For many internationals coming to work in Kosova, the Grand Hotel in Prishtina, Kosova’s capital city, is the epicenter of daily life. Sink deeply into one of the well-worn leather chairs in the lobby and watch the parade of journalists, military and police officers, engineers, diplomats, financiers, and NGO representatives: it’s a Benetton commercial of middle-aged, globetrotting managers. Or sit in the adjacent lobby café where locals also like to gather. Many sit for hours, partly because not enough are employed. Young boys hawking phone cards and cigarettes circulate among the tables as regularly as the uniformed waiters. Most of the internationals who have adopted the lobby as their home turf do not realize that, prior to the 1999 NATO victory over Serbian forces, this hotel was commanded by the infamous Serbian paramilitary leader Arkan and his White Tigers. Kosovar Albanians were not permitted to step inside. Today, ex–Kosovar Liberation Army soldiers clad in black keep security, and the Grand Hotel is a reasonably comfortable and often highly efficient place for doing business, where internationals plan, debrief, write, and make new contacts.

Late one afternoon we are sitting with a ministry official talking about health policy and financing, and in walks a representative from the World Bank. The Kosovar official summons the man: “Join us, please, we have a question for you.” In five minutes over cappuccino we get an answer that probably would have been unattainable in New York or London, where the formalities and obstacles are greater and the opportunities for contact less.Encounters like this, which happen all the time in Kosova, suggest that big institutions are uniquely open and accessible to Kosovars—but this appearance is deceiving.

The reason behind these daily scenes in the Grand Hotel is Security Council Resolution 1244, passed on June 10, 1999, which established the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Its purpose: to develop “an international civil presence in Kosova” that would grant its people “substantial autonomy” and provide a “transitional administration” in order to develop “provisional democratic self-governing institutions.”1 Almost immediately, Prishtina became a boom town of diaspora investment, international donor money, and civil society engineers. It also became a test case for humanitarian intervention. The UN’s work in Kosova highlights the complexities involved when the international community tries to impose its ambitious plans on local efforts and hopes. The mixed results suggest a need for great caution, especially when—as in Iraq and Afghanistan—conditions are much less favorable than they are in Kosova.

At first, Albanian Kosovars responded with great optimism, for now they could legitimately pursue their longstanding goal of independence. But granting immediate independence was not something that the UN, the United States, or the European Union wanted to risk. The consensus was that Kosova had never been an independent state and therefore needed time and tutelage to grow the necessary institutions. Secondly, any new status for Kosova would require careful negotiation of the fact that Serbia still regards Kosova as a province, a political arrangement tacitly recognized by the EU. Thirdly, the wounds incurred during the prolonged Serbian occupation were considered exceedingly raw, making any kind of reconciliation very difficult. The carnage dated not just to the last days of the conflict of 1998–99 but stretched back to the earlier years of the decade. In 1993 alone, according to the Kosovar Human Rights Council, more than 20,000 Kosovar Albanians were tortured by Serbian police. Hence, UNMIK feared that aggressive acts by Kosovar Albanians, such as the display of nationalist symbols or revenge attacks against Kosovar Serbs and their property, would jeopardize its plan to cultivate a pluralistic Kosova. Even today, after four years of UNMIK administration, KFOR troops continue to guard particular Serbian public monuments, such as some churches, as well as the large Serbian sector of Mitrovica for fear of violent outbreaks.

No specific end date was named for completing the transition from UNMIK to the Provisional Self-Government. Nevertheless, eight benchmarks for achieving a functioning civil society were established.2 These benchmarks were to be met before discussions regarding status could move forward. Although most benchmarks are still unmet, the downsizing of UNMIK has already begun. And staff members in both UNMIK and the Provisional Self-Government expect that status will be decided in 2005. For most Kosovars the transition cannot occur fast enough. One Kosovar civil servant summarized the four years of mounting resentment: “Still we collectively sit and wait. First there were the Yugoslav Communists and then the Serbian occupation, and now this international administration (UNMIK) is imposing upon us another form of waiting. It feels as if we have been in an institutional vacuum forever.”

Some of the graffiti in Prishtina—UNMIK Jasht (UNMIK Out)—has been expressing the same sentiment for years. And the president of the Kosovar parliament, Nexhat Daci, in late April 2003 expressed to the BBC a similar statement: “If we ask UNMIK, they will never go; they stay here because of nice restaurants, large salaries, and beautiful women.” Later, an UNMIK wag joked: “He’s right about the women, not about the restaurants.” In not mentioning the “large salaries,” he seemed to tacitly acknowledge what many suspect: along with the good that UNMIK has accomplished, it is also an excellent source of jobs for international civil servants. Even though the combined U.S. and NATO attack against Serbian forces in 1998 and 1999 and the continuing KFOR military presence remain widely popular, Kosovars long ago became impatient with UNMIK as transitional administrator. To a certain extent, then, one can agree with some Kosovars that the Serbian regime has been followed by a new kind of “occupation” that wears a humanitarian mask.

Underlying this opposition to a “new kind of occupation” are two central issues. The first concerns the viability of democratic processes when installed in top-down fashion. The second concerns psychosocial humanitarian interventions whose models of mental health and human rights fail to attend to local contextual realities.


