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Saturday, 17 November, 2001, 03:50 GMT
Analysis: Beyond Kosovo's vote
A returning Kosovo Albanian walking past a burnt out Serb house
Destruction then - reconstruction now
By the BBC's Paul Anderson in Pristina

One of the images that sticks from the period directly after Slobodan Milosevic's forces and vast numbers of Serb civilians were hounded from Kosovo are of the houses burned down by Albanians bent on revenge.

Every night the flames cast a bright orange glow in the sky over Pristina as one Serb home after another was torched.

The newly arrived Nato-led peacekeeping force had plenty of other problems to attend to, and so the fires raged until they burned out.


Beyond ethnic reconciliation, there are painful reforms to carry out

Now, more than two and a half years later, the sight that sticks is of the enormous building project being carried out all over the province.

Everyone has been at it, it seems, trying to get roofs on before the winter, building huge homes for huge extended families.

Boom or bust?

It has created a mini economic boom, at least for the construction industry. But despite the obvious impression of wealth and progress, it would be wrong to suggest that things are as healthy elsewhere in the economy. Kosovo still ranks as one of Europe's poorest areas.

The boom is a false one based on two main sources of income.

A hospital patient voting on 16 November
Hospital patients have already voted
The first is the money which flows from the Albanian diaspora, mostly in the United States, Germany and Switzerland.

According to one recent report last year, more than $750 million were sent to Kosovo by the diaspora.

The second source of revenue is the billions of dollars generated by the international community in the shape of aid, expertise and the personal spending of tens of thousands of peacekeepers and civilian administrators.

Pull the plug on either source and Kosovo withers. But that is not going to happen any time soon. Too much is at stake in the Balkans even if the world is now more focused on the new global security threat.

Challenges

The task the international community has set itself is to build on what it says are the successes of the past two and a half years.

The Albanian political analyst, Ylber Hyser, said these include running local elections last year, starting economic reform, and creating multi-ethnic institutions like a joint police force operating in mixed Albanian and Serbian areas.

Election rally
Albanians will dominate in the new parliament
"We will have a new phase of trying to build those institutions after the elections. We will have a parliament in Kosovo, government and president that will have a real chance to introduce self-government," he said.

How much power it will have is a moot point. However much Albanians wish to view the establishment of a parliament as a transfer of power, the reality is that the final say on key matters, particularly security and the province's final status, will reside with Hans Haekkerup, the United Nations' chief in Kosovo.

"What we are doing is creating a basis for the future," Mr Haekkerup said. "The institutions we create do not mean independence in themselves. It is not in the power of the new assembly to declare independence. But on the other hand this possibility is not ruled out either."

Mr Haekkerup said Albanians and Serbs, as well as other ethnic communities, had to overcome the hatred created by past atrocities and accept that their future is together in Kosovo. When that happens, he said, maybe it would be possible to reach a final settlement acceptable to the majority in all communities.

Reforms needed

That may well focus minds on the main tasks of the next phase of Kosovo's development.

Beyond ethnic reconciliation, there are painful reforms to carry out, which every country of eastern and central Europe in transition had to initiate 10 years ago.

Tough economic reform is among them. Kosovo's collapsed industries need to be closed down and new enterprises started for a workforce.

Tough decisions far removed from the political battles of the past lie ahead for Kosovo's politicians.

There will be a honeymoon period, as there is for newly-elected parliamentary deputies everywhere.

Then the hard work will begin and the world will see whether Kosovo is up to the task of managing its own affairs. If it is, it may well win the coveted independence. But that won't happen for years.

See also:

15 Nov 01 | Europe
Kosovo prepares to vote
14 Nov 01 | Europe
Kosovo gears up for elections
17 Jun 01 | Europe
UN takes peace mission to Kosovo
04 Feb 00 | Europe
Analysis: Protecting the Serbs
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