As of last week, Kosovo has its second new president this year. After the previous two incumbents stepped down, one because of a conflict of interests, the second over a procedural error in the way he was elected by the parliament, the choice fell on Atifete Jahjaga, a woman police officer with few known political ties and good relations with the internationals. The last point was what enraged the nationalist Self-Determination party, which said the governing parties had meekly accepted U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell’s suggestion of Jahjaga.

The questions raised over a Western power’s meddling in Kosovo’s affairs prompted me to re-read an article published by openDemocracy in January. Although the authors’ argument is patchy and would probably need a book to develop fully, the piece makes for provocative reading. The West’s state-building initiatives in the Balkans, and elsewhere, rest on three (wrong) assumptions, the authors write:

1) that state building starts from scratch disregarding the legacies of the past

2) that inter-ethnic contestation is the major problem of dysfunction of post-conflict states (and not necessarily employment; rule of law; human rights protection…)

3) that there is a separation of public and private interests on which to mount an institution-building project, using the template of a liberal market democracy.

Heedless of the illiberal basis of conflict-riven societies, then, the well-meaning internationals put in place assistance programs that actually serve to bolster the informal networks of soldiers-turned-crooks-turned-politicians that sprang up during periods of intense social conflict. Such weak states serve, above all, the interests of those belonging to informal networks, and at the same time, this “blights the prospects and perpetuates the insecurity of others, particularly ethnic minorities.”

Jahjaga will serve only until the constitution can be changed to permit direct popular election of the president. Let’s hope they can find someone with both street smarts and a sense of decorum.

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email:

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