Friday, March 09, 2007

The mirage of independence

The mirage of independence

The proposed Kosovo 'solution' involves a new form of imperial sovereignty which is undemocratic and unsustainable.

Besnik Pula and Anna Di Lellio

March 8, 2007 9:00 AM

If the settlement drafted by special envoy for Kosovo, Martii Ahtisaari, is approved by the UN security council later this month, a new "independent protectorate" will be established in Europe. Confused by the contradiction contained in that term? The truth is that naming the reality that is taking shape in Kosovo is a challenge.

The settlement provides for self-rule, clearly stating that Kosovo shall be responsible for managing its own affairs, and thus de facto severing local government's formal ties with its legal sovereign, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a state that is no more. At the same time, it requires the presence of an International Civilian Representative (ICR) with broad powers, who is the final authority regarding the interpretation of the settlement.

This is no small feat, as the settlement strictly defines constitutional provisions, the rights of communities, decentralisation, the justice system, religious and cultural heritage, property and archives, international debt, security and defense. The Kosovo authorities must also consult with the ICR on appointments to senior economic posts, such as the head of the central bank, as well as in drafting Kosovo's budget.

In other words, because the local sovereign is not deemed to be capable of establishing the rule of law and democratically protect its entire people, a new bureaucratic sovereign is appointed outside the law. The ICR is, to paraphrase the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, both outside of and belonging to the legal and political system, or what the German scholar of jurisprudence Carl Schmitt once famously defined as the mark of a real sovereign - the one who is capable of deciding about the law from outside the law.

The ICR has no expiration date and a vague definition of benchmarks by which a court made of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, the EU, the European Commission and Nato will judge the work of the office. What is clear is that the ICR definitely stands outside the norms of a self-ruling, democratic state, making Kosovo a country subject to a sort of "permanent state of exception".

Even colonial governors used to be subject - at least nominally - to the laws of their respective metropolitan state, while ruling various territories and populations conquered by force. The new sovereign of Kosovo seems to be relieved of that nuisance, given that he (it probably will be a he) will enjoy diplomatic privileges and full immunity from the laws of Kosovo. This includes all members of his staff and their families, and about 1,500 armed European police officers who will be deployed to serve in Kosovo as rapid reaction units under the direction of the ICR. Who are these people?

They are new and old to Kosovo. Many have been working in Kosovo for years under the UN banners. Others have joined recently. But in one way or another, many have already experienced international administrations, in Bosnia first and then East Timor and Afghanistan. They are members of the "migrant sovereigns", another oxymoronic neologism warranted by reality.

Some political scientists have dubbed endeavours such as this "state-building", a seeming necessity in our era of failed states, ethnic conflict and global terrorism. Yet, as a particular tribe, the international bureaucracy that in so many countries becomes the unaccountable, ultimate political authority, is probably better studied by anthropologists. Mariella Pandolfi, at the University of Montreal, is doing just that, in the context of research on a state of "permanent transition".

A consensus among American and a number of European diplomats has been formed on the Ahtisaari package as an unchangeable document that is favourable to the Kosovo leadership, a compromise solution in exchange for independence. Yet, it is unclear how establishing an unaccountable layer of power atop the existing government elected by Kosovars can be understood as independence in the normal sense of the term.

What is worse, western diplomats seem incapable of drawing lessons from past failures of international tutelage such as Bosnia and the extremely deficient UN-led administration that has governed Kosovo since 1999. Internationally imposed entities in Bosnia have not facilitated ethnic reconciliation and integration, let alone democratic governance. By fragmenting power among ethnic communities and municipalities, the imposed future Kosovo constitution is a recipe for further division and deadlocked government; by granting minorities veto power on any amendment, it flagrantly violates the same democratic norms that it claims to champion.

EU diplomats in particular have hinted at prospects of EU membership for Kosovo if it accepts the Ahtisaari deal. But more than the EU representing hope for Kosovo, Kosovo embodies the efforts of the EU to expand on a new form of imperial sovereignty which is undemocratic and not sustainable in the long run. The risk is that Kosovo will become for the EU what Iraq is for the US: a failed attempt at state engineering, for which there is no honourable exit.

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