As Kosovo gets ready to celebrate a decade’s worth of independence this February, signs don’t suggest that it has much to cheer about. GDP per capita is the lowest in the region at $3,660 per person, 57.7% of under-25s are unemployed, and territorial disputes with its neighbours continue unabated. These woes were further compounded on January 16th, when a prominent Kosovo Serb politician, Oliver Ivanović, was assassinated outside his party’s office in the divided city of Mitrovica. But while the tragedy threatens to shatter the fragile peace between Kosovo and Serbia, it could also, paradoxically, be an opportunity for the pair to bury the hatchet.
In broad daylight
An ethnic Serb, Ivanović was proficient in Albanian and committed to promoting coexistence between the two nations. He frequently failed to toe the line on certain loaded issues, causing him to quarrel with Serbian politicians, his fellow Kosovo Serb lawmakers, and Pristina. Most importantly, he did not share his nation’s belief that northern Kosovo should be reclaimed by Serbia – a stance which caused some Serbs to label him a traitor.
“If you were looking for someone who could build bridges, it would be him, which is why neither the government in Pristina nor the government in Belgrade liked him,” said Dusan Reljic, a specialist from the German Institute for International Affairs and Security (SWP).
Since Ivanović’s death, both Kosovar and Serb politicians have traded the blame over who was responsible, with no definitive proof over the identity of his assailants.
A spanner in the political works
Not surprisingly, the murder has indefinitely paused EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo aimed at normalizing bilateral relations – talks that had been scheduled to recommence on the same day that Ivanović was shot. Political tensions had already been running high following top Kosovar politicians’ efforts to derail the Specialist Chambers, a court tasked with prosecuting Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members who were responsible for violence against Serbs, other ethnic groups, and political adversaries during and after the 1998-1999 war.
Serbia sees Kosovo’s attempt to suspend the court as an outright betrayal and a shirking of responsibility, while Kosovo is disgruntled that the only criminals on trial will be those from the KLA. The U-turn has earned a swift rebuke from both Brussels and Washington, with the head of the EU’s office in Kosovo saying that bilateral relations will suffer if the court collapses.
And therein lies the rub: if Kosovo and Serbia want to bring the perpetrators behind Ivanović’s murder to justice, the two bickering governments will have to come back to the negotiating table. Indeed, the lack of collaboration has been a major cause behind both sides’ failure to tackle rampant lawlessness within their borders. As things stand now, Kosovo is not a member of Interpol or Europol, and Serbia refuses to cooperate when Kosovar criminals wanted by Interpol are hiding within their borders. As a result, over the years, a number of convicted criminals have managed to evade punishment – often by simply crossing the border.
For instance, many lawbreakers have managed to avoid imprisonment simply by leaving the country and waiting for the statute of limitations to run out.
Criminals from Serbia, too, have a history of evading jail time by hiding in Kosovo’s northern, mainly ethnic Serb region, because Belgrade does not tend to issue extradition requests due to its refusal to recognize Kosovo internationally. In just one example, the Interpol arrest warrant holder Predrag Vulicevic, a Serbian citizen, was arrested in 2015 in Mitrovica but later released since Belgrade never made an extradition request.
The stalemate between Pristina and Belgrade has thus culminated in the creation of an essentially lawless border zone, fueled by the gangs operating in the Balkans. Were Serbia and Kosovo to find an agreement on criminal cooperation, it could very well serve as a guiding light for the countries in the region, themselves hotbeds of organized crime.
For example, Montenegro is a particularly egregious case. According to a report from Serbia’s Crime and Corruption Reporting Network, over the past five years, law enforcement authorities in Serbia and Montenegro have only solved four out of 83 likely gang-related murders. According to the data, these murders have been increasing since 2012 and investigations into them have been painfully slow. As crime expert Dobrivoje Radovanovic explained, most of the murders have not been solved because that organized crime interests are woven into the very fabric of state security and judicial institutions.
Indeed, former Prime Minister Milo Ðukanović – who wants to return to power following elections this April – has a long history of nurturing illegal activity in the country. Among other charges laid at his door are a highly-profitable, highly-illegal cigarette smuggling operation, money laundering through the privatization of a state bank and rampant nepotism with the country’s coffers.