Hundreds of scared, hungry, and exhausted villagers—old people, women, children—all ran down the hills toward one of the deportation trains organized by the regime. The train I was on stopped every mile or two and the scene would repeat itself until every car was filled. I’ll never forget the extent of human suffering as the Kosovar countryside emptied itself of its people as if they were cattle to be sent nowhere.
—Ferid Agani, remembering his journey on a deportation train to Macedonia, April 1999

When Kofi Annan declared that “the task before the international community is to help the people in Kosova to rebuild their lives and heal the wounds of conflict,” he was referring not only to rebuilding Kosovar civil society and relieving psychological trauma but also to dampening what that “suffering” might become, namely, retaliatory nationalism. UNMIK policy is predicated on the fear that Kosovar Albanian nationalism might at worst become retributive or at best fuel an impatient move toward independence and lead to another Balkan war, since Serbia still considers Kosova its province. Many international interveners have feared that ethnic animosity might couple itself to nationalist, retaliatory politics, particularly in the rural areas of Kosova where the bulk of ethnic cleansing occurred. Some believe that there is a pattern and intention to the attacks and killings of Serbs and that at least a segment of the former KLA is pursuing a policy of retaliatory violence.

But consider the following interview with a former KLA member at his home, a traditional walled compound in a small village outside of Prishtina. Inside the compound were gardens, children, chickens, fruit trees, dogs, grass, sheds for the larger animals, and bright colors, all surrounded by rough adobe walls. The families of five brothers, four of whom were killed, lived in this compound. The surviving brother spoke deliberately, with the moral authority of someone who knew that the future will want to hear his story again and again:

In our village there are around 560 Albanian houses, and around 74 Serbian houses.3 The first two weeks after the [liberation] bombing started, we did not notice anything peculiar in the village. On the 15th of April at 2 p.m. we were attacked. The first who started attacking were the Serbs from here. We knew them. We had grown up with them. They were dressed as police or soldiers. I was not here at the time but in the mountains informing the KLA leaders that the village was surrounded by Serbian artillery and tanks. The attack was so furious that people did not have a chance to take anything with them. The people ran toward the hills behind us but were forced back by the soldiers. The soldiers started to select particular people. The Serbian villagers who cooperated wore masks, and the soldiers would look for a signal from them to determine whom to take. I returned on the 16th of April and found my family in the hills. It was on this day that the soldiers started to shell the village. All totaled they killed 45 people and wounded 17. One of the killed was a paralyzed 75-year-old woman who was burned alive because the soldiers did not remove her. The villagers were dispersed all around, or fled by road or train to Macedonia. Later, my house became a kind of military base full of soldiers because it was the highest building in the village.

Before, there were no problems with the Serbs. But all the crimes are well documented and justice will prevail. We know who engaged in criminal activities and who did not. If they did not engage in criminal activities, they are welcome to stay. Belgrade politics pushed those people to do what they did. They were betrayed by Belgrade.

After a few months in Macedonia and then Germany we came back. Our village was not destroyed like some of the other villages. We had only a day of destruction and atrocities. In other words, it was much easier to survive here than elsewhere. When we came back to the compound, there was a dead cow upstairs that was booby trapped. NATO soldiers removed the booby traps. After that, we did not wait for someone to help us. It was summer and the chance to survive was good.

This man’s desire for justice, not retribution, is widely shared. Nevertheless, there continue to be violent deaths, both Albanian and Serbian. Too often the motives behind the deaths remain murky and the cases unsolved. On the Albanian side prominent political figures have been victims, while on the Serbian side ordinary people, oftentimes youth, have been killed. Interestingly, the loss of Serbian life or the bombing of a Serbian church has become tragically predictable, for it occurs often on the eve of important international meetings, such as those of the UN Security Council regarding Kosova, or visits from international political figures, such as EU Commissioner Javier Solana, or from the UN Security Council delegation to Prishtina. Each death was profoundly contrary to the political interests of Kosovar Albanians and, therefore, denounced by their politicians and intellectuals. The fact that the perpetrators have not been caught has served to discredit UNMIK, which remains in charge of security and justice. More seriously, the killings have accelerated the impression among internationals that interethnic relations, justice, and independence may not be achievable in Kosova. Meanwhile, for Kosovar Albanians independence has become the only acceptable solution.4

Despite the internationals’ current assessments of nationalism, however, Kosovar history reveals more ethnic and religious syncretism than hatred based on identity. The ethnic hatreds that ripped the social fabric of the Balkans are relatively recent, the product of a particular strand of modernity, that is, 19th-century nation-building coupled to “political ethnography,”5 and to ideologies regarding the superiority of European civilization (hence, the right to colonialist expansionism). Prior to that, in the 16th and 17th centuries, for instance, Albanians and Serbs, though culturally and linguistically distinguishable, did not represent sharply divided peoples. For centuries they fought alongside each other against common enemies, who themselves sometimes consisted of both Albanians and Serbs mustered together by more powerful imperial forces. Ethnic wars as such were unheard of. Religious belief, too, was largely syncretic. For instance, Catholics, Muslims, and Orthodox borrowed each other’s rituals and festivals as well as a variety of local folk beliefs. Moreover, at different historical moments it was politically advantageous for individuals to shift religious affiliations or to maintain households with multireligious beliefs. Even among the Kosovar Muslims the term “Muslim” has referred more to an ethnic orientation aligned to being Albanian than to any religious identity as understood in the Mideast.

But these traditions began to erode during the 19th and 20th centuries as nationalism began to root itself in geography and culture. Local control that historically had shifted from Serb to Albanian clans and back again began to face the emerging nationalism of Slavic Christian states in search of ethnic purity dignified by a history of oppression at the hands, in their view, of decadent (unmodern), heathen Muslims controlled by the Ottoman Empire. And colonialist expansionism was not just a matter of securing one’s special geography and ethnicity; it was also about snatching the mineral wealth of Kosova from the Ottomans.

