Saturday, June 30, 2007

Colony Kosovo

Part 1. Report from Unmikistan, Land of the Future

The taxi driver
curses in German and bangs his fists against the wheel. Around us the angry hooting from cars is growing. A big white Nissan Patrol is blocking the intersection. Inside it a thin man with shoulder straps desperately jerks the gear lever. "Not again!" my driver cries. Then something snaps in him and he starts to roar with laughter. "Ha, ha, first the Turks, then the Serbs - and now? We are invaded by Pakistan! God help us! Where are we? This is Katanga!"

This is what he screamed. I don't know what made him think of Katanga.

But where are we? The policeman who can't change gears is from Pakistan, it says so on his shirt. But the airport where I landed is Icelandic. And as we travel down the main street named after Bill Clinton (his portrait waves to you from the walls of the houses), the mobile phone beeps wishing me a nice stay in Monaco. At the next stoplight it beeps again. This time I am welcome to Serbia.

If I had not known where I had travelled to, if someone had just dumped me here, would I have been able to figure out where I had landed? Probably not. The fire escape instructions at the Grand Hotel are written in many languages, but not in the one that the cleaner speaks.

That is still a piece of information. Because in this country, natives are not meant to stay in hotels.

But if you were woken up in the early morning from a terrible screeching noise, and at first you thought it came from a rusty caterpillar tank, then you would probably realize where you were. Behind the hotel window there is a tumbling black cloud. It dives, it turns and suddenly throws itself to the side. The famous jackdaws of Pristina. Once upon a time the province of Kosovo was named after its thrushes. Now the crow birds have taken over. They say it is because of the carcasses.

"Revolution", says Albin Kurti, emptying his cappuccino in one gulp, "we are going to make a revolution". When he has said this for the third time people in the coffee shop start turning our way. They recognize him, they observe with expressionless eyes but prick up their ears.

He does not look like a revolutionary. More like an over-aged student from Berkeley. Somewhat chubby from hours spent at the computer, glasses, pale skin, soft white hands. But appearances can be deceptive. Albin Kurti is the idol of the young and that says a lot in a country where every second person has yet to turn 25. Ten years ago he had a Rastafarian hairdo and led the student protests against Milosevic. When peaceful actions turned out to be pointless he became a translator and an ideologue with UCK, the armed guerilla.

He already has enough followers to poster the whole country with the word "Vetëvendosje", ("self-determination", which is also the name of his movement). Few people doubt that he could get the masses on to the streets.

Albin Kurti assures me that this revolution will be peaceful. One hundred thousand people will surround the headquarters, the police station and the court. They will stay as long as it takes. For a week, or maybe a month. That is how the colonial power will be chased out, this power that partitions his land, plunders its people and destroys its women. If I want to see where the Kosovo money went, says Kurti, I should look for newly built exuberant villas in London. Or in Amsterdam. If I want to learn about the morals of the colonial power I should count the number of brothels. "They were not here before you came."

Outside jeeps pass by. The diesel-fuelled electric generators growl while Kurti quotes UN declarations, Malcolm X and African nationalist leaders. "Self-determination is the right of all peoples!" It could have been Congo in the sixties. But as I said we are in Kosovo, within a stone's throw from Rome. And the colonial power, which will be thrown out - dear reader - is you and I. That is to say Sweden, one of the most dedicated members of the UN, who for seven years has governed Kosovo or in local slang "Unmikistan", after UNMIK: United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.

When the UN landed almost eight years ago we were welcomed as liberators. Since then Swedes have been wounded and killed in this mission. More then eight billion crowns of taxpayers money (the biggest assistance per capita ever recorded) has been spent on security, rule of law, refugee help, education and economic development. But nowadays it actually happens that people spit in our faces or destroy our cars. In October there was a water closet placed outside the UNMIK headquarters inviting us to relieve ourselves there instead of in the country. "The only way to keep Kosovo clean is to kick you out of here" was Albin Kurtis message.

What does Albin Kurti want? Talking to me he is polite, diversified and sophisticated. He even quotes the French psycho-analyst Jacques Lacan. In his leaflets he is more brutal: The disloyal Serbs, they're the fifth columnists. They say they only want their churches left in peace but we know what they are scheming."

Statements like these are well received in these neighbourhoods where "stranger" almost always meant "enemy" and peaceful actions usually led nowhere.

