Current Challenges to Peacebuilding and Statebuilding in Kosovo

Current Challenges to Peacebuilding and Statebuilding in Kosovo

Twenty years after the Kosovo War, which left a scenery of destruction behind, and eleven years after the country’s declaration of independence, the challenges posed to Kosovo are far from solved. The ongoing processes of peacebuilding and statebuilding have had countless positive results for the region, yet have so far been unable to grant Kosovo real legitimacy either internally or externally. Kosovo has reached a deadlock.

by Mariana Garrido

Twenty years ago, Kosovo was victimised by a series of bloody events. First, Former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević’s campaign of stigmatisation and aggression against the Kosovan Albanians culminated in acts of ‘ethnic cleansing and tendencies for genocidal acts’.1 Second, the actions of Kosovo’s Liberation Army (a seperatist militia founded in 1996) which, despite its role in resisting the Serbian aggressions, also committed many atrocities against civilians.2 And third, NATO’s 11-week air intervention against Serbia, which failed to minimize civilian casualties, caused a whole scenery of destruction.3

Today, years after its unilateral proclamation of independence, Kosovo remains a puzzle. Over the past two decades the region has been developing processes of peacebuilding and statebuilding. Though this has mainly been under the supervision of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo and the parallel European Union mission, EUlex, Kosovo has nevertheless facilitated a growing autonomy.4 Yet, the lack of agreement in regards to what happened during the conflict, the geopolitical interest of certain great powers in the region, the remaining ethnic-religious tensions, and the issues of legitimacy faced by the country at the external and internal levels are putting Kosovo’s peacebuilding and statebuilding processes in a deadlock.

Many of the challenges now encountered by Kosovo mirror the causes of the conflict and/or how it developed. The Kosovo War did not happen solely because of ethnic-religious tensions, but rather as a result of geopolitical and geo-economic interests in place.5 NATO’s intervention occurred without prior authorisation from the UN, making it an illegal aggression against a sovereign state.6 7 Kosovo was the perfect opportunity for NATO, after the fall of the Soviet Union, to reinvent itself from a collective defence alliance to an international security organisation.8 The Kosovo case created the opportunity for NATO to test its capacities of intervention under a high moral legitimisation of stopping the suffering that the people from Kosovo were being subjected to by Milošević’s regime.9 10 After this, Kosovo irremediably became an ally of the United States, forever thankful to the Western world and resentful of those who refused to protect them. In this sense, Kosovo is a crystalised relic of the Cold War confrontation.

Second, and in accordance with  the first point, the peace process taking place in Kosovo is not simply a result of two parties who voluntarily wanted to make peace, but a consequence of a ‘victors’ peace’.11 The Serbian regime, which never wanted to make a truce, was ultimately obliged to due to NATO’s strong military capabilities. The way the war was put to an end naturally created lasting tensions and distrust between the two parties, Kosovo and Serbia. Continuing points of disagreement include the existence of competing narratives about  the conflict,12 lack of agreement in establishing a border between Serbia and Kosovo, mutual impediments to further European integration or to enter other international organisations, ethnic tensions and punctual episodes of violence, and, most notably, other delays in Kosovo’s normalisation and statebuilding.

Third, ethnic tensions and exclusion are still present both between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as in Kosovo at the internal level. Tensions between Albanians and Serbs are often mirrored by incidents of intercommunal hate crime, harassment and obstruction.13 The city of Mitrovica is the mirror of all ethnic divisions, border disagreements, and power-sharing issues.14 Split by the River Ibar, in the South of the city, Kosovar-Albanian people use the Euro and openly exhibit US flags and Albanian symbols. On the Serbian side, the currency is the dinar, the buildings are decorated by Serb and Russian flags, and a mural that states ‘Kosovo is a part of Serbia just as Crimea is a part of Russia’ can also be found. Along with the ethnic polarisation between Albanians and Serbs, the remaining exclusion of other minority communities should equally be mentioned. According to the 2011 census, Kosovo’s minority groups are composed of  1.6% Bosniaks, 1.5% Serbs, 1.1% Turks, 0.9% Ashkali, 0.7% Egyptian, 0.6% Gorani and 0.5% Roma.15 Minority Rights Groups state that since Kosovo’s independence, there has been a lack of attention to protecting Kosovo’s minorities facing social exclusion, discrimination, and lack of political representation.16 Although Kosovo’s political system represents the interests of all ethnic groups, Romans, Ashkali, and Egyptians encounter obstacles when trying to access personal documents, health care, social assistance, and education, which creates polarising effects in the society of this new-born country.17

Legitimacy, both at the external and internal level, seem to be the biggest issues slowing down Kosovo’s progress. Since its independence in 2008, Kosovo has been under a process of statebuilding, focused on creating guarantees of security and stabilisation, the rule of law, and economic and institutional development.18 However, according to experts Oliver Richmond and Gezim Visoka, peacebuilding and statebuilding in Kosovo have been in a permanent struggle between externally set conditions and dynamics of local state formation, and state contestation19. On one hand, it seems that a small political elite aims to maintain domestic stability in exchange for securing external legitimacy at the expense of ignoring other pro-peace social groups’.20 On the other hand, this same domestic stability has revealed itself as quite unstable due to Kosovo’s weak rule of law and judicial system, high levels of corruption, and political stability and credibility being undermined by episodes such as the recent resignation of the Prime Minister Haradinaj as a result of his call to answer for war crimes in The Hague.21 22

