Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa at the Oxford Union: Takeaways from his Speech on Socioeconomic and Political Issues in Kosovo

On February 22, 2016, Isa Mustafa, the Prime Minister of Kosovo made a speech at the Oxford Union, addressing a range of political, geopolitical and socioeconomic issues in Kosovo and the historical legacies that underpin them. Mustafa, the former mayor of Pristina (Kosovo's capital city) from December 2007 to December 2013 became Kosovo's Prime Minister on December 9, 2014 and is the current leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo Party. Below is a synopsis of Mustafa's thoughts on recent developments in Kosovo and its progress towards economic modernization and European integration:

Mustafa on Kosovo's International Recognition as an Independent State

Mustafa hailed the success of the status negotiations that began in 2007, in giving Kosovo widespread international recognition. While 111 countries have recognized Kosovo's right to independence and Kosovo has integrated itself into major international institutions like the IMF and World Bank, five EU countries still view Kosovo as merely a part of Serbia. These five countries are Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Greece and Cyprus. Countries have opposed Kosovo's independence on the grounds that the secession of Kosovo from Serbia would create instability in the Balkans and potentially result in the displacement of non-Albanian minorities. Mustafa emphasizes safeguards for minorities and the Kosovo government's positive human rights record as proof that these claims are unfounded.

Mustafa believes that Spain has been vocal about resisting Kosovo's independence because its own problems with separatism. Mustafa notes that Spain's opposition to Kosovo's independence does not necessarily mean that it is hostile to Kosovo's interests. He traveled to Madrid in 2015 as representative of the European Peoples Parties Congress, and while his speech did not draw attention to Spain's position on Kosovo's independence, there was no objection amongst the Spanish audience to Kosovo's European integration efforts or the display of the Kosovo flag.

Greece's opposition can be explained by its historic alliance with Serbia, though Mustafa noted that Greece and Kosovo still have favorable relations. Cyprus's opposition can be regarded as a consequence of being intertwined with Greece; while in Mustafa's view, there is no discernible strategic reason for the resistance of Slovakia and Romania.

Russia's opposition to Kosovo's independence can also be explained by its long-standing alliance with Serbia, and while Mustafa believes that Russia is very unlikely to compromise on Kosovo, Kosovo can still ameliorate tensions with Moscow by normalizing relations with Serbia.

Mustafa on Recent Political Unrest in Kosovo

Mustafa, when asked about whether he intends to resign as Prime Minister on February 27, vehemently defended his government's record against opposition criticisms. He drew attention to two landmark agreements forged in Brussels and Vienna: the first relating to the establishment of Serb enclaves in Kosovo and the second relating to Kosovo's ongoing border dispute with Montenegro. He argues that despite these agreements, the current political crisis is attributable in large part to the opposition's failure to engage in open discussions over vital issues of Kosovo's territorial integrity.

In addition to criticizing opposition figures, Mustafa emphasized his legitimate right to remain Prime Minister of Kosovo, by noting that his government has 87 MPs of the 120 in the elected Kosovo parliament, with 31 MPs representing the opposition and 2 MPs being independents. While democracy cannot be measured purely by electoral math, Mustafa believes that his retention of power despite mass protests respects Kosovo's democracy.

The Democratic League of Kosovo and Mustafa's leadership would prefer not to work with a big coalition, as a coalition of many parties leaves some minority opposition parties feeling marginalized, sentiments which can create instability. The establishment of a specialized court to prosecute war criminals necessitated the creation of a large coalition, as achieving this would require a 2/3 majority. Sweeping political reforms have given the opposition a coherent voice over Kosovo's internal politics, which makes his opponents' exclusion arguments disconnected from realities on the ground.

Mustafa on Serbian Majority Enclaves in Kosovo

One controversial issue that Mustafa cited as playing a major role in inspiring the current unrest in Kosovo is the establishment of ethnic Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo to guarantee Serbs decision-making power. Mustafa notes that Serbs are only 5% of Kosovo's population, and therefore these enclaves do not threaten the territorial integrity of Kosovo. He also insists that the safeguards afforded to ethnic minorities in Kosovo and Serbs in particular, supersede those given to ethnic Albanian minorities in other jurisdictions, and the well being of minorities can be proven by their support for Kosovo's independence from Serbia.

Mustafa on Kosovo's Border Dispute with Montenegro

Mustafa argues that Kosovo's border dispute with Montenegro has been the subject of severe politicization, to rally nationalist feelings. Building on tactics used to invoke anti-Serbian nationalism, opposition figures have accused the Mustafa government of giving away land for free to Montenegro. Mustafa refuted these allegations by claiming that not even one square meter of Kosovo's land has been freely given to Montenegro. He admitted that the methodology behind the determination of the Kosovo-Montenegro border was under challenge. In former Yugoslavia, the border was an administrative rather than a state border, so a substantial adjustment in legislation has been necessary to take this fact into account.