Someone says that Kurti wants to become the Gustav Vasa of Kosovo. Or their Garibaldi: get his statue in the town square and his name in the schoolbooks. Many are those in the spring of 2007 who compete for that honour. To be the founder of the state, the man who by decisiveness, shrewdness or violence wins the freedom for a humiliated people. "We do not want the UN Mission in Kosovo, we want the Kosovo Mission in the UN!" Kurti cries out. An adventurer? Maybe. But the wrath against the UN on which he is riding he did not invent himself.

I read in a UN bulletin with the revealing title "Early warning report" that only thirty percent of the Kosovans have faith in the UN. Four years ago that figure was double. Every second person is prepared to take part in organized protests against the world community. Is that only because the UN hasnt been able to give them the state they so intensely desire?

As a farewell gift Albin Kurti gives me a leaflet. It is the instructions for my own escape. "Ten Commandments of Evacuation" is bitter reading for a friend of the UN. "Don't forget your pictures of the SRSG and Kofi Annan...Don't use the elevator, there might be a power cut, remember?...Don't try to bring any locals with you and don't worry about their safety while you are escaping. Look after yourself only, exactly as you did during your mission here...Last but not least - don't ever forget Kosovo since you will never experience another mission like this where you could do whatever you pleased."

Before we part Kurti says: "Do you remember Algeria? The guys who threw out the French had "freedom, equality, brotherhood" on their banners. We will throw out the UN in the name of the UN ideals, ideals which you betrayed in Kosovo."

I actually came to Kosovo because of the ideals. And I thought there could be no better lookout if you wanted to see into the future.

The mission in Kosovo is not only the biggest in the history of the UN. It is the first one where the international community takes full responsibility for a country where more or less everything is in ruins. So this time we do not just secure the peace and pump drinking water - we build a whole new order from zero: We implement legislation, educate policemen, decide on one-way streets, work out curricula, and collect taxes. In short, the worlds first UN state, provisional but complete with all good principles, from equality before the law to gender equality to give way rules in traffic, and all this can be brought home to people without impediments and then be gradually handed over to a local democracy.

There are many who hope that humanitarian interventions will create a better world order because nowadays it is not despotic states but collapsed states which bring the most suffering to the world. An intervention in Congo eight years ago could have saved millions of lives. The one in Kosovo no doubt saved tens of thousands, thus it was justified. But what happened to the second task, the creation of the UN state, honesty, justice and democracy?

If we are to believe Albin Kurti, it all went to hell.

Maybe he just wants to paint a black picture of the UN? He is a revolutionary, he needs his enemies. But then again there is Maria, a Swedish expert who went to Kosovo, a UN enthusiast, who returned home with a depression: "My view of the world crumbled into little pieces. I lost trust. I could never believe that UN personnel would behave the way they did."

So how did they behave? Let's start with the effects.

I count the number of waiters at the coffee shop in the Grand Hotel. Like a flock of melancholy jackdaws they sit on window sills and around the bar. There are twenty-one of them. So it is quite natural that the only guest has to wait for a while to be discovered. He hardly makes any difference.

According to statistics these twenty-one waiters are part of the one half of the population that has a job. The same goes for the guys at the 660 petrol stations where people seldom stop to fill up the tank. In the UN-state there is one petrol station for every six kilometres, a fantastic record, which tells us that many of these companies do not actually deal in fuel only, but - like the hotels -launder money from the smuggling of narcotics, arms and sex slaves.

Well into the eighth year of the UN mission, after spending close to twenty-two billion euros on an area the size of Scania (with a population of about 2 million), the black economy is thriving whereas the white one is close to collapse. There is a standard explanation to this misery: As long as Kosovo's independence from Serbia is not confirmed, nobody dares to invest in the country. Very probable. But what investments do you need to grow cucumber?

I comb the markets to find some local produce. The soap is from Bulgaria, the shirts from Taiwan. How about the flour? Czech. Drinking water from Hungary. Kosovo's GNP per capita is lower than Rwanda's, so it is a surrealistic feeling to have to buy tomatoes from Turkey and salad from Italy - in an agrarian country where the fields lie fallow.

Why do they? Because, explains Mr. Bajrami at the Chamber of Commerce, it pays better to sell chewing gum to the UN staff than to toil in the fields. But also because the UN courts after seven years still have not managed to determine to whom the fields actually belong. Finally, what makes him most upset is the fact that the UN allows Europe to dump prices on food in Kosovo. (Yes, it is strange. One litre of milk travelling from Slovakia gets cheaper on its way. You can buy a bottle of imported Coca-Cola for only 29 cents.)