Of course, the dire state of rule of law in the region is no reason for Kosovo and Serbia to give up on efforts to combat the crime flowing across and within their borders. Rather, they should use the tragedy of Ivanović’s death as a springboard to reconcile their differences, commit to combatting lawlessness, and improve cross-border collaboration. The EU, in particular, has a critical role to play in prodding both sides to bring Ivanovic’s killers to justice and end the stalemate. If successful, they will not only do justice to the memory of a politician committed to bridging divides. They will also make Kosovo’s next anniversary something to truly celebrate.
Time to Tackle the Stigma Behind Wartime Rape
The youngest capital city in Europe, Pristina, is the ultimate hybrid of old and new: Ottoman-era architecture stands amongst communist paraphernalia, while Kosovars who lived through the bloodshed of the 20th century share family dinners with a generation of young people with their sights set on EU accession.
This month, the capital’s Kosovo Museum welcomed a new force for change; Colours of Our Soul, an exhibition of artwork from women who survived the sexual violence of the Yugoslav Wars, showcases the world as these women “wished it to be.”
Colours of Our Soul isn’t the first art installation to shine a light on the brutal sexual violence thousands of Kosovar victims suffered throughout the turmoil of the conflict which raged from 1988 to 1999. In 2015, Kosovo-born conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa transformed a local football pitch into a giant installation, draping 5,000 dresses over washing lines to commemorate survivors of sexual violence whose voices otherwise tend to go unheard. “I started questioning the silence, how we could not hear their voices during and after the war and thought about how to portray the women in contemporary art,” said Xhafa-Mripa at the time.
Victims, and their children, pressed into silence
The silence Xhafa-Mripa speaks of is the very real social stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in the wake of brutal conflict. “I would go to communities, but everyone would say, ‘Nobody was raped here – why are you talking about it?’”, remarked Feride Rushiti, founder of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT).
Today, KRCT has more than 400 clients— barely a scratch on the surface given that rape was used in Kosovo as an “instrument of war” as recently as two decades ago. Some 20,000 women and girls are thought to have been assaulted during the bloody conflict; the fact that the artists whose work is featured in the Colours of our Soul exhibition did not sign their work or openly attend the installation’s grand opening is a sign of how pervasive the stigma is which haunts Kosovar society to this day.
As acute as this stigma is for the women who were assaulted, it is far worse for the children born from rape, who have thus far been excluded from reparation measures and instead dismissed as “the enemy’s children.” In 2014, the Kosovar parliament passed a law recognising the victim status of survivors, entitling them to a pension of up to 220 euros per month. Their children, however, many of whom were murdered or abandoned in the face of community pressure, are barely acknowledged in Kosovar society and have become a generation of young adults who have inherited the bulk of their country’s dark burden.
A global problem
It’s a brutal stigma which affects children born of wartime rape all over the world. The Lai Dai Han, born to Vietnamese mothers raped by South Korean soldiers, have struggled for years to find acceptance in the face of a society that views them as dirty reminders of a war it would rather forget. The South Korean government has yet to heed any calls for formal recognition of sexual violence at the hands of Korean troops, let alone issue a public— and long-awaited— apology to the Lai Dai Han or their mothers.
In many cases, as in the case of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the very existence of children born from rape has often been used as a brutal weapon by government forces and militants alike. Official estimates indicate that a mammoth 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped by the Pakistani military and the supporting Bihari, Bengali Razakar and al-Badr militias in the early 1970s. The children fathered, at gunpoint, by Pakistani men were intended to help eliminate Bengali nationhood.
Their surviving mothers are now known as “Birangana”, or “brave female soldier,” though the accolade means little in the face of a lifetime of ostracization and alienation. “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times,” one so-called Birangana explained, “So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist.”
No end in sight
Unfortunately, this barbaric tactic of rape and forced impregnation is one that is still being used in genocides to this day. The subjugation of the Rohingya people, for example, which culminated in a murderous crackdown last year by Myanmar’s military, means an estimated 48,000 women will give birth in refugee camps this year alone. Barring a major societal shift, the children they bear will suffer ostracization similar to that seen in Kosovo, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
Initiatives like the Colours of Our Soul installation in Pristina are not only central in helping wartime rape survivors to heal, but also play a vital role in cutting through the destructive stigma for violated women and their children. Even so, if the number of women who submitted their paintings anonymously is anything to go by, true rehabilitation is a long way ahead.
EU–South Africa Summit: Strengthening the strategic partnership
At the 7th European Union–South Africa Summit held in Brussels Leaders agreed on a number of steps to reinforce bilateral and regional relations, focusing on the implementation of the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership. This includes economic and trade cooperation and pursuing the improvement of business climate and opportunities for investment and job creation which are of mutual interest.