Despite periodic independence uprisings aimed against a variety of occupiers, it was not until after World War II and the rise of Tito as Communist leader of Yugoslavia that Kosova began slowly to acquire increasing autonomy. Its geographic borders were settled; it acquired the right to use Albanian in official matters; and by 1974 it was officially designated an “autonomous province” of Serbia with “a status equivalent in most ways to that of the six republics [of Yugoslavia].”6 This inching toward autonomy, however, had earlier threatened Serbian nationalists such as Aleksandar Rankovic, who, as leader of the Yugoslav secret police, persecuted Kosovar Albanians until Tito removed him in the late 1960s. Nationalism and separatism, then, always simmered below collectivist ideology. Yugoslav Communism was, at most, a thin veneer that covered glaring economic disparities between the prosperous northern republics and the underdeveloped southern regions. It also covered Serbian animosity toward Bosnians, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, and Slovenes, an animosity that was often reciprocated.

With the death of Tito in 1980 the veneer cracked. Many of the Serbian Marxist intellectuals and political leaders could not offer a collective post-Tito vision and in time became nationalists themselves, even ideologists for the Serbian Slobodan Milosevic.7As the various republics began to fission into separate nation-states, Serbia reduced the status of Kosova from autonomous province to mere province and resisted all moves toward its independence. Kosovar independence was a serious threat to a Serbia trying to right itself in the midst of the ideological, geographic, economic, and political disintegrations that were occurring all around. Serbian nationalism, based on the ethnic divisions that had emerged during the 19th century and solidified after the world wars, became the popular option and, at least for a short while in the person of Milosevic, acceptable even among some “West European powers like France and the UK, with their obvious pro-Serb bias.”8

Milosevic, a midlevel Communist, skillfully rode nationalist rhetoric and ethnic hatred to power, and within just a few short years his army was strategically eliminating or forcibly removing Albanians from Kosova. As others have said, the Balkan wars of the 1990s began and ended in Kosova. They began here because Kosova was the rallying point where Milosevic intended to halt Albanian separatism and thereby “remedy the underprivileged situation of Serbia within the Yugoslav federation. . . . [but in 1999 as if] in a closed loop of Destiny, the arrow returned to the one who dispatched it.”9


The Clinton and Clark–led NATO attack that ended the Serb regime in Kosova was a military success, but the effort to build a Kosovar civil society has been plagued by images of colonialism. The interventions in Kosova cannot be represented as colonialism of the old sort, however, for the military destruction of the former regime followed by humanitarian aid, peace maintenance, and bureaucratic restructuring speak directly to the aspirations and demands of Kosovars. Kosovars want to be integrated into the global administrative machine and not cynically dumped to fend for themselves. But this process of integration beginning with military incursion repeats the historical legacy of strong states molding vulnerable societies to fit neatly into a preordained order and profiting from it. To state it bluntly, those who described Kosova as a success story to justify interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were strong-arming the public into believing that top-down civil engineering is itself immune from corruption, mismanagement, and the making of new kinds of local problems.

All this begets a question: What does it mean to build a Kosovar state at such a late date in the history of state-building? The classic Western nations evolved by responding to their internal stresses with solutions that were largely of their own making. Either a nation-state’s juridical systems responded to economic and social inequities or they didn’t; hence, either negotiations or civil war occurred. The point is that civil structures carry the imprint of the rough-and-tumble of national history, but the sort of state-building and humanitarian interventionism currently under way resembles paternalistic babysitting. In the specific case of Kosova, strong states have imported abstract models of civil society that are largely divorced from recent Kosovar history, particularly its nearly four decades of building appropriate institutions for an independent state. Kosova, for instance, had its own constitution by 1974 under the Yugoslav Federation, but UNMIK on its arrival abandoned that document and drew up only a constitutional framework. In not helping the Kosovars adapt and advance their old constitution, UNMIK assured itself special prerogatives and powers that could be more than advisory if the situation warranted. Of course, there were good reasons for UNMIK to do so, but many Kosovars consider the current constitutional framework regressive. As another Kosovar civil servant phrased it: “The UN administration is building a house from the roof rather than the basement.”

A central complaint concerns the frantic pace that underlies the creation of the bureaucracy and laws. Even the authors of the laws are frightened that the high speed at which everything operates is building significant, if unintentional, loopholes that invite corruption into the emerging civil society. For instance, the swiftest way to pass laws is to translate European and American models that ignore the Kosovar context.10 The drafting of the health law almostbecame a case in point. In September 2002 we watched a top government official say to the press, “We will have a general health law in three months.” With that unexpected bombshell the scramble was on among already overworked staff members and their international advisers to write an essential piece of legislation in a very short period of time. Three months became many more, but the law, which shrank from 71 pages to 41 after extensive public debate, was to be discussed in parliament sometime in October 2003.

At first, the health law borrowed heavily from international models, but because the health minister and some members of the committee objected, the law began to incorporate more and more original elements, including some paragraphs from Kosovar legislation that were in place prior to the Serbian occupation. (In 1981 the health ministry operated with a budget roughly similar in size to the current ministry’s, maintained a viable public insurance fund, and provided overall better health care than it does today.) Reflecting on the strengths of their old system, the authors rejected the way in which international models were automatically sutured into Kosova’s body politic like quick but incompatible organ transplants.