When I think about it, the driver who cried "Katanga!" was not so wrong after all. The economy of Kosovo is a reminder of the colonial times. But at least the Africans had their raw materials to give in exchange for sewing machines. Kosovo does not even have that because the mines (lead, zinc, silver) lie unexploited. It may be a symbol of the situation that Kosovo literally survives on ruins. The main export product happens to be scrap iron. But it only covers one percent of the import.

How is it possible, you ask yourself, that a UN-run state, possessing enough lignite to light up the whole of Balkans, who invested seven hundred million euros in its two power stations, has not managed to generate sufficient electricity, but instead create pollution 70 times above the limit permitted by the EU? Kosovo does not require much electricity, somewhere between 600 and 1,000 megawatts, similar to what is produced by one reactor of the Forsmark nuclear power plant. But most people have electricity only a few hours a day, others not at all.

I will not overwhelm the reader with more statistics. Let me just give you a handful of scenarios from the UN country which highlight the nature of the problems and the level of desperation: An EU cow in France is subsidized with three euros a day while every second Kosovan lives on the third of that amount. And he already knows that next year will not be better. If he gets robbed, chances are slim that the perpetrator will be found, despite Kosovo having the highest police force per capita in Europe. If he claims his right to a piece of land, the court shrugs its shoulders (There are 30,000 cases pending in Kosovos courts). If he falls sick the hospital will require that he brings his own syringes and bandages. If she happens to be a Roma or a Serb her house might be burnt down - while NATO soldiers stand watching.

Yes, this has happened, more than once. An unforgivable failure but, alas, not at all incomprehensible.

I have spent months studying what went wrong with this mission only to find that there was a faster way: Chose a head of a local municipality in Sweden or in Scotland, show her this UN-state, the rules, the hierarchies, the salary lists, the managers, everything - and then ask her if she could run Nyköping that way. "Unthinkable," she will answer, "unless you want to invite a band of hooligans to take over town."

For sure there is no easy explanation to the debacle, but there is a pattern, a kind of ghostly method behind the madness. My articles try to find the name of this method.

It is hard to make a past performance evaluation of UN missions because they are so volatile. The international community has a gigantic body but a memory shorter than Vänsjö's fishing club. Responsible persons are continuously replaced, reports are forgotten, you keep looking to the future with last year already long forgotten history. Kosovo is a shining exception to this rule. For the first time there is more information about the mistakes committed than what one would maybe like to know. Gratifyingly enough it is two Swedish makings that have made this difference.

The first one is called Inga-Britt Ahlenius. In November 2003 when she had grown too independent to the taste of the Persson government, she accepted the assignment to establish an Auditor General Office in Kosovo. The second phenomenon is called Ombudsman, an institution created by the Swedish Parliament in 1809. Kofi Annan thought that this institution could be useful in Kosovo to supervise the UN. But nobody could imagine that the person tasked with this mission would take it so seriously.

Among the first things Inga-Britt undertook in Kosovo was to produce framed sign boards with the text: "Kurrë mos harroni se një cent...", which means: "Never forget that every cent wasted from the taxpayer's money is stealing from the poor. Gustav Möller (1884-1970), Swedish minister of social affairs."

Thereafter, together with the European anti-fraud organization OLAF, she set out to scrutinize Kosovo's international airport. They thought that would take six months but it ended up taking more than two years.

In the spring of 2006, Ahlenius (who by now had been appointed head of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, OIOS) published the summary of the findings at the airport, which resulted in a tumult within the UN. The report showed that a group of managers at the airport had consistently been plundering the company for years. Corruption and mismanagement were "systematic" but could go on unpunished because top UN leaders in Kosovo had not created efficient control routines and had failed to take action against fraud and corruption: the Kosovo governor had received 33 reports on irregularities but most of those remained in his desk drawer.

Inga-Britt Ahlenius warned that if the UN continued to ignore corruption the whole mission could be jeopardized: "The reluctance by senior Mission management to address fraud and corruption will have a devastating impact on public perception inside and outside Kosovo..."

Locals in Kosovo had suspected this for a long time. The rot at Pristina airport was a serial in the local press: bribes for visas, bribes to get a job, money disappearing, nepotism. But now, finally, there would be a real clean up, right?

Here comes the sequel. Governor Jessen-Petersen counter-attacks. There is no corruption worth mentioning at the airport, he states, the report is unfounded, it is a waste of time continuing to discuss this. In fact the airport is a well-run company, you could even call it a success story. Jessen-Petersen is content with having implemented only 21 out of the 74 audit recommendations.