Leaders also discussed common global challenges, such as climate change, migration, human rights, committing to pursue close cooperation both at bilateral level and on the global stage. A number of foreign and security policy issues, including building and consolidating peace, security and democracy in the African continent and at multilateral level were also raised. Leaders finally committed to work towards a prompt resolution of trade impediments affecting smooth trade flows.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. South Africa was represented by its President, Cyril Ramaphosa. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from South Africa.
President Juncker said: “The European Union, for the South African nation, is a very important trade partner. We are convinced that as a result of today’s meeting we will find a common understanding on the open trade issues. South Africa and Africa are very important partners for the European Union when it comes to climate change, when it comes to multilateralism. It is in the interest of the two parties – South Africa and the European Union – to invest more. It will be done.” A Joint Summit Statement issued by the Leaders outlines amongst others commitment to:
Advance multilateralism and rules based governance
Leaders recommitted to work together to support multilateralism, democracy and the rules-based global order, in particular at the United Nations and global trade fora. South Africa’s upcoming term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020 was recognised as an opportunity to enhance cooperation on peace and security. As part of their commitment to stronger global governance, Leaders stressed their support to the process of UN reform, including efforts on the comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council and the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. Leaders reiterated their determination to promote free, fair and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core and serving the interest of all its Members.
Leaders agreed to step up collaboration in key areas such as climate change, natural resources, science and technology, research and innovation, employment, education and training including digital skills, health, energy, macro-economic policies, human rights and peace and security. The EU and South Africa will, amongst others, explore the opportunities provided by the External Investment Plan. Linked to this, Leaders committed to exploring opportunities for investment, technical assistance including project preparation, and the improvement of business and investment climates to promote sustainable development. Leaders welcomed the conclusion and provisional implementation in 2016 of the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Leaders also committed to find mutually acceptable solutions to impediments to trade in agriculture, agri-food and manufactured goods. They agreed to work towards a prompt resolution of these impediments.
Leaders welcomed the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs put forward by the European Commission. They exchanged views on foreign and security policy issues, addressed a number of pressing situations in the neighbourhoods of both the EU and South Africa, and welcomed each other’s contribution to fostering peace and security in their respective regions. Leaders agreed to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation on peace and security, conflict prevention and mediation.
Leaders confirmed common resolve to reform the future relationship between the EU and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To this end they are looking forward to the successful conclusion of negotiations for a post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that will contribute to attaining the goals of both the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the long-term vision for African continent – Agenda 2063.
Macron so far has augmented French isolation
French President Emmanuel Macron has recently criticized the unilateral pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but at the same time expressed pleasure that Washington has allowed France and the other JCPOA signatories to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Macron said that he has “a very direct relationship” with Trump. “Trump is a person who has tried to fulfill his electoral promises, as I also try to fulfill my promises, and I respect the action that Trump made in this regard. But I think we can follow things better, due to our personal relationship and talks. For instance, Trump has decided to withdraw from the Iran pact, but at the end, he showed respect for the signatories’ decision to remain in the JCPOA.”
There are some key points in Macron’s remarks:
First, in 2017, the French were the first of the European signatories to try to change the JCPOA. They tried to force Iran to accept the following conditions: Inspection of military sites, application of the overtime limitation on nuclear activities, limiting regional activities, including missile capabilities within the framework of the JCPOA.
Macron had already made commitments to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push Iran to accept the additional protocols to the deal, and he pushed to make it happen before Trump left the JCPOA.
Second, after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, although France expressed regret, they had secret negotiations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the JCPOA.
The result of the undisclosed talks was deliberate delay on the part of the European authorities in providing a final package to keep the Iran deal alive. In other words, after the US unilaterally left the JCPOA, the French have been sloppy and maybe somewhat insincere about making the practical moves to ensure it would be saved.
Third, France has emphasized the need to strengthen their multilateralism in the international system and has become one of the pieces of the puzzle that completes the strategic posture of the Trump Administration in the West Asia region.
Obviously, French double standards have irritated European politicians, many of whom have disagreed with the contradictory games of French authorities towards the US and issues of multilateralism in the international community. Also, France’s isolation and its strategic leverage in the political arena has grown since the days of Sarkozy and Hollande. Some analysts thought that Macron and fresh policies would stop this trend, but it has not occurred.
First published in our partner MNA
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