At the center of the disagreement was a public health insurance fund. The consultants did not in principle oppose the establishment of such a fund but argued with considerable justification that Kosova’s economy and regulatory infrastructure were not sufficient to support one. “Social health insurance,” they argued, “requires significant levels of formal employment,” high levels of membership, “regulated and managed private health care,” a culture of “strong governance and transparency,” “developed contracting and provider payment methodologies,” “communication skills and capacities for maintaining public consensus about the operation of the health insurance scheme,” and so on. The consultants rightly knew that because Kosova’s economic and civil conditions are fragile, the development of an effective tax system free of corruption—the surest way to support public health insurance—would seem technically not feasible.11 They argued for a more cautious “prototype insurance organization” responsible for “setting up agreements in return for payment with health care providers (public and private hospitals, health houses [in] municipalities, or individual doctors)” that could eventually develop into a “Third Party Social insurance fund.”12

The Kosovars, in contrast, called for a public health insurance fund. They argued that the consultants’ solution—timid and wholly financed out of the health ministry’s budget—would be incapable of generating a larger pool of funds that would significantly help the people. They argued that the public wanted to see a strong, competent central government with institutions capable of taking care of its people and maintaining order.13

The committee responsible for the health law engaged the consultants in a public debate. The committee argued that if most public health insurance funds rely on taxes taken out of salaries and if salaries are almost nonexistent in Kosova, some other source of money had to be tapped. The authors of the health law thought that many Kosovars would be willing to pay €120 yearly, the cost of car insurance, to insure their entire families. This rate would be considerably cheaper than what many patients, supported by relatives from abroad, now pay private doctors. The authors showed that only 250,000 payees (out of 310,000 Kosovar families with an average of six members per family) would have to be attracted—not taxed—to this family insurance plan. Such a plan would generate approximately €30 million, a sum equal to half the current budget for the entire health system. These payees would be asked to pay modest copayments, but the truly down-and-out would pay even less.

The authors of the health law believed that internationals too often urge postponement when they declare that institution-building first requires a social system in good working order (a taxable populace, for instance). In so doing, international consultants deny the fact that institutions can activate the overall evolution of a social system and should be organic to it. Although the consultants’ recommendations were justifiable to a considerable degree, in the eyes of Kosovars they also squelched moves toward economic and political independence and were thus complicit with UNMIK’s stranglehold.


But institution-building has been only one of the international priorities in Kosova. Another priority has been providing psychosocial humanitarian interventions to address trauma-related distress and to diminish ethnic animosity and retaliatory violence. These interventions and programs have become major international initiatives in post-conflict societies—indeed, a veritable industry financed by governments and NGOs. The ways in which Kosovar civil society both benefits from and struggles against international humanitarian organizations resemble, although on a smaller scale, its relations with UNMIK. Multiple observers have criticized international psychosocial humanitarian organizations for also being top-down, noncollaborative, and contextually insensitive. The story of Shtime is a case in point.

An institution that housed both the mentally retarded and the mentally ill, Shtime was the exact opposite of the mental health and human rights agenda that 21st-century progressive humanitarian interventionism wished to promote. As a holdover from the Tito era of state health care, it represented an antiquated model of degrading institutionalization.

Shtime became an international human rights scandal when it landed on the editorial page of the Washington Post on August 18, 2002. Approximately 250 residents lived there at the time. A year earlier, an American watchdog group, Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI), had conducted an investigation and found that the Shtime residents were living in deplorable and inhumane conditions. The report, which was passed on to the Washington Post, criticized UNMIK authorities, international NGO’s, and Kosovar professionals for not addressing cases of sexual molestation and other human rights abuses at Shtime. UNMIK was also accused of violating its own mandate by not protecting the human rights of the mentally ill. “Developed nations that years ago learned that the mentally disabled are better off in their communities and out of large institutions forget that lesson when they venture into the developing world, where they build or rebuild mental hospitals (and orphanages) while neglecting community solutions.”

Groups such as MDRI are often single-agenda entities that freelance their way across the international scene. Typically they represent only a small slice of an international citizenry and have no official standing in any public sphere. Lacking the ability to officially enforce their agendas, their authority rests on their good reputation, their defense of a universal morality, and the production of persuasive, reliable information which, on the surface at least, is politically and ideologically neutral. They critique local laws and practices of sovereign states if these are not in keeping with the abstract virtues of liberal human rights. In a place like Kosova, which is not even a sovereign state and where social inequities are numerous because civil society is still weak, one can find any number of human rights abuses; hence, watchdog groups have much to prey upon and can circle with impunity, waiting for the propitious case and moment. In strong states, however, watchdog groups must negotiate with entrenched powers that might threaten, for instance, to cut off their funding. International human rights organizations, then, are important vehicles for spreading universal virtues, but they also take advantage of structural relationships that favor strong states and disfavor weak ones.

For instance, the MDRI report wielded a rhetoric that critiqued the Kosovar “old system” as inadequate, rigid, and unfair. It wanted to replace the “old system” with “new models.” It flatly assumed that the old had the problems and the new had the answers. There was little mention that Kosovar health leaders were aware of Shtime’s shortcomings and were putting into place innovative mental health reforms that would change the older institutional model. The Kosovars had already started a community- and family-based mental health care program that was training and supporting families to take care of their own disabled. Their goal was to sidestep institutional care if at all possible—a fact that MDRI eventually acknowledged in a second report.

The first report also did not realize that the Kosovar strategic plan for reforming mental health has been consistently ignored by international donors. For instance, shortly after the scandal broke, the Dutch government designated €2 million toward the refurbishment of the buildings at Shtime. This money improved Shtime’s physical condition, but it could have built sheltered houses with 10 beds each as designated in the Kosovar strategic plan. More broadly, this example points to a longstanding pattern of internationals directing their money toward projects over which the Kosovars have no say. For instance, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and UNMIK itself decided that Kosovar mental health professionals needed human rights and sensitization training. In time these training sessions became redundant and unnecessary. The methods of benevolence favored by foreign governments and international donors have become, finally, patronizing and wasteful, for money and programs sent to Kosova often pay no heed to and undermine the priorities and structures that Kosovars have established for themselves.