Let's take a look at what Jessen-Petersen considered unnecessary to judicially proceed against or even to speak about.

The traffic volume at Pristina airport today is similar to the one in Luleå, a small community in Sweden. While Luleå runs the business with some 100 people there are more than 500 employees at Pristina airport. The staffing grew to that level while Jessen-Petersen was governor. At an early stage he received a report (377/04) spelling out the possible reasons behind this increase. He in turn did nothing. I spent six months fighting to extract this secret document from UN in New York. It is scantily worded and all names are erased. But with some effort and the brave support from scouts in Kosovo the story can be reconstructed.

The airport needs a manager for Human Resources. According to UN rules the vacancy must be publicly announced. The British director Ioan Woollett, however, prefers to engage an acquaintance, let's call him Smith. A feverish activity starts. During the summer of 2004 Smith employs on average three persons a day. Some of them do not know English, lack all kind of education but are supposed to strengthen the finance department. Strikingly beautiful women, witnesses report. In fact, some of them won beauty contests.

After four months the number of staff has been doubled, from 235 to 486 persons. That's about 200 more than needed. By then Mr. Smith has already left Kosovo (to serve the world community in Sudan). Mr. Woollett later escaped from the UN state. Nobody knows how much money these two men managed to export but it should amount to hundreds of thousands of euros. The bribe fee to get employed at the airport varied between one and three thousand euros. But attractive women could pay by providing Mr. Wollett with "intimate services", according to sources in Pristina. Apart from the two Brits around ten local employees were involved in this trade.

Let's look at the stakes. Next to ethnic hatred, corruption is Kosovos biggest problem. It drains the economy and dilutes justice. But a handful of brave individuals chose to do exactly what the UN have told them to. They defy clan culture ("never tell on your kinsman") and take big risks by agreeing to give evidence to the investigators. (One person has been murdered in connection with this bribery business. The kind of risks the used women are running I need not tell.) They deserve all admiration and support.

But what a misunderstanding. It seems the villains are the ones enjoying protection by the UN.

You have to say that the persons who put their trust in the UN learned a lesson they will never forget.

What was to be found on the other scale? Was Jessen-Petersen and his staff threatened by the mafia? At least that would have been dramatic. But Im afraid something much pettier was at stake.
Jessen-Petersen was the fifth governor of Kosovo in as many years.
(It is incomprehensible, but apparently the UN believes that the building of a state can be entrusted to temporary deputies.) How does a foreign governor reason with himself knowing that he will stay maybe for a year and a half as he already aims for more honourable assignments? Does he call people to account for their actions when necessary, does he sack corrupt colleagues who might have powerful friends in New York? Does he risk negative exposure in the press? Or is it better to report about progress?

In the spring of 2005, after about six months in Kosovo, Jessen-Petersen aspires to be appointed head of UNHCR, the most prominent defender of refugee rights. That spring Jessen-Petersen rejects all eleven proposals from UNs own audit institution OIOS to deal with the corruption. (Proposal nine, as an example, states that employment should be based on formal merits.)

His report to the UN Security Council the same summer has very little to do with the actual situation in the province. But as a promotional document for Mr. Peterson himself it is a masterpiece.
Mr. Bajrami and Mr Smith are reality is called something else.
The OIOS report on Airport Pristina is called OIOS A 60/720 and can be read at

Soren Jessen Petersen’s report to the Security Council is no S/2005/335

Albin Kurti’s organization Vetëvendosje has an English website:
In February Albin Kurti called upon a demonstration against UN that ended in violence. Some eighty persons were wounded, two protesters were killed from rubber bullets unskilfully fired by Rumanian UN police. Now, June 2007, Albin Kurti is in custody suspected of instigating violent riots.

Part 1. Report from Unmikistan, Land of the Future

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1 comment:

Bg anon said...

Interesting really. You know its patently obvious to anybody who is fair minded that, aside from Serbian concerns about the way UNMIK has conducted itself, the mission has been a failure.

The author hits the nail on the head when attacking Pettersen. The job is one of being a yes man, trying not to rock the boat, trying not to do anything, trying to keep the most powerful men in Kosovo happy whilst earning a kings ransom. To hell with ordinary people.

None of the men that earn this Kosovo posting would ever dream of resigning on principle because they dont agree with the way the mission is conducted, because of corruption, failure to improve the lives of minorities or those ordinary people who are unconnected with politicians and their ilk.

IMO they deliberately hire low calibre statesmen who can be controlled. Its a pity as the principle behind peace troops is a noble one.