Since Kosovo “independence” two years ago, I’ve been meaning to post the most damning parts of a good article that appeared shortly after in Der Spiegel magazine. Below is an excerpt, with emphasis added.

Confusion and Corruption in Kosovo by Walter Mayr (April 24, 2008)

Two months after Kosovo declared independence, thousands of foreign experts have descended on its capital to shape Europe’s youngest republic into a constitutional state — although its status is still disputed. Soon the EU will take over, and its team can expect a country ruled by corruption and organized crime.
….
Under UN Resolution 1244, adopted in 1999…makes no mention of Kosovo’s right to secede from Serbia.

The UN has spent an estimated €33 billion ($53 billion) for its mission in Kosovo since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign drove out former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s murderous [sic] troops. This corresponds to €1,750 ($2,800) per capita, annually — or 160 times the average yearly per capita aid for all developing countries combined.

Nevertheless, UNMIK isn’t wanted by everyone here. The streets to UNMIK headquarters in Pristina have been known to be blocked by protest banners reading: “No access. Criminal zone.” Stickers are affixed to some traffic lights in the city, displaying “No to EUMIK” when the lights are red and “Independence” when they turn green. At the Strip Depot café, a politician and philosopher called Shkelzen Maliqi, surrounded by disciples lounging on couches, jokes: “Kosovo is a bastard country. You fathered it, and now it’s your job to care for it.

Officially, close to half of Kosovo’s residents live on less than €3 ($4.80) a day. Kosovo’s per capita gross national product is lower than that of North Korea or Papua New Guinea. It has one of the worst balances of trade worldwide and Europe’s highest fertility rate. Youth unemployment hovers at 75 percent.

Kosovo analysts have one thing in common: They paint a picture of a clan-based society in which a handful of criminal leaders controls the population — and are tolerated by bureaucrats from Europe and the rest of the world, who have come here under the guise of enlightening the Kosovars.

The international community and its representatives in Kosovo bear a significant share of responsibility for the alarming proliferation of Mafia-like structures in Kosovo. As a result of their open support for leading political and criminal figures, they have harmed the credibility of international institutions in numerous ways. (From a study by the Institute for European Politics in Berlin, completed for the German military, the Bundeswehr, in 2007)

[Former] UN special envoy [Joachim] Rücker wants nothing to do with “leading political and criminal figures,” at least not as long as they’ve been convicted by a court of law. But not one of the former heroes of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerilla force — who liberated Kosovo in their battle with Serbian troops — has so far been sentenced. Now they control Kosovo’s politics and economy.

Ramush Haradinaj is a former KLA commander who later became prime minister of UN-administered Kosovo. His indictment in The Hague consisted of 37 charges, including murder, torture, rape and the expulsion of Serbs, Albanians and gypsies in the weeks following the end of the war in 1999. Carla Del Ponte, former chief prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal, called him a “gangster in uniform.” He returned to Kosovo this spring, after his acquittal on April 3.

Haradinaj received a hero’s welcome, complete with pistol shots and motorcades through a sea of Albanian flags. But there was also an announcement from UNMIK referring to reservations from The Hague: “The court was under the strong impression that witnesses in this trial did not feel safe.”

Steven Schook, Rücker’s American deputy at UNMIK’s fortress-like headquarters in Pristina, was already out of office by then…Schook’s contract was officially “not extended” after the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigated his administration and looked into (unproven) reports that the American had revealed the whereabouts of a man who had testified against Haradinaj. The man was living under a UN witness protection program.

Even before that, though, Schook’s boss at UNMIK — Rücker — had given Haradinaj an exceptional private audience before his departure to a prison cell in The Hague. Rücker still insists this treatment was justified for a political alpha dog. “It’s a completely normal order of business for a former prime minister and party chairman to pay me a visit before embarking on a longer journey.”

As a result of his suspended sentence, Haradinaj’s “longer journey” ended up being shorter than expected. During the trial he was even permitted to run as a candidate in the elections for the Kosovar parliament — with UNMIK’s blessing. Because of Haradinaj’s background, this attracted attention far beyond the borders of his native region.