MDRI’s first report also failed to understand the political barriers preventing real reform of Shtime. Underlying the human rights issues were more complicated political facts: two-thirds of the patients were Serbs and Montenegrins, many of whom were sent there by the Milosevic regime before and during the Balkan wars from other republics of the former Yugoslavia. The Kosovar health officials have recommended a community-placement solution—that is, moving residents to locations close to their families. In the case of Kosovar patients, however, this solution requires more protected apartments than currently exist. In contrast, UNMIK recommends a further investment in Shtime. Interestingly, MDRI’s second report prefers the Kosovar solution and criticizes UNMIK’s as a return to an insensitive past. But the central difficulty behind either solution is that these patients are caught in larger issues concerning the political status of Kosova and its relationships with neighboring states. Any clinical decision of the matter entails a diplomatic decision. Until that larger issue is resolved, the movement of patients is stalemated.14

Kosova’s status remains the major stumbling block for solving the crisis of Shtime in still another sense. It blocks Kosova’s relationships with international financial organizations. For instance, the president of the World Bank saw the Shtime scandal reported in the Washington Post and inquired as to how the bank might help. But the World Bank, according to its own rules, can only directly lend to officially recognized governments, not provisional ones. In short, the rhetoric of human rights for minorities (in this case, the retarded, mentally ill, and disabled) provides publicity insofar as it mobilizes an international pathos that can urgently call for righteous reforms, but these reforms are simplistic insofar as they ignore entrenched political and economic problems.


UNMIK is a “sweeping undertaking . . . unprecedented in both its scope and structural complexity” that addresses every activity of a highly modern state.15 As we have been saying, the relationships between it and the Provisional Self-Government are extraordinarily complex and the source of much friction.

According to the Kosovar Constitutional Framework, which was signed May 15, 2001 (almost two years after the end of liberation), the Kosova Assembly chooses the prime minister and his or her slate of ministers. However, after the first general elections in the fall of 2001 no political party held a majority in the Assembly. Hence, Kosova was without a prime minister and ministers to run the government. It took the UN-appointed administrator, Michael Steiner, who had just recently arrived in Kosova, three months to conduct the political negotiations necessary to staff the state institutions. This political agreement contradicted certain key elements of the Constitutional Framework and later became a point of contention. Meanwhile, the ministries, which up to this time had been called departments, were in desperate need of leadership. In the Health Department, for instance, leadership had been in the hands of two codirectors, one of whom was an international and the other a Kosovar. But during the transition from department to ministry (fall of 2001 to March 2002, the period before the political agreement took effect), the local codirectors were put on paid leave, which meant that the internationals became de facto ministers and their own advisers.

The hierarchical ladder as originally imagined was to consist of an elected Kosovar minister; a Permanent Secretary (PS)—the highest of Kosovar civil servants—chosen from a pool of applicants; a Principle International Officer (PIO) who would advise both; and finally Kosovar staff members, a few of whom would be also coupled to specific international advisers. Despite the theoretical orderliness of the hierarchy, extraordinarily complex and difficult relationships have evolved within many of the ministries. On the one hand, Kosovar officials do not have the power, skills, or status (in the eyes of the internationals) to act in the ways that their civic obligations demand; the internationals, on the other hand, have not been legitimized by any popular will.

With the installment of the new health minister in March 2002, a dispute widened between him and the PIO, the same international mentioned above who had been significantly in charge from the beginning. One aspect of the dispute concerned the fact that the PIO also held the position of Acting PS. He was able to do so because the committee in charge of choosing the highest Kosovar civil servants became politically divided and finally stalemated. This consolidation of two positions in the hands of one person allowed a foreigner to function, potentially, with more power than the elected official. PIOs and PS’s are supposed to operate under different chains of command and payrolls, but in this case the Constitutional Framework—which guarantees that several ministries, including the Ministry of Health, are under the control of Kosovars—was not being fully implemented.

In time the PIO and minister lost confidence in each other. From the PIO’s perspective, the minister stubbornly broke the established rules. He even defied the whole of UNMIK, declaring that he had little respect for its rules and regulations. (In time the minister’s rule-breaking was documented by an independent panel of inquiry established by the Kosovar prime minister.) These sharp divisions between the PIO and Health Minister divided16 and stalemated the ministry. Over time these divisions became even more complex, as we will see, severely curtailing the maturation of the Ministry of Health in comparison to some of the other ministries.

During this period the health minister publicly called for an investigation regarding corruption and misuse of donor funds by the PIO. Because the charges were never proven, the minister’s motive may have been to dismantle prior agreements in order to establish his stamp on the flow of donor money into the ministry. At a deeper level, however, the flow of money into Kosova has represented serious problems that have only recently been addressed. If donor countries fail to contact Kosovar government structures before deciding where to spend their funds, the inevitable result is confusion and resentment among the Kosovars, for their own needs, priorities, and systems of control are bypassed. The intended good does not materialize in any coherent plan, and this creates the appearance of mismanagement. Indeed, UNMIK and the Provisional Self-Government have recently installed control mechanisms in order to correct these problems.

In January 2003 the UNMIK committee in charge of appointing permanent secretaries made its choice. When the health minister protested the appointment, it served as a catalyst for the prime minister to remove him. As early as May 2002 the prime minister had publicly rebuked the health minister, and by November 2002 he had decided to remove him for obstructing the work of the government. The minister claimed that his removal was not legal. The prime minister had based it on the fact that the Constitutional Framework states that the removal of any government minister is in the hands of the prime minister,17 whereas the political agreement signed later by Michael Steiner states that any removal must be approved by the UNMIK administrator.18 The minister, then, claimed that his removal was legal according to the Consitutional Framework but not legal according to the political agreement.

