kosovars demanded external self-determination (Marko, 1999).

Hence, the smallest country in the Balkan Peninsula, Kosovo, shows an outstanding history (Malcolm, 1998) and a bundle of contemporary difficulties in society and state transformation from various authoritarian regimes to an aspired functional state based on the rule of law (Beha and Hajrullahu, 2020). The 1990s “apartheid-like society” established by Serbia after the fall of communism ended with the 1999 international military and civil intervention.3 Following the 1999 international military intervention, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1244 (1999) called for “substantial autonomy and meaningful self-administration within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” until a solution to the status ←11 | 12→of Kosovo would be found. To that end, in 2005 the UNSC approved the initiation of talks on the future status of Kosovo. In March 2007, the UN special envoy on Kosovo status talks, the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, proposed to the UNSC a monitored sovereignty for Kosovo as the only sustainable solution. The UN special envoy’s proposal on the Kosovo status settlement was, however, rejected by Serbia, backed by Russia, Serbia’s Orthodox Christian pan-Slavic ally. Thus, no political solution was agreed upon in subsequent rounds of negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade or in the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, based on the proposal made by the UN special envoy on Kosovo status talks, the representatives of the Kosovo people declared Kosovo’s independence on 17 February 2008, which has by now been recognized by the majority of the UN member states. After the declaration of independence, the European Union (EU) Council established the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (“EULEX Kosovo”) under the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) in 2008. The role and presence of United Nations Interim Administration (UNMIK),4 on the other hand, was reconfigured (UN, 2008a; UN, 2008b; UN, 2008d).

Moreover, upon Serbia’s 2008 request, the UN General Assembly addressed the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to provide an advisory opinion on declaration of independence of Kosovo (UN, 2008c). About two years later, in 2010 the ICJ concluded with the following three key findings: the declaration of independence did not violate UN-SCR Resolution 1244 (1999); the declaration of independence did not violate the Constitutional Framework5; and the adoption of the declaration of independence did not violate any applicable rule of international law (ICJ, 2010).

The 1999 international intervention in Kosovo played a significant role in transforming the political environment in the country, while at the same ←12 | 13→time shaping the international debate and policy on the European future of the broader Western Balkan region. Despite noteworthy improvements, however, peace and security in the region remain fragile and continue to be threatened by old divisions and new ones. During the two decades following the international intervention, Kosovo and countries in the region have avoided major armed conflicts and have taken some important steps towards cooperation and integration, aiming to establish lasting peace and achieve integration into the EU. Moreover, the international intervention in Kosovo reverberated beyond the region. International diplomats, policymakers, and scholars identify it as an event that has challenged and redefined past notions and perspectives on human rights, and has played a key role in shaping contemporary debates on the rights and responsibilities of nation-states and international organizations in the 21st century. Thus, the future of Serbia-Kosovo relations, and in particular the way how the lasting dispute between both countries is settled, depends on the fate of conflicting parties and the Western Balkan region itself. The relationship also depends on the redefinition of nation-states’ roles and responsibilities, on the one side. and geopolitics in Europe and beyond, on the other.

Demos versus Ethnos or Living in the Past versus EU-Integration

More than thirty years after the fall of communist regimes in South East Europe, and more than twenty years after the 1998–1999 war in Kosovo, the spectre of partition hovers over Kosovo (Jones, 2018). In the summer of 2018, new attempts to reach a partition, camouflaged as land swaps or territorial exchanges between Kosovo and Serbia, aimed at realizing, at least in part, some of the 1980s and 1990s Serbian policy goals towards Kosovo. Despite the widespread refusal of this latest partition attempt, the discussions enabled Serbia to continue to challenge Kosovo’s statehood by reducing it to an entity with disputed borders. Moreover, this Serbian strategy continued to prevent the integration of Kosovo-Serbs into Kosovo’s institutions, as well as to further dismantle the multi-ethnic society foundation upon which the constitutional order of the 2008 independent Kosovo is based. Likewise, the option of partitioning Kosovo raised the question of ←13 | 14→the integrational approach and state building policy that the international community has promoted in the post-conflict Western Balkans. Thus, Serbia acts today as revisionist state: it has managed, to some extent, to create frozen conflicts in Bosnia and Hercegovina; and in northern municipalities in Kosovo it follows a consistent and paramount aim to disable the functional state of Kosovo while promoting territorial and ethnically based divisions.

