Three years after Kosovo’s government unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, everyday life remains a struggle.
When Kosovo became the world’s 193rd nation state on February 17, 2008, it was a cause for huge celebrations in the capital Pristina. Giant letters spelling out the words “New Born” were erected there as part of an outpouring of national pride.
For the majority ethnic Albanian population, it marked the end of what they regard as years of oppression by Serbs, who still claim Kosovo as their historic homeland.
But the jubilance of 2008 has been replaced by a grudging awareness among the populace that Kosovo is not doing as well as it should be.
This “new born” state has inherited a lot of old problems.
Many towns around Kosovo boast decent shops, good restaurants and bars, but many of the roads leading to them are full of holes.
Beyond the polluted confines of Pristina, the towns and villages suffer from serious infrastructure problems. Businesses often invest in their own generators, as electricity stoppages are frequent.
Many houses do not have clean drinking water or their supplies are erratic because of archaic pumping equipment.
In most towns and villages, there are no consistent waste collection services, so people dump their rubbish in the rivers, creating squalor in places that were once beauty spots.
Even during Kosovo’s sub zero winters, many hospitals and schools are only partially heated.
Many of these services should be provided by the municipalities, but they lack the resources to tackle the mountain of problems they have inherited.
These defects are due to years of neglect under the leadership of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, as well asa two-year-long war and a lack of investment by central government since the end of the conflict in 1999.
The mayor of the Serb majority municipality of Ranillug, Gradimir Mikic, told swissinfo.ch: “The budget allocated to Ranillug by the central government only just covers the wages of local government employees. That leaves hardly anything for capital investment.”
Improving local government
In 2007, the Kosovo government passed a raft of laws aimed at promoting decentralisation and good governance, and introducing transparency and effectiveness in public services.
A year later, the government approved legislation called for by the Ahtisaari Plan, the Comprehensive Status Settlement (CSP) formulated by United Nations Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari.
There were new laws to build the institutions of the new state, and protect the rights of communities. It was seen as a real commitment to establishing a multi-ethnic democracy.
Some new municipalities were formed to accommodate the needs of ethnic groups. For example, the Serb municipalities of Klokot and Ranilug were established, Novobrdo was enlarged to become a Serb majority municipality and Strepce, an old municipality, finally elected a government under Republic of Kosovo rules.
These are among the eight municipalities Switzerland assists through the Swiss-Kosovo Local Governance and Decentralisation Support programme, LOGOS.
The main aim is to make the partner municipalities more accountable, transparent and effective in local governance and able to deliver key services to all members of the community.
LOGOS, with a total budget of more than SFr4.7 million ($4.8 million), helps the municipalities with planning and resource management, administration and public services.
There is also an investment fund for infrastructure development, which the municipalities have to co-finance. Ranillug, for example, is to receive funding to revamp the centre as there are no pavements.
The programme was set up by the Swiss Cooperation Office in Pristina, which manages projects for the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Seco.
LOGOS started in 2007 and, thanks to its geographical location in the southeast, was able to expand into the new Serb majority municipalities formed in late 2009.
Director of the Swiss cooperation office, Samuel Wälty, says that, in this way, Switzerland contributed to the establishment of a multi-ethnic nation.
“By strengthening local governance and contributing to citizen participation, we can help multi-ethnic Kosovo to become more democratic and more stable,” he said.
Having a say
LOGOS works with partner non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and consultants who support the implementation of different activities in the partner municipalities.
A key element in the programme is persuading ordinary citizens to participate in the decision-making process, so many municipalities received help in producing bulletins about their activities, and explaining their work at public meetings.
In Viti, citizens groups were set up by local NGO Elita. Project manager Ibrahim Sefadini told swissinfo.ch: “Local government employees held meetings with the community, and produced such a professional development plan that it is now considered a role model for other municipalities to follow.”
Sazan Ibrahimi, president of the Association of Kosovo Municipalities (AKM), said: “Surveys show people are much happier now about the level of transparency and the services they receive.”
Helping women and youths
LOGOS has also helped to set up women and youth groups to represent their interests. As a result of lobbying, Viti is soon to have its own youth centre.
NGOs in various municipalities have been charged with helping to boost quotas of women employed in local government.
There are also improvements to be made on the domestic front.
“In a patriarchal society, women have suffered years of neglect, domestic violence and economic repression,” said Abide Osmani from the womens’ NGO Legjenda in Viti.
“Thanks to the fact that we have brought the matter out into the open, victims of domestic violence are now reporting it to the police, which they never used to do.”
Recent Kosovo history
During and after the breakup of Yugoslavia, there were increasing ethnic and regional conflicts, culminating in the Kosovo war of 1998-9.
Skirmishes between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Yugoslav forces resulted in a massive displacement of the population in Kosovo.
In March 1999, NATO forces started to bomb Yugoslavia in an effort to drive Yugoslav forces out of Kosovo. President Slobodan Milosevic finally capitulated.
The UN Security Council passed resolution 1244, which placed Kosovo under transitional UN administration (UNMIK) and authorised KFOR, a Nato-led peacekeeping force.
On February 17, 2008, Kosovo’s government unilaterally declared independence from Serbia.
Switzerland was one of the first countries to recognise Kosovo’s independence.
An estimated 170,000 Kosovars now live in Switzerland.end of infobox