At a deeper level the scuffle pointed to ambiguities within the Constitutional Framework itself that have lead in part to the contentiousness between UNMIK and the Provisional Self-Government. According to the Constitutional Framework, who is in charge? How much power does the UNMIK administrator have? On the one hand, his ability to intervene in the affairs of the Self-Government is sharply limited, but at the same time he has considerable freedom. Given the geographic position and the volatility of Kosova, it may be appropriate for the administrator to act more like a viceroy and step in forcefully during an emergency. The administrator, for instance, can dissolve the Assembly and call “for new elections in circumstances where the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government are deemed to act in a manner which is not in conformity with UNSCR 1244, or in the exercise of the SRSG [Special Representative of Security General] responsibilities under that resolution.” UNMIK, following a broad interpretation of the Constitutional Framework, believes that it controls how and when Resolution 1244 is satisfied and the rate of transference. Kosovars, however, insist that a strict interpretation of the Constitutional Framework limits the powers of UNMIK and the administrator to that of advising and guarantees a speedy transference of authority to the Provisional Government.

Because the crisis between the health minister, prime minister, and president had serious repercussions, Steiner stepped in with a compromise in March 2003. He suspended the newly nominated PS but verified the decision of the prime minister to remove the health minister. (If the prime minister’s decision had not been affirmed, it would have denied the Constitutional Framework as the basis of the Kosovar government and substituted instead the emergency agreement negotiated by Steiner himself. It would have affirmed that UNMIK was indeed in control and that the Kosovar provisional government was subservient to it. Moreover, it would have severely weakened the prime minister and lead to the collapse of his government.) But Steiner did not stop there. He also allowed the former health minister to appeal to the Kosova Supreme Court, an appeal that he eventually lost, to settle the legality of the Prime Minister’s decisions. Steiner’s decision, seemingly both positive and shrewd, allowed UNMIK to salvage credibility from a politically treacherous situation, but it also encouraged the Supreme Court to strengthen its presence in Kosovar life by defining the substance and range of the Kosovar Constitutional Framework. Meanwhile, another Acting Permanent Secretary was appointed—an international who had been an adviser in another section of the Health Ministry. This rotation of internationals seemed again to affirm the Kosovar critique that UNMIK has been slow to transfer authority to local administrators even a year and a half after the establishment of the ministries. (Interestingly, upon reading the above claim the PIO replied that he himself had recommended a local.)

In April 2003 the United Nations published two reports that focused on the conditions inside UNMIK and Kosova—and more briefly on Serbia and Montenegro—since January 1, 2003.19 None of the events described above, or the shortcomings of UNMIK as perceived by Kosovars, or the innate ambiguity of the Constitutional Framework were discussed. The reports resolutely defend “standards before status,” which means that “standards” as laid out in the benchmarks must be accomplished before a decision is made regarding the status of Kosova. The reports claim that hampering the accomplishment of standards is “the tendency of local Kosovo Albanian leaders and the Provisional Institutions to focus on symbols and image and to publicly promote positions contrary to resolution 1244”; that is, they allow political and ethnic differences to fracture institutional development. More specifically, the reports note that instances of minority conflicts continue and that the Kosova Assembly has passed laws that do not always take into account minority interests.

But these charges do not explain the full story, for these public displays were largely in response to the recent Serbia/Montenegro constitution, accepted by the EU in March 2003, in which Kosova was described again as a Serbian province. What really infuriated the Kosovars was that the UN did not firmly criticize the Serbian constitution but reiterated that Kosovar status would be settled in New York, not in Belgrade or Prishtina. The Kosovars interpreted this bland response as suggesting that global opinion was inching again toward the politics that allowed Serbia to crack down on Kosova in the first place. The Kosovars felt betrayed by their international administrators. In order to dampen Kosovar outrage UNMIK launched a billboard campaign, which Kosovars likened to Communist propaganda, that stressed once again standards before status. Standards talk by UN representatives20 or by UNMIK officials seemed to reboot the now-shopworn humanitarian discourses that have substituted for concrete, urgently needed actions regarding sustainable economic development.


Humanitarian interventionism in Kosova represents a disconnect between the rapid installation of top-down democratic values and the slow bottom-up processes that a “deep” democracy requires. But even in mature democracies, which have been responsible for the installation itself, bottom-up processes (“the will of the people”) seem to function too often as sentimental fictions. What humanitarian interventionism reveals, perhaps, is that both the mature and exported varieties of democracy are disturbingly thin.

Ironically, the end of the Cold War was supposed to signal the complete ascendancy of capitalist liberal democracy. This point was famously argued by Francis Fukuyama in his “end of history” thesis. Fukuyama’s enthusiasm for that thesis has not waned: “the process of modernisation [toward liberal democracy and market-oriented economics] was . . . a universal one that would sooner or later drag all societies in its train.”21 His survival-of-the-fittest scenario (which others have pointed out is also Hegelian) posits capitalist liberal democracy as the only contender left standing after battling fascism, communism, monarchism, theocracism, tribalism, virulent nationalism, and most recently terrorism. In one sense Kosova is the very proof of Fukuyama’s thesis, for Kosovars have suffered through fascism, communism, virulent nationalism, and genocide; hence, they see capitalist liberal democracy as their reward at the end of a horrific train ride.

As part of the European underbelly Kosova is being anxiously masterminded against becoming a failed state which might export organized crime, weapons, and terrorists to an easterly expanding European Union or to radicalized Muslim factions to the south, even though such versions of Islam remain deeply alien to the Kosovars. In this sense the West has dumped its anxieties on Kosova, which now bears the burden of a global gamble that will help to judge not only the credibility of the UN but also that of capitalist liberal democracy as victor of the Cold War. Will Kosova live up to the immense expense and effort poured into it? Can it function as a model for future regime changes and thereby validate humanitarian interventionism? Do the managers of modernity and capitalist liberal democracy wield sufficiently sophisticated evaluation and control methods by which they can, like genome researchers, jump-start and breed civil life?

At its most ideal, liberal democracy constitutes an experiment that is constantly recalibrated until it belongs ecologically to a people. From this perspective, to impose such a complex experiment from the outside via elaborate international arrangements that include nongovernmental organizations and UN administration seems dysfunctional. But maybe not. Something imposed from the top, as with Japan after World War II, might well in time become organic and percolate from the bottom up. But what mechanisms permit such a thing, and are they in place in Kosova?