For Kosovo’s representatives, the 2008 independence of the country is already a huge compromise (Kraja, 2020), for example, to the ethno-nationalistic motivated pan-Albanian idea of unification with Albania. Serbia looks at the partition of Kosovo as the solution to the long-lasting dispute. Hence, as long as Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s statehood and cherishes certain parts or the entire territory of Kosovo under its control, it is difficult to imagine that peaceful and friendly relations between both countries can be established. Consequently, more than two decades after 1999, the positions and relations of both conflicting parties, Serbia and Kosovo, have not changed much. “As long as Albanians fear and Serbs hope that Belgrade’ s rule might return, each side will be preparing both psychologically and practically for the next war, deflecting attention from other pressing political, economic, and social problems” (ICG, 2001, VIII). A withdrawal of NATO peacekeeping forces from Kosovo could result easily in a war between Serbia and Kosovo (Sabbagh, 2019). In this respect, the situation in this dispute on the European soul in the 21st century continues to be more like a ceasefire than a state of “perpetual positive peace”.

The contemporary Serbian Kosovo policy took on a new shape with the 1986 memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (Pešić, 2007). Ten years later, in 1996, the former president of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Aleksander Despić, spoke in Belgrade about partitioning Kosovo (Večernje Novosti, 1996, 2). Serbia continues to operate based on territorial ambitions towards Kosovo and beyond, and its claim to worry about the future of the Kosovo-Serb community appears disingenuous. The non-majority communities in Kosovo enjoy substantially more constitutionally guaranteed rights than minorities in other Western Balkan countries, or even in the EU member states itself. Caplan shows that a “number of the same rights, it is interesting to note, are denied to minorities in many of the European states that are promoting respect for them so vigorously in Kosovo” (2002, 62–63).

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Consequently, the Serbia-Kosovo dispute is the litmus test of a European future in the Western Balkans. The European integration idea offers a peaceful and economically promising alternative to the Serbian and Albanian ethnically determined attempts at ethnic-based unifications. To achieve this, the quintessence is Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo’s statehood, which is based on a civic – demos, and not ethnos – approach. However, till today European states are divided and still unable to speak with a voice regarding key political developments in the Western Balkans as the issue of recognizing Kosovo’s statehood by all EU member states demonstrates. Moreover, despite the widely accepted assumption that the development of comprehensive functional networks and cooperation between countries represent a strategy for conflict resolution and peace establishment, the EU continues to be characterized by the lack of a tangible strategy on how to stabilize and integrate the Western Balkan countries in the foreseeable future.

The fundamental European idea of a common polity based on shared values and freedoms offers a real framework for solving the territorial and statehood disputes marking relations between Serbia and Kosovo (Hajrullahu, 2007). However, peace and cooperation among the countries presuppose a minimal common basis of political goals and interests, which in the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo are clearly still lacking. The mutual recognition between Serbia and Kosovo appears to be the prerequisite for sustainable cooperation processes and thus ultimately also for successful EU integration. In this respect, the main common goal of these countries, integration into the EU and into the common Euro-Atlantic security structures, should be pursued much more clearly and decisively. But in reality, that goal remains elusive. The reality is that Serbia, Kosovo, and the EU itself are involved in a “trilateral vicious circle” (Hajrullahu, 2019). Without a lasting solution of the political dispute between Serbia and Kosovo, the chances of integrating these countries into the EU are minimal.

