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Pristina's Newborn Obelisk, inaugurated for Kosovo's Independence in 2008
Pristina's Newborn Obelisk, inaugurated for Kosovo's Independence in 2008
Piotr Smolar

PRISTINA - Before General Xavier Bout de Marnhac can walk up to the second floor of the Gagi restaurant in the center of Kosovo's capital, his security escort must inspect the premises.

This is standard procedure. The French general, whom we were meeting only a few hours before he was leaving Kosovo, is the outgoing chief of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), where 2,000 European prosecutors and judges, police officers and customs officials lend technical assistance to the local authorities. A supposedly neutral presence that has no one fooled.

General Bout de Marnhac has executive powers. His employees have penal immunity. The cases they investigate – which are very sensitive – involve the country’s elite. “Our work is long and complicated, and the mission has created expectations that will be impossible to fulfill,” he admits. “EULEX is a frustration-making machine.”

Who remembers Kosovo? The 1999 war. NATO bombing of Serbia. The international contingent – the KFOR – and UN administration. On Feb. 17, 2008, the Republic of Kosovo declared its independence, which is recognized today by 98 UN member states. After the independence, the EU took from the UN and created the largest civil mission in its history – EULEX. The internationally supervised independence came to an end in September 2012. Summed up like this, the timeline of Kosovo’s history seems quite linear. A story of emancipation. But upon closer look, things are not so simple. For instance, if you were to flip over Kosovo's new criminal procedure code, you would find the logo of the U.S. State Department.

As Afghanistan and Iraq have taught us, winning the peace is far more complex than winning the war. And in Kosovo as well, the issue of the cost of “state building” – more than 600 million euros in five years for EULEX – and the methods used beg the question: what is the price of stability and peace? On this subject, suspicions are growing: is the EU turning a blind eye to corruption and organized crime?

Priority has been given to the diplomatic talks between Kosovo and Serbia, which started in March 2011. “Everyone –from EU members to local authorities – seems disappointed by EULEX. But it is wrong to believe that bringing judges and police officers is enough for everything to change right away. It takes time,” says Samuel Zbogar, a Slovenian representative of the EU in Kosovo.

“Your judges and policemen despise us”

EULEX’s first weakness is political. Its goal is to help a state that five EU members don’t recognize (Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia). The second is territorial. The mission cannot work properly in the northern towns, which are populated by Serbs. EULEX vehicles are not always able to pass through the roadblocks, and witnesses are intimidated or hostile to the mission. The multiple layers of administrations add to the chaos. How do you enforce the law if you don’t know which one to use?

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Map of EU member states and their stance on recognising Kosovo's independence
Source: Wikimedia

There are also the complexities of “state building:” the EULEX expats, who are well paid (8,000 euros) have a tendency to answer more to their governments than to their hierarchy. They don’t spend enough time in Kosovo – one or two years – to know the local issues and mindset, even if many have previously worked with UNMIK, the UN mission in Kosovo. Their Kosovar colleagues are not ready to take over. More than 80% of them were trained during the former Yugoslav regime and have been unemployed for years. “They don’t know the jurisprudence, and the younger ones lack training,” says General Bout de Marnhac. It is not likely that the EULEX mission will end in June 2014, as expected. The Kosovar justice system doesn’t have the freedom, the means, or the competence to deal with the sensitive cases on its own.

One of the cases that made the most noise was the Limaj case. Fatmir Limaj, a former transportation minister, was targeted by several criminal investigations. One of the key witnesses in his war-crimes trial committed suicide in Germany. But Limaj, after a first acquittal, was incarcerated in November 2012.

“Can you think of another European country where the ruling party has been targeted by so many investigations?” asks Vice-Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci. “Your judges and policemen despise us. They are not accountable for their actions. They shouldn’t be allowed to take over cases from our magistrates without even telling them.”

The government’s critics differ from the opposition’s, who denounces a selective justice system. “Only the small fish end up in jail, not the big sharks. Limaj is in jail so that Prime Minister Thaci doesn’t have to go to prison,” says Albin Kurti, the leader of the Vetevendosje nationalist movement. He wants Europe to send teachers and doctors instead of judges and police officers.

Avni Zogiani, an anti-corruption activist, has similar doubts concerning EULEX’s motivations. “We gave them files and evidence,” he says, “they carried out investigations but in the end, they didn’t charge anyone. EULEX gives impunity to those – in the elite – who are the most docile.”

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