For now the Kosovars are in a profound disconnect between the top-down and the bottom-up, between the idealized rhetorics that shape modern civil societies and the wayward realities of a society in deep difficulties. Take the generic terms of capitalist liberal democracy that pepper the discourse of the internationals: transparency, regulations, accountability, performance indicators, rule of law, human rights, and so on. These key terms are being planted into the emerging bureaucracies in order to institutionalize fairness, reduce hierarchical distances, and minimize corruption by establishing systems of oversight. And yet when the young Kosovar state-builders complain that they are producing reams of paper that cannot be enforced, they are saying in effect that a smooth operating system in which legalistic verities solve deep social problems is thus far an illusion. Real problems are stubborn things, and they simmer below the operating system. For instance, the person in charge of revising a list of drugs to be publicly funded cannot determine how many people are using which drugs and how often, because there is no method for gathering data. Meanwhile, unregulated pharmacies are proliferating. The list will look “professional,” but it will be pulled out of the air even as reality simmers. The codes and regulations that manage a civil society cannot by themselves grow wealth nor the web of institutions that mark a civil society. Nevertheless, the young administrators still have hope for the “reams of paper,” for they know that here is the scaffold that makes modern bureaucracies work. But so far, the absurd gaps between the paper and the simmering reality seem disheartening.

UNMIK labors under the same burden, and during times of crisis it must maintain its authority and respond quickly with the pretense of control and stability. In moments of crisis, mature democracies and imported ones alike begin wielding democracy’s key terms skillfully as valuable rhetorics to help centralize authority when it must wear the mantle of virtue and universal values. During such times, authority must maintain stability by articulating publicly the key virtues (transparency, accountability, whatever) in order to corral public opinion while privately acting out subterfuge, duplicity, and self-interest in order to solve the crisis. In these contexts, such conceptions as democracy, freedom, equity, the dignity of humankind, and so on exist to the extent that the situation allows, and they are always subject to compromise. They are conveniences, not inviolable guardians; in short, they are rhetorics that do not necessarily run very deep, but are adhered to anyway insofar as they postpone a deeper chaos that might emerge without them. Like any entrenched system, then, capitalist liberal democracies preserve themselves and, given the severity of the crisis, slowly peel off their idealized abstractions in order to fight dirty.

In the meantime, Fukuyama’s thesis has become coupled to hyperbolic militarism in the “defense” of global peace. Militarism of this sort has been articulated by an adviser for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Thomas P.M. Barnett of the U.S. Naval War College: “the new security paradigm that shapes this age [is]Disconnectedness defines danger. . . . [An] outlaw regime is dangerously disconnected from the globalizing world, from its rule sets, its norms, and all the ties that bind countries together in mutually assured dependence.” In this sense, eliminating Serbian aggression in Kosova was part of an evolving ideology that, in more recent theaters of war, has branched in two directions: a European version versus an American one.

Let us grant that many Europeans and segments of the left-leaning establishment in the United States and elsewhere are growing ever more skeptical of recent American unilateralism. They suspect that any coupling of destruction and benevolence (wiping the slate clean so as to create a better world) is almost as scary now as it has been throughout the history of colonial interference in the affairs of others. They believe that dropping smart bombs, followed by food parcels, followed by counseling and scaffolding that lead to a civil society obedient to the rule of law and the global marketplace, is always at risk of becoming the modern version of firing musket and cannon and then offering the reward of heaven to the losers who convert. From this position humanitarian interventions, no matter how well intentioned, serve the interests of strong states, namely, their own expansions of wealth and their struggles for self-preservation. The Kosovars, however, refuse to be enlisted into that project. They remain deeply thankful for the U.S./NATO–led military intervention that ended the Serbian regime’s ethnic cleansing and they are optimistic that a Kosovar state will eventually emerge. They may be frustrated by UNMIK’s administration and impatient to move beyond this newest “occupation,” but at the same time they are encouraged by the good that has been done as well as for KFOR’s continuing presence. Indeed, Kosova under UNMIK’s administration looks almost paradisiacal22 compared to the grimness that is unfolding in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the installation of democracy, freedom, liberation, and capitalism seems more compromised and incoherent.


This essay is a project of the International Center on Responses to Catastrophes at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

1 www.unmikonline.org.

2 FUNCTIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS (establish a professional media, and a working civil society with minorities in civil service.)

RULE OF LAW (develop a strong customs service, police force, and court system able to control extremists and organized crime; international recognition of the Kosovo Police Service as reliable partner.)

FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT (establish free movement of minorities without police or army escort.)

RETURN OF REFUGEES AND REINTEGRATION (create the conditions for safe return and a special budget targeted for refugee return; create appropriate information regarding returning refugees; return refugees to urban locations.)

ECONOMY (create legislation for safe investment; improve the collection and registration of taxes; encourage privatization.)

PROPERTY RIGHTS (establish conditions and protections for reacquiring private property.)

DIALOGUE WITH BELGRADE (establish direct contact; restart business relationships.)

KOSOVA PROTECTION CORPS (create a multiethnic civilian emergency agency.)

3 The speaker was in his late 40s or early 50s. Mental health professionals who had established an innovative version of community outreach services after the war brought us to him. One of the health professionals translated. We visited other families on this day, and their forceful optimism was impressive. Later in this taped interview, which here has been edited, some confusion emerged regarding the number of dead villagers. The numbers provided are as accurate as we can determine.

