Arigona, Europe and Kosovo (Pristina)

A conference in Pristina, Monday, 8 October. The topic is the future of Kosovo. Those still present are struggling with their tiredness, as on many an afternoon at such a conference.

Then a Japanese representative of the EBRD (the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) gets up and – though soft-spoken – manages to awake the audience. “It is frustrating”, he begins, pointing out that in other countries of the region the EBRD has an annual project envelop of between 60 and 200 million Euro. In Kosovo the total value of EBRD investments is 17 million. This has to do with the unresolved status, he notes. After him an Irish consultant gets up to speak about how to attract FDI. His message is the same: uncertainty deters investors, this needs to be sorted out. Then attention needs to turn to a long list of other problems, from weak infrastructure to a badly educated work force. It is a familiar argument, and as I look around the room I wonder if there is anybody here who has not heared this many dozens of times before.

Then it is my turn. I present some of the results of previous ESI research. My ESI colleagues and myself have done so many times in the past year, to audiences of Kosovo students, to the Washington think tank community, to European officials, at conferences from Paris to Istanbul. Our analysis is compelling and alarming, or so we thought when we first presented it. At the heart of it is an idea that is deeply unattractive to European policy makers, however: that Kosovo, to develop, will continue to require serious work migration to EU countries and that EU countries should find a way to organise schemes of managed work migration in the near future.

As I speak I feel a sense of futility is rising from within: I survey the half empty room and I wonder for a moment whether anybody is ever listening to such arguments. Even if people listen, if arguments are picked up in the international press, even if the head of UNMIK and the head of the EU office (whom I will meet the next day) read and like our reports on Kosovo, does it matter? Do any of these conferences, meetings, debates, articles, reports make any difference?

Making the case for managed work migration from Kosovo to other European countries seems like tilting at windmills. Saying that Kosovo cannot afford to waste any more time and must focus on the explosive social crisis in its countryside and its medium term development is no less Quixotic.

We published our report on the crisis of rural Kosovo in September last year. Since then the diplomatic games surrounding Kosovo’s future have only become more complicated, a dance seemingly without movement.

It is October 2007 and UNMIK is still the supreme authority in Kosovo. An often announced international donors conference has just been postponed without a new date. Most of the Kosovo political elite I meet in Pristina is still spending its days preparing for meetings to discuss the status of the province.

To complete the picture, there is news from my home country, Austria, where a young Kosovar woman named Arigona went into hiding to escape deportation. Her’s is not an isolated story, unfortunately, as Austria appears ready to send back significant numbers of often already integrated refugees from Kosovo.

The story of Arigona connects the blindness of European (in this case Austrian) policies with the plight of rural Kosovo. But will even this case – which received a lot of media attention in Austria – change policy?

A friend calls me and asks me to write an op-ed on the issue for an Austrian magazine. To try to shake of the sense of futility, I agree. One never knows, and certainly an eloquent and pretty Albanian teenager is able to reach more people with her arguments than the best policy paper disseminated through the internet.