Blogbox | Independence

State building efforts in post-conflict Kosovo

Evaluating the international influence.

By - 12.03.2018

As Kosovo celebrates its 10th year of independence, it is a good time to take stock and rethink the policies of the international community. International organizations have played a large role in attempts at state building in Kosovo, as well as easing tensions between the country’s various ethnic groups, enforcing the rule of law, developing the economy, and aiding integration into the EU. But has their approach always been correct and successful?

State building

Kosovo’s state institutions are regularly described as weak in EU enlargement documents. But the EU countries, the U.S. and other UN member states who were involved in Kosovo’s state building through UNMIK (United Nations’ Interim Administration Mission, 1999-2008), the ICO (International Civilian Office, 2008-2013), and EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission, 2008-current) share responsibility for this.

In my study of Kosovo’s post-conflict institution building I found that where international supervisors use their power to insulate an institution from socio-political networks, this institution became more effective. The insulation ensured a higher degree of meritocracy and professionalism by limiting parochial neo-patrimonial hiring practices — i.e. ones based on clientelism or political, social, personal, familial, or provincial networks.

It is a shame that the international ‘state builders’ did not extend such an insulation to all, or at least most, of Kosovo’s public administration institutions, but reserved it only for a small number of them, specifically the Kosovo Customs and Police.

This focus on ensuring effectiveness in only a small number of public institutions, is not the only shortcoming of the state building process. The other key feature of institution building is an excessive focus on political institutions (parliament, the executive) to the detriment of bureaucratic institutions and public services.

Additionally, there was a strong emphasis on ensuring an overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in those political institutions (at one point Kosovo Serbs held over 18 percent of parliamentary seats, while constituting 4 percent of the population), to the detriment of other aspects of their democratization and modernization. Because of this, other, arguably more important, social divisions (rural-urban, class), as well as the socially disadvantaged Roma minority were neglected.

Inter-ethnic relations

Ethnic divisions between the Kosovo Albanian majority and the Kosovo Serb minority were also allowed to fester, as Serbia was allowed to maintain its parallel institutions within Kosovo, in clear violation of UNSC Resolution 1244. Despite this, a cohort of independent Kosovo Serb political leaders emerged.

Yet, recently they have been crowded out by the Belgrade-controlled Lista Srpska, as the job of dealing with Kosovo Serbs has been outsourced to Belgrade through the EU sponsored Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. It is no surprise that Kosovo Serbs were pointing fingers at Belgrade for the recent assassination of Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic whose party was a rival to Lista Srpska. 

Rule of law

Similarly, the rule of law has suffered because there was never a serious effort to build an effective court system free from the influence of political networks by the international “state builders.” This then led to the establishment of EULEX, the EU Rule of Law mission. It, too has failed to make any significant progress in rule of law.

Its failure is partially the reason for the establishment of the Specialist Chambers to investigate alleged crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against Kosovo Serbs and Albanians. Based on the past performance of EULEX as well as the ICTY, this latest initiative is likely to fail to bring justice to any victims, largely due to the approach to dealing with the past, which focuses on indicting a small number of high level leaders.


In my investigation of Kosovo’s institutions, I found that a key reason why clientelistic political networks are so influential is that public sector jobs are highly desirable. This is largely due to the fact that there is a very small number of jobs in the private sector.

The economy has not been able to create sufficient jobs due to the misguided policies of mass privatization — which led to the decimation of production capacity as privatized machinery was sold for scrap and factories became warehouses — and a lack of efforts to build a local industrial base.

Private sector jobs that exist are highly precarious with no stability and long working hours. Besides migration, a public sector job is the only way to a relatively decent lifestyle for the vast majority of people.

EU integration

Recently Kosovo received a blow from the EU, as its enlargement strategy published in February 2018 did not offer a clear path to membership. This is significant as the entire political culture, including several autonomy arrangements for Kosovo’s Serbs have been based on the assumption of Kosovo’s future EU integration.

Without that possibility, we may see setbacks in institutional development, especially with regard to minority autonomy arrangements such as those for Serbs agreed between Kosovo and Serbia in EU-sponsored negotiations. Similarly, for the patrimonially minded leaders, a closer relationship with Turkey’s ‘strongman’ Erdoğan, who seeks to increase Turkey’s influence in the Balkans, may seem more enticing in the face of EU blockages.

There have been many missed chances to improve Kosovo’s institutional development. It is time for the relevant stakeholders in the international community to rethink their approach towards Kosovo. What is needed are efforts to increase institutional effectiveness, and these should go hand in hand with the creation of a local industrial base for job creation.

Feature image: Besnik Bajrami / K2.0