4 On August 13, 2003, the Serbian government rejected calls for Kosovar independence, proposing instead that it remain a province with substantial autonomy. The Serbs also declared that UNMIK had failed to establish a multiethnic society in Kosova and that the Serbs were being discriminated against. These declarations were timed for the day before Harri Holkeri, the UN administrator replacing Michael Steiner, was to make his first visit to Kosova. Predictably, a series of shootings and other ethnic clashes in different parts of Kosova erupted. See articles in the New York Times, 13–15 August 2003.

5 We use the phrase from Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History(Perennial, 1999), 199. It refers to the use of ethnographic (scientific) evidence that serves the propagandistic aims of a specific state. For instance, many associated with Serbian nationalism claimed that the Kosovars were in fact Serbs, as evidenced, for instance, by the persistence of shared folk/religious practices. By using arguments based on the communality of “blood,” the state could justify the takeover of neighboring regions as a “reuniting” of the “people.”

6 Malcolm, 327.

7 Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (Verso, 2002), 123.

8 Zizek, 125.

9 Zizek, 120.

10 Some laws cannot be adapted to local contexts, nor should they be. For instance, the international community, with good reason, has been developing supranational guidelines for regulating pharmaceuticals.

11 A leading Kosovar economist stated that conditions have improved since August 1999, shortly after the end of the war, when unemployment was between 60 and 70 percent. Current registered unemployment is between 39 and 49 percent depending on whether farm labor, which often says that it is not employed, is counted. Registered unemployment, however, has recently inched up. It is estimated that 25,000 new jobs have to be created yearly to deal with unemployment, a not very promising expectation. Approximately 450,000 Kosovars are living abroad, infusing Kosova with approximately €400–500 million, which is about one-fourth of its GDP. This infusion, however, is starting to decline. Meanwhile, international donor money, approximately €2.3 billion over the last three years, is expected to decline to €0.5 billion over the next three years. According to this economist, UNMIK has not helped develop a plan for sustained economic growth across sectors (agricultural, industrial, etc.) and has not helped to develop a credit policy for farmers, a tax strategy that might boost agriculture, or trade policies to attract foreign investment. All in all, it has ignored the social infrastructure—the decay that is occurring in education, for instance—and instead has overemphasized ethnic relations.

12 World Bank: Health Care Financing Development Project, “Briefing Note: Health Insurance and the Health Care Comissioning Agency (HCCA),” April 2003. (This is a six page internal document.)

13 In point of fact, UNMIK shifted the power of government from centralized authority to thirty municipalities, this for a total population of approximately two million. We cannot detail here the complicated relations that bind central governance to municipal governance, but among the Kosovars in the various ministries, UNMIK’s policy of decentralization has caused widespread resentment. Perhaps this policy reflects a neoconservative bias toward less centralized government, privatization, and liberalized markets, but a high ranking UNMIK official pointed out that Kosovar decentralization is modeled after municipal organization in some northern European countries. Interestingly, international health consultants in a conversation with Cintron claimed that the municipalities were not a bad thing but a source of creativity. The Kosovar government administrators, however, thought that decentralization at a moment when the central government remains fragile and lacking many regulatory mechanisms is potentially destabilizing.

14 Thus far, the transference of patients from Shtime to other sites in Kosova has been modest but important. As of May 2002, seven Serbian children were moved to protected apartments in a nearby Serbian village. As of January 2003, seven adult patients were placed in two protected apartments in Gjakova and Gjilan in accordance with the Strategic Plan for Mental Health. In the next few months, three Kosovar Albanian patients will be moved.

15 www.unmikonline.org.

16 This sense of a divided ministry is exacerbated by such innocuous activities as computer repair. Those who work for UNMIK have their computers repaired by one set of workers; those who work for the Kosovar government use another set of workers. More significant are the wage-scale discrepancies. Major Kosovar officials paid by the provisional government earn between €250–300 per month. Medical nurses may earn €120 per month and medical specialists €196. However, in private practice a Kosovar doctor with a good reputation can earn €2,000–3,000 per month, which means that the state, paying €200 per month, cannot recruit doctors. Meanwhile, a lowly translator or driver hired by UNMIK can earn €700 or €800 respectively per month, and the salaries of UNMIK officials are, of course, considerably higher. The Kosovar economy may appear to be nonexistent, but it is awash in money flowing from UNMIK and other international organizations; from the diaspora, many of whom have been working abroad since the 1980s; and from the underground economy.

17 “The Prime Minister may replace any Minister without the consent of the Assembly.” Chapter 9.3.12 of the Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self-Government, UNMIK Regulation 2001/9, 15 May 2001.

18 “Any replacement of a Minister shall be done with a Minister from the same political entity. No Minister can be dismissed without previous approval of the Special Representative of the Secretary General.” Chapter III, Article 4 of the Political Agreement on the President and Government of Kosova, Prishtina, 28 February 2002.

19 “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo,” 14 April 2003; “Kosovo Has ‘Some Way to Go’ in Establishing Representative, Functioning Institutions, Security Council Told,” Press Release, 23 April 2003.

20 Representatives who commented in “Kosovo Has ‘Some Way to Go’” were from Chile, Syria, Pakistan, Germany, Cameroon, Bulgaria, China, France, Spain, Guinea, the United States, Angola, Mexico, and Albania. Many of these nations are not known for their defense of human rights standards.

21 “Has History Restarted Since September 11?” The Nineteenth Annual John Bonyton Lecture, Melbourne, Australia, 8 August 2002. See also “Has History Started Again?” Policy: A Review of Public Policy and Ideas, Winter 2002.

22 Describing Kosova, even comparatively speaking, as a kind of paradise is fraught with difficulty. Ethnic hatred is ever present because it is constantly fueled by Serbia’s refusal to change its policies and rhetoric and by an impatient Kosovar Albanian nationalism that cannot easily talk with Serbia and too often suspects European duplicity and perhaps even complicity.