Kosovo and Serbia were never able to reach an agreement on the status of Kosovo, and the change of governments in post-1999 Serbia has not altered its position towards Kosovo. Despite the fact that Serbia is traditionally ruled by ethno-nationalist political elites, in order to make the European perspective reality, it must recognize Kosovo’s statehood and establish good and peaceful neighbourly relations with it. Any other alternative and any possible provisional (semi-) solution to the Serbia-Kosovo ←15 | 16→long-lasting dispute would de facto mean a continuation of the “Cold War” between both parties, and thus it would jeopardise peace efforts and the European perspective of the entire region itself.

Remarkably, the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo appears to be a paradox in itself for the interests of both conflicting parties and beyond. On the one hand, Kosovo needs recognition by Serbia. Without Serbia’s recognition, Russia and China are not expected to accept Kosovo’s UN membership. On the other hand, Serbia needs to solve the dispute with Kosovo to achieve membership status in the EU. As long as Serbia has a de facto and de jure open dispute over the territory of Kosovo, it is almost impossible to be established as a functioning democratic state with a defined territory, which is inter alia a condition for Serbia’s aspired EU membership.

Since Serbia and Kosovo have roughly the same rational interests to achieve their European perspective, EU membership, why is this not happening? The reasons can be many. In attempting to address this question, the following two reasons should be taken into consideration: First, Kosovo fails to establish a relationship based on reciprocity with Serbia; Second, Serbia is not yet fully convinced that it actually should recognize Kosovo, since a part of the international community applies a kind of preferential treatment towards Serbia’s non-recognizing position. For example, in this spirit after the 1999 NATO bombings, Serbia is often considered not as the main instigator of wars and aggressions against other former Yugoslav federal units, but primarily as a victim of the dissolution process of the former Yugoslavia.

Meanwhile, Serbia’s government has sought to advance its aspirations for EU membership, but has continued to not recognize Kosovo’s statehood. Kosovo prefers to implement the 2007 proposal made by the UN special envoy followed by an economic development plan as a solution for ethnic divisions within Kosovo. Thus, for all involved parties in the Serb-Kosovar dispute one question remains perpetually unanswered: how can a lasting normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo occur in the absence of mutual recognition and the divided EU policy on the same matter? In fact, currently the real perspective of using the EU integration process as a tool for more inclusive societies and of overcoming conflict between Serbia and Kosovo appears to be a kind of an imaginary vision. Every government in Belgrade before and after 1999 states that the recognition of an independent and sovereign ←16 | 17→state of Kosovo will not happen. This policy of non-recognition is inter alia (mis-) used as blackmail versus the Western world and against all efforts to build a functioning state based on inclusion and rule of law in Kosovo.

The EU’s 2018 Strategy on the Western Balkans calls for Serbia and Kosovo to conclude a legally binding normalization agreement as an urgent and crucial step towards EU membership (EC 2018). However, by taking a status-neutral position regarding Kosovo’s statehood, the EU has become part of the vicious circle of Serbia and Kosovo’s EU membership aspirations. Thus, Kosovo lacks a real EU membership perspective. The EU’s “creative ambiguity” and its “status neutrality” towards Kosovo’s statehood have reached its limits, and it is facing difficult political realities on the ground.

Not only for Serbia and for Kosovo, but also for the EU as a whole, the 2010 ICJ advisory opinion on the legality of the Kosovo’s independence declaration remains a missed opportunity. The EU’s “neutral position” on Kosovo’s statehood has resulted in a trilateral vicious circle, consisting of Serbia’s revisionist foreign policy, Kosovo’s inability to focus on internal governance reform and rule of law, and the EU’s lack of coherent vision for the region. Moreover, by de facto enabling the conflicting parties the possibility for divergent and conflicting interpretations, the EU keeps the entire region in limbo. This makes it easier for local politicians to maintain state capture structures and oppose the much-needed genuine pro-European local elites as agents of the Europeanization process (Istrefi and Hajrullahu 2020). The Europeanization and future EU membership projects need genuine local pro-European functional elites who would delineate the opposite types of politicians, maintain power in Kosovo and in the region, and are led by the international community, including the EU.

