Center for Strategic Decision Research


How UNMIK Can Help Solve Kosovo's Problems

His Excellency Hans Haekkerup
United Nations Administrator for Kosovo


Winston Churchill once said that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume. I believe that is very true. If we look back--not 300 or 500 years, but over the last 10 years--we see Yugoslavia falling apart. I think that many lessons can be learned from the way we handled that situation in the early phases. At first, we did not recognize what was clearly happening, and when we finally did realize it, we only gradually adopted the right policy.

A long line runs through Croatia and Bosnia to Kosovo, but when we got to Kosovo, we had it about right. If we look at the events that took place later, they proved that once the international community was ready to stand up for its values, we were able to change events even in the Balkans. The fall of Milosevic also proved that this policy was right, although there was a lot of criticism at the time. This does not mean, however, that we now can confine the Balkans to the history books and consider the region stable. We are still wrestling with the changes in Belgrade and their effects, with problems in Montenegro and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Macedonia is in deep trouble and there are also problems in southern Serbia. Then, last but not least, there is Kosovo.


When we try to understand the events in these countries, it is important to look a little into how the people think, because how they think is a product of their history. Before going to Kosovo, I took a few lessons at the army school and studied Albanian. I had a very good teacher who was born in Macedonia and whose father was from Kosovo; he had lived in Denmark most of his adult life and was a very sensible, intelligent person. Whenever we would take a break in our language lessons, we would talk about politics, about why NATO was in Kosovo. One day, my teacher told me, "I will tell you why NATO is in Kosovo. It is because of German unification." I wondered how he got from point A to point B because this was not quite clear. But his reasoning ran like this: now that Germany is united, the Americans will have to leave their bases there and find another place, and they have picked Kosovo. I said, "Well, sorry, but Kosovo is not the most obvious choice. There are no harbors, the airport is certainly not up to standards in any respect. There are many other places the Americans could have found." But he replied, "They are still investing $600 million in Kosovo. It is a clear sign they are going to stay."

I do not know if President Bush knows that! But that is the way logic works in the Balkans. For hundreds of years, the people have seen rulers come and go-Ottomans, Serbs, whatever--and they have sat in cafes and discussed what these rulers really wanted, because they knew that what the rulers said was of course not their real agenda. Today, the people are wondering exactly the same thing about the international community. What is the real agenda there? They cannot believe that we are there to defend human rights and to install democracy. That sounds too unlikely.

I have the chance to be in that part of the world during this special period and head UNMIK. Let me say that if we look at other nations in which the UN, NATO, the OSCE, the EU, and other groups have operated, Kosovo is the best organized. We have KFOR, and very close cooperation with KFOR-all the other organizations are inside the tent. Even if that sometimes creates some problems with some of the pillars, I can assure you that it is certainly much better than having them outside the tent. As we look at how missions should be organized in the future, this model could be used in several ways.

I also must tell you that working in an international environment is very interesting. Early on, you realize how many tribes there are (I do not mean tribes in a political sense), not only in Kosovo but in greater Albania--there are 42 tribes within the Albanian population, and a few more in the international community in Kosovo. Once you are there you very quickly realize that tribal relationships are more important than formal command lines.


Like other problems in the Balkans, Kosovo's problems are big and run deep, from ancient times to recent history when atrocities were committed. If you talk to people in Kosovo, you still find a lot of hatred, not only because of what was done by Milosevic and the Serbs under his command, but also because of the atrocities that were committed by Kosovo Albanians when they took over after NATO came in. At the same time, there is a large majority of good people in Kosovo who wants a situation in which Kosovo Serbs, Kosovo Albanians, and all the communities, can live together peacefully--if not as friends, then at least not killing each other.

These people certainly would like to change things. But the events there, and the way the war was fought, actually changed the shape of society in Kosovo; some people who normally would have no chance in a well-organized democratic society have too much influence in terrorist activities, ethnic-based crimes, and these sorts of things. So the task, really, is to change this, and the time factor is important. In Bosnia, it is only now, five years after the Dayton Agreement, that people are starting to return on a larger scale to an area dominated by another ethnic majority. It has taken five years for this to happen and, most likely, it will take the same in Kosovo.