The family clan structure in the Decani region from which Haradinaj derives his power is involved in a wide range of criminal, political and military activities that greatly influence the security situation throughout Kosovo. The group consists of about 100 members, and deals in the drug and weapons smuggling business, as well as in the illegal trade in dutiable goods. (From a 2005 report by the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency)

These charges weren’t brought up in The Hague. But now that Haradinaj, dressed in a suit and tie, has returned to the political arena, he can call for new elections and consider himself officially confirmed as the guiding figure of an independent Kosovo. The demand for politicians with an untarnished name has grown considerably. Yet according to a study completed last year, “mafia boss” is the most commonly cited dream profession among children in and around Pristina.

It is assumed that a corporate structure of organized crime and corruption is behind every political party in Kosovo. (The UN’s Directorate of Organized Crime) The UN special investigators for organized crime work in a dilapidated collection of trailers on the edge of Kosovo Field (Kosovo Polje), the historic site of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo between Serbs and the Ottoman Empire. Rain echoes on the corrugated metal roofs of the trailers while the officials inside drink thin coffee. Their weary faces reflect doubt in the purpose of their assignment.

“We are fighting with wooden swords against an extremely well-armed opponent,” says one of the investigators, who prefers to remain anonymous. “In 2005 and 2006, when the first locals were admitted into the Kosovo police, we suddenly found not a single gram of heroin. Our undercover investigators and informants disappeared. We know literally nothing since then.” [What was that — again– about Camp Bondsteel fearing infiltration from Serbs? This from the above-mentioned 2007 Bundeswehr report acknowledges what the investigator is talking about: “[The authors] describe both UNMIK and KFOR as infiltrated by agents of organized crime who forewarn their ringleaders of any impending raids.”]

According to law enforcement agencies, Kosovo is the most important interim destination for opiates and heroin coming from Afghanistan. It is believed that up to four or five tons of heroin are brought across Kosovo’s borders every month. The drug then reaches the EU countries through Albanian distribution rings. (Rastislav Báchora, Notes from Southeastern Europe, 2008)

The central Balkans’ drug smuggling route, under observation of police worldwide since 1999, runs through Kosovo. According to Europol, ethnic Albanian organized crime groups now control 80 percent of heroin smuggling in some northern European countries, and 40 percent in Western Europe. Officials at UNMIK in Pristina are familiar with the reports, as well as the warnings of a “further aggravation of the security situation” — now that the tiny republic’s independence facilitates access to government business for the ruling clans.

[Ethem Ceku, CEO of the electricity monopoly and cousin of former Prime Minister Agim Ceku] and his lot, together with UNMIK leaders, form “a sort of Cosa Nostra for Kosovo,” says Avni Zogiani, who heads the anti-corruption NGO called ÇOHU! (”Wake Up!”), despite risks to life and limb. He has received threats because he prepares dossiers on the sins of members of parliament, and because he, to the dissatisfaction of Western ambassadors of democracy, utters sentences like: “So far, UNMIK has worked primarily with criminals and made deals with the devil, merely for the sake of stability in the country.”

In early April, Zogiani’s organization filed a complaint with the special prosecutor in Pristina alleging favoritism within Kosovo’s privatization agency. The accused is 39-year-old Hashim Thaçi, who, as one of the KLA commanders in the guerilla war against the Serbian army, was known by his combat name, “Snake.” He is now Kosovo’s prime minister.

Will his past matter? German author Jürgen Roth cites a 2005 intelligence study (from the Bundesnachrichtendienst) which asserts that as far back as 1999, at the time of the Serb-Albanian peace negotiations, Thaçi controlled “a criminal network active throughout Kosovo.” According to the report, he is also suspected of having hired a “professional killer.”

A multiethnic Kosovo does not exist, except in the written pronouncements of the international community. (From a study by the International Commission on the Balkans)

Experts from the Institute for European Politics consider the dreams of a multiethnic Kosovo a “grotesque denial of reality in the international community,” triggered by a “politically mandated pressure to succeed.” It is not difficult to reconstruct the source of this pressure.

Washington’s influence has been decisive, from the NATO attack on Serbian targets in 1999 to its leadership role in the peace negotiations in Rambouillet, France, and the road map for Kosovo’s declaration of independence. “The Spaniards didn’t want a decision before March 2008, because of their upcoming elections, but the Americans wanted February,” says a UNMIK employee. “So February 17 it was.”

The Americans have reaped the rewards of their commitment to Kosovo: the Camp Bondsteel military base, arms deliveries for the future Kosovo army and a loyal community of fans among the Albanian majority.