At this end, as long as Serbia and Kosovo operate based on the logic of living in the past, it remains a matter of time before the next cycle of confrontation arises, as it happened several times throughout the 20th century and continues till now. Political leaders in Serbia promote revisionist foreign policy, and some adventurous politicians in Albania, in Kosovo, as well as in Europe and beyond speak of a “historic agreement between the Serbs and the Albanians”. The dispute is, however, between two successor states, federal units, of the former Yugoslav Federation, namely between Serbia and of Kosovo, and not between Serbia and Albania.

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Education as a Last Resort to Decline in the Value of Life

Whereas Serbia and Kosovo continue not to be able to establish a lasting peace, the “population of every Balkan country is shrinking because of emigration and low fertility” (The Economist, 2020). In addition to educational system’s transition through troubled political and economic circumstances, Kosovo, like the rest of the region, faces critical demographic and societal challenges caused by the phenomenon of “brain drain” and the general decline of population (Vračić, 2018).

The poor economic situation makes it more difficult to bridge the gap between human and non-majority community rights guaranteed by law as well as individual rights. And, as if the lack of liberal democratic tradition and social hardship were not enough, more than two decades after the war, Serbia still continues to undermine Kosovo’s statehood and to pressure Kosovo-Serbs to demonstrate their loyalty by undermining public institutions of Kosovo.

People in Kosovo, and in particular those from non-majority communities, encounter additional difficulties because many public sectors such as healthcare or education often continue to be segregated. As in the 1990s, the education system in Kosovo continues to be divided along ethnic lines, in particular between the Kosovo-Albanian and Kosovo-Serb communities. Moreover, school textbooks present largely a biased view of the Balkan conflicts. Thus, university and school curricula, for example, in the subject of history, are often not established on scientific and objective facts. Similarly, selective information incorporated in school textbooks usually present war crimes committed during the 1990s in a superficial and biased manner, ignore the suffering of other ethnic groups or the responsibilities, and fail to mention crimes where members of other ethnic groups were victims. On the one hand, in the history textbooks of Serbia, which are in use by the Kosovo-Serb community in Kosovo, Serbs are represented as the main victims of war crimes, ignoring victims from other ethnic groups (Stojanovic, 2020). Kosovo is often described as a part of Serbia and Serbian schoolteachers in Kosovo report that: “What they cook [in Belgrade], we should eat. There is no other option. Sometimes the textbooks are not compatible with the situation” (Haxhiaj, 2019). On the other hand, the history textbooks taught in Kosovo-Albanian schools present selective, biased information as well as historical myths that glorify their ←18 | 19→“own heroic” liberation war (Gashi 2012). Moreover, attempts to provide educators with multi-perspective textbooks on Balkan history undertaken by international and regional initiatives have often failed greatly to offer a non-biased, objective and fact-based comprehensive version of school textbooks (Gashi, 2019).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 332 pp., 3 fig. col., 2 fig. b/w, 13 tables.

Biographical notes

Arben Hajrullahu (Volume editor) Anton Vukpalaj (Volume editor)

Arben Hajrullahu is a professor of political science at the University of Prishtina. He holds a PhD from Vienna University and he was a Humphrey Fulbright Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. In 2009 he founded the Centre for Political Courage (CPC). His current research interests focus on European Union and geopolitical forces shaping Euro-Atlantic integration in the Western Balkans, illiberal and authoritarian tendencies in new democracies, transitional justice and human and minority rights. Anton Vukpalaj is a professor of political science at the University of Prishtina. He holds a PhD from University of Paris 10. His current research interests focus on the study of judicial and non-judicial transitional justice mechanisms in South-Eastern Europe, more precisely on questions of reconciliation and policies implemented locally and nationally.


Title: Forging Kosovo: Between Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence
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334 pages