It is also important that we change the agenda. This can be done, first and foremost, by political means, and that is where I am putting most of my effort in these first months in Kosovo, mainly trying to draw the constitutional framework and prepare for elections. As I have been told, it is very good if both sides are annoyed, but not too annoyed. I am very hopeful that they are not too annoyed, because even if they did not get exactly what they wanted on the Kosovo Albanian side, there was nevertheless general acceptance by at least two of the three bigger parties (the third party is rather critical, but not so critical that it will not participate in the elections). On the other side, the Kosovo Serbs are very critical of their constitutional framework and have not committed themselves to the elections, but it still looks as though they will take the necessary steps, such as registering, to participate in the elections.

If we can move people away from discussing in cafes what the international community wants, and make them responsible for their own day-to-day lives, a political culture will develop. As these changes are made, it will be very important for us to do nothing that could prejudge a final political settlement. Actually, I think self-government is a condition for reaching a final settlement, and our job is to facilitate that; we will hand over responsibilities in all main areas and we are currently trying to work with Belgrade on these issues. We are trying to show that Kosovo Serbs have a future in Kosovo; make it possible for them to return, even if under protection; deal with the question of missing detainees; and deal with strategic property sales, which are not good.


Another area in which we would like to put a lot of effort is law enforcement. Criminality in Kosovo, though not much higher than the norm for the region, is extremely high by our standards. Ethnic violence and organized crime are severe problems. We have already put into place several pieces of legislation to give us more powers. We will also need new or additional capabilities throughout the entire law-enforcement system: more police, especially in Kosovo, and international judges and prosecutors. Currently the judicial system is such that you always get the wrong result from judges in ethnically biased cases. We also need a larger police capacity to turn the "wall of silence" into evidence, and more and safer jails to house the criminals as they are caught. There is a lot to be done. However, just in the few months I have been there, we have already been able to put our hands on some of the terrorists. We are also seeing that a greater number of people are ready to come forward and give information on criminal and terrorist activities. This bodes very well for the future.

Although it is not in my mandate, I would also like to comment on several issues that relate to an area very close to Kosovo, namely, southern Serbia and Macedonia. I think it is perfectly right for NATO to do away with the Ground Safety Zone in southern Serbia. It was simply breeding terrorism. The Zone was created originally for another reason, but it is no longer needed and has not been for half a year. However, the issue must be handled in the right way.

In Macedonia, I believe that the government wasted a lot of time--10 years--by not addressing the underlying political problems. It is certainly good that they are doing so now, but it is very important that they stop the extremists by using military means and law enforcement. And while there are ties between extremists in Macedonia and individuals and groups in Kosovo, KFOR is doing a good job of cutting off these lines of communication and support. These lines must be cut in order to prevent destabilization in Macedonia.

We must also work to prevent issues in southern Serbia and Macedonia from negatively affecting Kosovo. Refugees are coming over the border, but so are former fighters who have been using the amnesty to shed their weapons and uniforms, a situation that could very well be destabilizing. So we support the policy, but we are also trying to limit the negative consequences to security and stability in Kosovo. Our policy has been that what is going on in southern Serbia and Macedonia is not in the interest of Kosovo; Kosovo's political leaders and the majority of its people understand this. They have been saying so publicly, and the level of stability in Kosovo reflects their agreement.


Being the head of UNMIK in Kosovo means taking on quite a lot of challenges, but the work is very interesting and the challenges are even bigger than that of being Defense Minister of Denmark! In the Balkans we sometimes look back on Tito's Yugoslavia with nostalgia but we should not, because although Tito was very effective in "keeping the lid on," he never solved the basic problems. Our goal should be not only to put the lid on but actually to address the underlying problems. Time is on our side, but only if we do the right things.


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