I recently said that Kosovo didn't make much sense as an independent country. Let me follow up on that a little. Kosovo will probably gain "conditional independence" sometime within the next 12 to 18 months, with full no-kidding independence coming some years later. Whether that's a good idea or not is another question. Let's just ask: what would an independent Kosovo look like?
I'll start by assuming that Kosovo won't be partitioned (although I think it should be). Kosovo is a rough square or diamond about 100 km (60 miles) on a side. It has an area of about 10,000 sq km. In American terms, it's bigger than Delaware but smaller than Connecticut. By European standards, that's pretty small for a country, but not unheard of. Current EU members Luxembourg and Malta are smaller, and Cyprus is about the same size. Kosovo's population is around 2 million, but this is very approximate. There hasn't been a proper census since 1991, and a lot has happened since then. (A new census is planned for next year.) The Albanian population's birth rate has been high -- very high, for Europe -- but on the other hand there's been a lot of emigration, both formal and informal. So nobody's really sure what the current population is. The population is ethnically divided. Almost all of the Serb minority now lives in distinct enclaves. The biggest enclave is in the northern corner of the province, adjacent to Serbia. Perhaps 150,000 Serbs live there. Another 100,000 or so are scattered in "island" enclaves of settlement across the province. The two major ethnic groups hate and distrust each other. There are a couple of municipalities where they manage to work together, but at the provincial level they mostly ignore each other. Serb representatives have been elected to the Parliament, but refuse to take their seats. There are still incidents of Albanians shooting at or otherwise attacking Serbs and Roma. (The Albanians consider the Roma to have been junior partners to the Serbs. This is on top of the anti-Roma prejudices common to the region.) Serbs keep a very low profile outside of their enclaves. Geographically, Kosovo is a plateau surrounded by mountains. There are no large rivers going in or out. There is a rail line that runs north into Serbia and south to Macedonia, but there is no rail connection into Albania. There are some decent two-lane paved roads, but no highways. Kosovo is landlocked and does not have easy access to the sea. The soil is good and there's plenty of agricultural potential. The province can easily produce surpluses of things like wheat, beef and milk. There's local wine (not that great) and local tobacco (very good). The hills and mountains are full of herdsmen and their flocks. There are a number of large mines -- lead, zinc, nickel, silver. (The Trepca mine complex used to be the biggest base-metal mine in Europe.) There's plenty of lignite, soft brown coal. There is a fair amount of industry scattered around -- a cement plant, a battery factory, things like that. Most of it is in pretty bad shape, though. Milosevic fired most of the Albanian miners and industrial workers, and then appointed cronies to run the plants. Most of them date from the Communist period and are suffering from 15 years of deferred maintenance. The electrical infrastructure is in awful shape, with regular blackouts. Lack of reliable power is a major drag on the economy. Kosovo's human resources aren't in great shape either. Milosevic deliberately and maliciously set out to cut the Albanian majority off from educational opportunities, and he had some success. Albanians were frozen out of the university system for nearly a decade, and mostly driven out of the high schools too. The Albanian set up their own, parallel educational system, but it was starved for funds. In part because of this, only about half the adult population has education beyond grade school. The economy is not doing very well. Per capita income is around $1,200 per year. Even at PPP, it's only about $3,000. This puts Kosovo in a dead heat with Moldova for the title of "Poorest Country in Europe". Economic growth soared after the 1999 war, but has flattened in the last year or so. Unemployment is around 40%. Roughly 35% of the population lives in poverty, with about 12% in "absolute" poverty. Organized crime is a major problem. Corruption is very prevalent. Politics are fragmented and driven by clan and regional loyalties. The government has rapidly grown beyond the capacity of the tax base; it is heavily subsidized by grants from the international community. The President, Ibrahim Rugova, has lung cancer. Kosovo's first Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, was indicted by the Hague for war crimes and had to resign. None of this has helped political stability or maturity. Okay, this is getting kind of long. Tomorrow, I'll talk about some of the good news, and then try to sketch how an independent Kosovo might develop.