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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 17:11 GMT
High hopes as Kosovo goes it alone
By Allan Little
BBC News, Pristina

A poster in Pristina which reads Independence
The EU aims to turn Kosovo into a model democracy
The independence of Kosovo will bring an old Balkan story full circle.

This is where the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia began.

A few miles from here, 19 years ago, the then Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic addressed a million-strong rally of Serbs and told them they faced genocidal enemies on all sides.

He led them into wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Serbian public opinion walked hand in hand with him.

Bearded men in World War II uniforms unfurled strange new maps promising a new Serbia that stretched to the glittering Adriatic.

Hundreds of thousands were to die in pursuit of it.

But all the wars they fought they lost, and the Serbia they dreamed of shrank and shrank.

This weekend it could shrink further.

Defying Russia?

The European Union is attempting something unprecedented here.

The task will take years: a sustained, long term commitment to 'nation-building'

In defiance of Russia, Serbia's closest ally, it is sending an army of technocrats to try to pull off the root-and-branch transformation of a country that has not functioned for decades.

The task will take years: a sustained, long term commitment to "nation-building".

This is the EU moving onto new foreign policy ground; the EU as exporter of democratic values and practices, much as the US and its allies are trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One stark difference is that Europe's invasion force is dressed in suits and carrying briefcases and technocratic expertise.

The task the EU has taken on in Kosovo is bold and ambitious: it aims to build a model European democracy, almost from scratch, on the ruins of defunct Serbian hegemony, in the heart of the Balkan peninsular.

Sweeping executive powers

Kosovo's elected government is possibly the most enthusiastically pro-EU government in the world.

It has gladly accepted the limits on national sovereignty that co-operation with the EU implies.

The EU mission, when it is up and running, will have sweeping executive powers.

map

It will have the right to veto the elected government if it deviates from the Brussels-approved reform path. It will have the power to intervene directly in Kosovo's internal affairs.

Some in Kosovo feel short-changed by this, though they remain a small minority. For now.

The political activist Albin Kurti has founded a movement for self-determination which rejects the coming EU settlement.

This, he says, is not the sovereignty that so many of the people of Kosovo fought and died for.

The EU will be running the show, he says, and the executive power will not be accountable to the people.

EU officials here play down the powers the EU will enjoy, insisting that in practice the buck will stop with the Kosovo government.

"Our executive power will be put in a box," one official told me. "The box will be locked, it will be put in a safe and the safe will be locked.

"The EU mission's executive power to intervene in Kosovo will be used only as a last resort."

Defying international law?

The EU has a long track record exporting democracy.

In the 1980s it helped guide Spain, Portugal and Greece out of dictatorship.

It did the same, in the 1990s, for the former communist countries of Eastern Europe.

A girl runs past graffiti reading Free Kosovo in the town of Mitrovica, Kosovo
Kosovo is laying claim to a Western-leaning future
But what it is doing in Kosovo is quite different, and not least because it is being done in defiance of international law.

Kosovo's Serbs - and Serbia itself - invoke UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which recognises Kosovo as a sovereign part of Serbia.

Russian opposition ensures that this resolution is not going to change any time soon.

But the EU is pressing on regardless, despite the further strain it will place on relations with Moscow.

At the independence concert, the Pristina Philharmonia will play Beethoven's Ode to Joy - the anthem of the EU.

It will capture the prevalent mood here. It is Kosovo's signal to the wider world: Kosovo's way of staking claim to a European future.

And to the north, Serbia - surly, resentful, defeated - remains beholden to the myths of its past, un-reconciled to the condition to which it has been diminished in the space of 19 years. And looking to Moscow, not Europe, for salvation.

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