Kosovo flag

Kosovo country brief

Introduction

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008. Kosovo had been under the interim administration of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) since 1999. In December 2008, a European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) was established. EULEX took over key responsibilities from UNMIK and supports Kosovo on its path to greater European integration in the rule of law area, including by addressing corruption.

Australia recognised Kosovo on 19 February 2008 and officially established diplomatic relations on 21 May 2008. The Australian Embassy in Vienna, Austria, has non-resident accreditation to Kosovo.  Kosovo opened an Embassy in Australia in February 2013.

History

Following the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the 1995 Dayton Agreement, which failed to address the situation in Kosovo, frustration over the situation and lack of international attention led to the formation of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group. The KLA started armed resistance with the ultimate goal of securing the independence of Kosovo.

The tension escalated in 1998-1999 into a humanitarian crisis and NATO forces intervened with air strikes against Serb forces in Kosovo and Serbia in March 1999. In response Serbian armed forces intensified ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. On 10 June 1999, Milošević agreed to withdraw Serb troops from Kosovo, ending the conflict. Following NATO’s intervention, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, which authorised the establishment of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the deployment of a NATO security force (KFOR) as an interim administration pending the resolution of Kosovo’s status.

Status process

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was appointed on 20 February 2006 as UN Special Envoy for Kosovo to oversee Kosovo’s status process. He facilitated talks between negotiating teams from Belgrade and Priština; while some agreement on technical issues was reached, the parties remained diametrically opposed on the issue of status. Ahtisaari presented his final report to the UN Secretary-General on 26 March 2007. The report found that further talks would be unproductive and that the only viable option for Kosovo was “managed independence,” with an initial period of supervision by the international community. The report concluded that neither full Serbian control, nor autonomy within Serbia, were viable options for the province. Instead, the report found that independence was the only tenable means of ensuring political stability and economic viability in Kosovo, a province where ethnic Albanians make up almost 90 per cent of the population.

On 17 February 2008, Kosovo declared its independence. Australia formally recognised Kosovo on 19 February 2008 and established diplomatic relations on 21 May 2008. The Australian Government welcomed the Kosovo Government’s public commitment to adhere to the Ahtisaari plan, in particular to ensuring the safety of minorities and the protection of religious and cultural heritage sites.

While widely recognised Kosovo’s declaration of independence has not been universally accepted, most notably by Serbia, Russia and five member states of the EU (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, the Slovak Republic and Spain).  In October 2008, Serbia asked for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), on whether Kosovo’s declaration of independence accorded with international law. On 22 July 2010, the Court published an Advisory Opinion stating that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law. On 10 September 2012, Kosovo was granted full sovereignty from the International Steering Group, a body of 25 states which oversaw Kosovo’s independence.

On 19 April 2013, Serbia and Kosovo reached a significant agreement on principles for the normalisation of relations.  The agreement came following several rounds of negotiations in a dialogue process facilitated by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton Both sides are working on the implementation of the agreements reached at a political level.

Society and economy

Kosovo’s population is estimated to be 1.8 million, comprising a majority Albanian population, a significant Serbian minority, as well as other smaller minorities (Bosniak, Gorani, Roma, Turk, Ashkali and Egyptian). Priština is Kosovo's capital and its largest city, with around half a million residents.

The European Union has a significant role in supporting Kosovo’s authorities in the rule of law area. EULEX is the EU’s largest civilian mission launched so far under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). EULEX is a technical mission which monitors and advises whilst retaining a number of limited executive powers. EULEX's capabilities are being used to support the key EU aims in the visa liberalization process, the Feasibility Study and the Pristina-Belgrade Dialogue. EULEX also supports the Structured Dialogue on the rule of law, led by Brussels. EULEX continues to concentrate on addressing corruption.

The official currency of Kosovo is the Euro. While rich with mineral resources, agriculture remains a major economic activity; other key industries are mineral mining, construction materials, base metals, leather, machinery and appliances. Kosovo became a member of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on 29 June 2009. It became a member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on 17 December 2012. According to the World Bank, Kosovo‘s GDP grew 5 percent in 2011.. Inflation for 2011 averaged 7.3 per cent, up from 3.5 per cent for 2010. Unemployment was estimated at 45 per cent in 2011.

Kosovo’s main trading partners are the European Union, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Main exports include mining and processed metal products, scrap metals, leather products, machinery, prepared food stuffs, beverages and tobacco, vegetable products, textile articles and appliances.

Political situation

Kosovo held its first democratic elections since independence on 12 December 2010. In response to reports of irregularities in the voting process, the Election Complaints and Appeals sub-Commission of Kosovo called for re-runs of elections in several municipalities in January 2011. Final election results were endorsed by the Central Election Commission on 7 February 2011.

The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) received the largest share of the vote and formed a governing coalition, with Hashim Thaçi as Prime Minister. In a deal with coalition partners the leader of the New Alliance for Kosovo (AKR), Behgjet Pacolli, was elected as President. Pacolli stepped down after 35 days when the Constitutional Court ruled that his election was invalid. In a compromise deal, Atifete Jahjaga was elected President on 7 April 2011.

Updated June 2013