Mustafa cited Western assistance in setting the Kosovo-Montenegro border as proof that his government did not unilaterally give up territory for political purposes. He notes that British, German and American experts provided compelling support for his claims. These experts took into account opposition concerns and provided an impartial assessment, which Mustafa, as Prime Minister of Kosovo has faithfully upheld.

Mustafa on Kosovo's Youth Unemployment Crisis Mustafa argues that Kosovo is facing a severe challenge raising economic growth (currently averaging 3% per annum) to a level that can seamlessly integrate 30,000 new workers into its labor market. Kosovo's government has set an ambitious target of doubling economic growth in the medium-term and tripling it in the long run. Mustafa attributes the youth unemployment crisis in Kosovo to severe disinvestment dating back to the Cold War era of a multi-ethnic Yugoslavian federation. Mustafa describes Slobodan Milosevic's regime, which ruled Yugoslavia from 1989-1999, as an apartheid system. Milosevic disenfranchised Kosovar Albanian youths by excluding them from the national education system, leaving them with the sole option of being tutored at home.

Attempts to diversify and change the structure of Kosovo's economy have temporarily exacerbated the youth unemployment crisis, as while the mining sector and some large companies existed, the bulk of Kosovo's post-war economy was dominated by infant industries. Kosovo's trade balance is also skewed in a pernicious way for long-term prosperity, as it requires a high volume of imports with little manufacturing capacity for exports.

Mustafa claims that the 30% official unemployment statistic in Kosovo overstates actual levels of joblessness, as including the informal economy would reduce levels to 23%. Credit guarantees have helped ameliorate the crisis and the Kosovo government has made efforts to target young women, who have been especially disenfranchised. Mustafa believes that European integration and incentivizing student exchanges could assist young Kosovars in finding jobs, and progress towards these objectives would make a major impact as Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe.

Mustafa on Economic Development of Kosovo

Mustafa believes that Kosovo has considerable economic growth potential, with the agriculture sector being an especially important driver of economic expansion. Grants and subsidies have been crucial to the modernization of Kosovo's rural areas, with 70% of the agricultural land being privatized from cooperatives that existed previously. Subsidizing agricultural production without subsidizing the landowners is key to reducing inequality in rural Kosovo.

Overall, Kosovo's rural modernization project has been successful with almost all the arable land being processed and the EBRD has been working closely with Kosovo's government on expanding irrigation networks. Kosovo's government has also developed fiscal policies to ensure the dominance of formal sellers in the agriculture sector.

Kosovo's National Democratic Strategy and IMF budget for 2015 have focused more on savings, revenue extraction and on dismantling the informal economy.

The construction of a major power plant and the expansion of Kosovo's tourism industry could be vital for successful long-term economic development. The IT sector has also been considered as a possible employer for many young Kosovars struggling to find jobs.

The Brezovica ski resort is a particularly notable success that has highlighted Kosovo's appeal as a tourism destination. Kosovo's government under Mustafa has cooperated closely with a French consortium to build hotels and ski lifts, infrastructure projects worth an estimated 415 million euros. This project could hire 3,000 young Kosovars, and provide a major boost to the national economy. Mustafa believes that tourism to Kosovo will increase as foreigners realize that it is a safe travel destination. He noted that there have been no major violent incidents against foreign tourists to Kosovo since the 1999 war.

Mustafa on Kosovo's EU Visa Liberalization Plans Kosovo has taken many crucial steps towards European integration in recent years. Under the Stabilization and Association Agreement, Kosovo's businesses have established their presence in EU countries, which has given the country's private sector the ability to compete in a market of 500 million consumers. These infant industries have struggled to gain a visa to operate in Europe, a problem, which has restricted Kosovo's development.

Mustafa believes that as of September 2015, Kosovo has acceded to 95% of the requirements for EU visa liberalization. Completing the visa liberalization process will be vital for the 700,000 Kosovars who live in Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia to be able to integrate with and invest in their ancestral homeland.

Mustafa on Ethnic Violence and Extremism in Kosovo

Mustafa believes that Kosovo's government has enacted highly effective policies to combat extremism and restrict ethnic violence. Even though Kosovo is a religiously diverse country consisting of Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Catholics, inter-faith violence has been kept in check since the 1999 Kosovo War. Kosovo's citizens have been banned from partaking in foreign wars, and have developed legal institutions. US Secretary of State John Kerry described Kosovo as a leader in the struggle against extremism and terrorism.

The legacy of the Kosovo War, which resulted in the displacement of 1 million Kosovars to Albania, Turkey and the Western world, remains an obstacle. Mustafa regards the dislocations and violence that occurred in Kosovo under Milosevic to be comparable to the refugee crisis in Syria.

As a result of ethnic violence and the Yugoslav wars, Mustafa acknowledged that many monuments, including mosques and churches were destroyed. There have been incidences of violence like the ethnic violence, which followed the drowning of an Albanian child in the Mitrovits River in 2004. The Ministry of Culture has undertaken measures to rebuild destroyed monuments; and Kosovo has cooperated extensively with UNESCO on this politically sensitive issue.