BalkansMissions OperationsReport

[EULEX Kosovo] Report off the beaten track, in the heart of the Balkans, in Kosovo

B2 spent several days with the European teams of the EU Rule of Law Mission in February. In the middle of the election period, we went from courtrooms in Pristina to the cemetery in Mitrovica, passing through prisons, the police or the medical unit. Exciting...

On the mythical Mitrovica bridge, in very cool weather (© Aurélie Pugnet / B2)

It had been thirteen years since B2 had done a full report in the country. The last was before the declaration of independence in January 2008. The EULEX mission did not yet exist. We were at the beginning (read: The mission is just waiting for the Council's green light to deploy). The atmosphere was tense, especially in northern Kosovo (read: North Kosovo. One eye towards Belgrade, the other towards Pristina). The French soldiers were deployed on the Mitrovica bridge (read: On the “Austerlitz” bridge, the 3rd RIMA keeps watch). European units of KFOR, the NATO force, were on patrol (read: Carabinieri and gendarmes of the MsU, in the field). And as General Jumelet, then head of KFOR, confided, we remain optimistic even if everything can go wrong quickly.

From nearly 4000 people to around 500

At full capacity, EULEX counted up to 3400 people. Today there are only 500 left. It has lost its executive skills, but the mission has been so involved and intertwined in Kosovo's institutions for 13 years, from the police to the justice system, including the search for missing persons, that it seems impossible to imagine a Kosovo without EULEX. Recognize that the mission will not remain ad vitam aeternam in Kosovo and working towards it is one thing, but being able to leave the country leaving behind a system that will stand up to the winds and tides of the region is another.

Becoming a state takes longer than a simple declaration

Thirteen years after its declaration of independence, Kosovo has gone from a former Serbian province under international administration to a state — even if it is still not recognized as such by five of the 27 countries that make up the European Union ( nor by its closest neighbour, Serbia). But claiming to be a state does not imply being one in its own right. That takes time. It is learned. It is experienced.

The political turning point of February 14, 2021

When we arrive, the election campaign is in full swing. The legislative elections, scheduled for February 14, are a key moment for the country. It is the Vetëvendosje (self-determination) party that is on the rise. Unsurprisingly, it largely won against the historic independence and war parties, relegated between 13 and 17% of the vote. This victory is a reflection of the population of Kosovo, very young (about 50% is under 35), who want to emancipate themselves from the generation of the war of independence. Everything takes place in peace. Kosovo seems to want to make a clean sweep of the past, start from scratch, sweep away certain methods that are corrupting society. A difficult task in this region of the Balkans, undermined by corruption.

The issue of the rule of law, still just as sensitive

Today, the EULEX Kosovo mission is at a (new) turning point in its existence. His tenure has been repeatedly challenged by Vetëvendosje officials. The question arises as to whether they will agree to renew the invitation made to the Europeans to continue their work. And under what conditions? At the same time, respect for the rule of law has never been more important. " The problem is that in Kosovo there is too much political interference. It's never easy to deal with “, regrets the head of the mission Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, in our interview.

A multi-faceted font

On the police side, EULEX may have stopped its executive investigation and arrest activities, but that is not always so clear to the population. The European forces remain there, but in the background, in the second line, to lend a hand to their Kosovar colleagues if necessary, and in support of the specialized Chambers and the specialized Prosecutor in The Hague. But the daily life of these 95 Polish police officers is mainly punctuated by training and patrols.

"We won't be here forever"

EULEX today means a lot of training, observation, advice, with eyes and ears everywhere. A mission of experts, who must constantly be asked what is hidden behind the words 'monitoring', 'advising', 'in contact with'...” We won't be here forever » seems to be the real one motto of the mission, repeated by almost all our interlocutors. A mission which must however remain ready for everything, even emergency interventions.

A role of "buffer"

Since its inception, the mission has been " metamorphosed », according to the description made by its leader. His mandate was adapted as the country's emancipation progressed. In the beginning, EULEX had an executive mandate, with direct authority over the territory, stemming from the resolution of the United Nations Security Council (the famous resolution 1244). Its European magistrates and prosecutors were integrated into the Kosovo judicial system and dispensed justice in its name. Since 2018, the mission has had a reduced mandate, the Europeans having handed over to the Kosovars. But if EULEX has gone from dress to costume, the Europeans are not totally absent. They are involved in justice, where they act as a "buffer" between the parties, and as a recourse for civil society to oversee a case.

Reintegration in prison

Behind the closed doors of Kosovo's prisons are also changes. The progress is visible, the quality of the prisons of Kosovo is even reputed to be one of the best in the Balkans, testifies EULEX. However, there is still plenty to do for the mission's correctional unit which supports the Kosovar correctional services, particularly in the reintegration of detainees.

Gone: the wounds of the past

The wounds of the past are sometimes buried shallowly, as in the cemetery of North Mitrovica. Guided by the EULEX exhumation coordinator at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, we set out to find them. Finding people missing from the war is painful. But also a necessity to face the mourning of a nation and to consider a long-term reconciliation with Serbia. Either, a real bet for the future.

Shadow projects

In Pristina, other activities take place a little more in the shadows, away from the public gaze, but nevertheless remain the most important. This is the case of the work of the IPCU, theInternational police coordination unit. Its role is to make the link for the exchange of police information between Kosovars and Serbia, Interpol and Europol. A job that is more important than it seems at first sight: since Kosovo is not a member of Europol and Interpol, and not recognized by Serbia, without this intermediary, it would be more difficult to fight against cross-border crime.

In pictures

A country is also people, movements, lives... The image can sometimes capture more than words.

(Aurélie Pugnet, special correspondent in Kosovo)
Proofreading: Emmanuelle Stroesser, with Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Photos: B2-Aurélie Pugnet

B2 Writing

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