At the external level, although 112 states have recognised Kosovo, there is still a significant number of states which refuse such as Spain, Russia, and China. Simultaneously, while Kosovo has become a member of international organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and even FIFA, it has not yet become a part of the United Nations, nor the European Union, Interpol, or NATO. Furthermore, even though Kosovo has unilaterally adopted the Euro as its currency and conquered the status of potential candidate for EU integration, such dreams seem more and more unattainable both for internal reasons, such as the lack of agreement with Serbia, and reasons related to the political phase the EU is going through, with enlargements being practically frozen, countries such as Spain opposing any negotiations with Kosovo, and more restrictive immigration policies.23

Kosovo’s deadlock may be explained by matters of internal and external legitimacy. It is clear that geopolitics still get in the way of Kosovo’s recognition and integration into international structures, as well as feed into polarisation, political and ethnic, and contribute to the existence of competing versions of the facts. Simultaneously, internal dynamics of elite-based politics, decision-making impasses, ethnic exclusion, and corruption prevent a widespread internal legitimacy. It is possible that Kosovo would profit more from locally generated peacemaking rather than elite-oriented and externally-influenced liberal peacebuilding and statebuilding. Kosovo’s progress utterly depends on breaking the vicious cycle of external reliance the newborn country has entered. Furthering international recognition strictly depends on internal transformations, such as attaining a border agreement with Serbia, strengthening the rule of law, and political and economic stability. Tackling the issue of internal legitimacy will not be successful if Kosovo remains solely dependant on support from the United Nations, donors, and the European Union, rather than generating and utilising local initiatives.24

1.  Ristic, M., 2012. Dacic Denies His Party’s Role in Balkan Conflicts. Balkan Insight. Retrieved from: [accessed 11/09/2019].2.  Human Rights Watch, 2001. Under orders: War Crimes in Kosovo. Retrived from: [accessed 14/10/2019].
3.  Ibid.
4.  De Wet, E., 2009. The Governance of Kosovo: Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Establishment and Functioning of Eulex. The American Journal of International Law, 103(1), 83-96. 
5.  Yannis, A., 2009. The politics and geopolitics of the status of Kosovo: the circle is never round. Journal of Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Vol. 9, 2009, Issue 1-2.
6.  Rebelo da Cruz, 2014. O Processo de Paz no Kosovo: Percepções dos Militares do Exército Português no Teatro de Operações. Universidade Aberta.
7.  Gromes, T. 2019. A Humanitarian Milestone? NATO's 1999 intervention in Kosovo and trends in military responses to mass violence. Peace Research Institute Frankfurt Report 2/2019, p. 1. Retrived from: [accessed 14/10/2019].
8. Roberts, A., 1999. NATO's ‘Humanitarian War’ over Kosovo. Survival, 41:3, 102-123.
9. Gibbs, D., 2011. Kosovo: a template for disaster. The Guardian. Retrieved from:  [accessed 14/10/2019].
10.  Severiano Teixeira, N., 2019. A NATO aos 70. Público. Retrieved from: [accessed 14/10/2019].
11. Bono, G., 2010. 'The European Union and ‘Supervised Independence’ of Kosovo: A Strategic Solution to the Kosovo/Serbia Conflict?. European Foreign Affairs Review, Issue 2, pp. 249–264.
12.  Ferati-Sachsenmaier, F., 2018. Reconciliation in the Balkans: Twenty Years after the Yugoslav Wars, What Went Wrong?. 21st Century Global Dynamics. Retrived from: [accessed 14/10/2019].
13.  Minority Rights Group. Kosovo: Minorities and Indigenous peoples. Retrived from: [accessed 14/10/2019].
14.  Estadão, 2019. Nos 20 anos da Guerra do Kosovo, tensão étnica ameaça paz nos Balcãs. O Estado de S. Paulo. Retrieved from:,nos-20-anos-da-guerra-do-kosovo-tensao-etnica-ameaca-paz-nos-balcas,70002864039 [accessed 14/10/2019].
15.  Minority Rights Group. Kosovo: Minorities and Indigenous peoples. Retrived from: [accessed 11/10/2019].
16.  Ibid.
17.  Human Rights Watch (2019) World Report 2019. Serbia/Kosovo: Treatment of Minorities. Retrived from: [accessed 14/10/2019].
18.  Allison, J., 2018. State-building in Kosovo - Challenges of Legitimacy. E-International Relations Students. Retrived from: [10/09/2019].
19.  Richmond, O., Visoka, G., 2017. After Liberal Peace? From Failed State-Building to an Emancipatory Peace in Kosovo. International Studies Perspectives, 18, 110-129, p. 111.
20.  Idem, p. 113.
21.  Transparency International (2014) Kosovo: Overview of Political Corruption. Anti-corruption helpdesk. Providing on-demand research to help fight corruption. European Commission.
22.  The Guardian (2019) Kosovo PM resigns before questioning at The Hague. The Guardian. Retrived from: [accessed 14/10/2019].
23.  Allison, J. 2018. State-Building in Kosovo – Challenges of Legitimacy. E-International Relations Students. Retrived from: [accessed 14/10/2019].
24.  Richmond, O., Visoka, G., 2017. After Liberal Peace? From Failed State-Building to an Emancipatory Peace in Kosovo. International Studies Perspectives, 18, 110-129, p. 112. 

Leave a Reply