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Starbucks Independence in the Land of Wonders

Celebrating independence with foreign flags and military camouflage. On Monday February 17th, just two days after Serbia’s National Day, the youngest European state, Kosovo, was celebrating the sixth anniversary of its declaration of independence from Belgrade.

February 28, 2014 - Ida Orzechowska - Articles and Commentary


Photo: Erson Zymberi (cc) commons.wikimedia.org

Military parades, official receptions, homage to the heroes, numerous concerts and large fireworks shows all constituted the core of the celebrations. Colourful flags and other national symbols that Kosovo, just as all young countries, is crazy about accompanied all this. However, in the case of Kosovo the question of which flag to use to celebrate independence is not that obvious. On the occasion of Independence Day, Mother Teresa Street, the main street of Prishtina (Kosovo’s capital) had been adorned with Kosovar flags. But just two months back on November 28th, the very same street was decorated with Albanian flags on the occasion of Albanian Flag Day. On both Kosovo Independence Day and Albanian Independence Day social media has been floated with the Albanian double-headed eagle, also frequently represented in a variety of bizarre graphic combinations of the Albanian flag (a red flag with a black eagle) with the Kosovar one (the EU flag resembling a blue one with the yellow map of Kosovo and six stars symbolising the six major ethnic communities).

The year 2008, the year of the declaration of independence, brought Kosovo another, this time unofficial, symbol: the newborn monument. The almost 25-metre long typographic sculpture was initially painted bright yellow to strengthen the positive connotations of its symbolism and was repainted for its fifth anniversary with the flags of countries that have already recognised Kosovo’s independence, leaving free spaces for new countries to come. This year, in the political climate of normalising relations with Serbia and focusing on the economic development of the country, the monument, above which the Kosovar war hero from the 1990s Adem Jashari gazes proudly at Prishtina from a huge portrait hung on one of Prishtina’s skyscrapers, has been repainted again. On its sixth birthday, the Kosovar newborn has become a soldier. As Fisnik Ismaili, who designed the monument, explains, the military camouflage symbolises memory of those who sacrificed their lives. Somebody said once that in the Balkans it is always all about the past and this is the past that remains uncertain. Apparently in Kosovo even telling the story of a newborn can be all about the past.

In the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Kosovo it is worth mentioning that Fisnik Ismaili is also an activist of Vetëvendosje! (“Self-determination!”), a left-wing nationalistic political party developed from the 1968 protests in Europe, and particularly in Kosovo when the Albanians were demanding protection of their rights and a political status of an entity within Yugoslavia. As Vetëvendosje! is on the rise, it is also one of the very few relevant political actors in Kosovo that actually raise the issue of the limited sovereignty of Kosovo. Obviously, it does it in its left-wing nationalistic discourse, and one needs to remember that the ultimate goal of Vetëvendosje! is the national unification of Albanians, and the victory of Shpend Ahmeti in municipal elections in Prishtina in December 2013 was celebrated at the monument of Skandenberg’s, a 15th-century Albanian freedom fighter and national leader, with Albanian flags only.

Land of wonders

Tracey Jacobson, the United States Ambassador to Kosovo and undoubtedly one of the most influential politicians on the Kosovar political stage, underlined in her speech on Independence Day that the United States continues to support Kosovo’s development and growth as a fully sovereign, independent and multiethnic democracy. Both development and growth have become a political mantra in the political discourse in Kosovo (and the Western discourse on Kosovo as well), whereas sovereignty has been believed to be a fact, despite all the challenges to be faced. This strategy might work for a while just as it does when a child closes his or her eyes in order not to see what causes the fear and pretend it does not exist. Kosovo continuously proves that nothing is impossible in the Balkans and no laws in international politics are universal.

With a 30 per cent general unemployment rate and 50 per cent youth unemployment with half of the population being under 25, Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi declared the 2014 predicted economic growth to be more than 4 per cent. Over 20 per cent of Kosovo’s GDP comes from abroad. The euro is the official currency, but Kosovo is not a member of the Eurozone and cannot issue money on its own. The 2013 “breakthrough” municipal elections in northern Kosovo declared by the international community to be a great success of democracy ended with the Serbian leader of Mitrovica North’s refusing to sign the oath of office and giving up his democratic legitimation shortly after the elections. The second rerun of the mayoral elections in Mitrovica North (the first rerun was conducted on November 17th due to violent attacks on three polling stations and annulment of the vote from November 3rd) was scheduled for February 23rd with the now-main political leader having run his electoral campaign from detention. Finally, the state of Kosovo celebrates its independence with the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 that finished the 1999 war being still in force. The Resolution states clearly that the Security Council reaffirms the commitment of all member states to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (today’s Serbia).

Starbucks independence

I am not arguing in favour or against the independence of Kosovo; no matter what my views are it is too late for this struggle, anyway. The battle to fight now both by Kosovo and the international community concerns the future. UN Resolution 1244 does not only influence the policies of Kosovo’s government anymore; what is more important, it remains forgotten by the European and Euro-Atlantic policy makers as well. The Quint and other international parties involved in Kosovo affairs tend to underline the importance of normalising the Prishtina-Belgrade relations, assuring security in the north of Kosovo, building democratic institutions and congratulating Prime Minister Thaçi and President Jahjaga on February 17th on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of independence. Nobody asks questions anymore on what independence it is and what its future is. From time to time, social media users rapidly raise the issue of recognition when another significant member of modern global village recognises Kosovo’s independence. It happened when Google marked Kosovo as a country on Google maps and when Facebook and Twitter added Kosovo to their county lists; it happened when FIFA allowed Kosovo to play other countries (not with the former Yugoslav republics, though). Finally, it happened also recently when Starbucks enabled to register for a Starbucks Account with Kosovo as a country of residence.

Though recognised by Starbucks, Kosovo remains unrecognised by five EU member states and two out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Despite that apparently unessential detail, Kosovo’s government adopted a National Strategy for European Integration until 2020 just few months back and addresses the issue of non-recognition in several sentences only along with the troublesome question of bad stereotypes and harming the image of the post-war country. On the other hand, Brussels is pursuing talks on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement despite the non-recognition of Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

Just as the 1999 NATO intervention was illegal but legitimate, Kosovo’s independence is irreversible but treatable. If not treated well, though, this may appear to be a fatal disease easily transmittable throughout the region. In order to find the cure both the symptoms and the causes need to be properly identified. And the crucial factor is Serbia. Fighting corruption and organized crime, empowering local institution and strengthening local ownership are important, and so is the so-called “normalisation” of relations with Belgrade.

But as long as the UNSC keeps 1244 in force, it is Serbia who has an ace up its sleeve. Something that was supposed to be a Euro-Atlantic Potemkin Village in the middle of Europe has turned into an ineffectively managed franchised coffeehouse. The international community has created a land that enjoys Starbucks independence where thousands of internationals have their morning, lunch and afternoon macchiato, the best in the Balkans by the way, and discusses how to prolong the mandate of the mission and not how to deal with the status issue.

Ida Orzechowska is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Political Science of the University of Wrocław, Poland, having obtained a degree in political science. Her main research interests relate to international security, the western Balkans and conflict studies. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Institute for International Relations in Zagreb, developing her dissertation on the correlation between power relation and stability in the western Balkan region.


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