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(Un)Welcome Mission

November 29, 2008

Three German secret agents have finally been released after being detained for over a week in Kosovo. The case shows just how urgently Kosovo needs to get its act together, says DW's Fabian Schmidt.


The arrest of three German secret service agents in Kosovo has made it clear that it's high time for the European Union's EULEX mission to begin. The country apparently needs help establishing professional and independent police and judicial departments.

Fabian Schmidt
Fabian Schmidt

It's hard to understand why the three men were detained for over a week without concrete evidence, especially since their only crime, according to the information that's been made public so far, was investigating without a license.

The men were accused of being involved in the bombing of the EU headquarters in Pristina two weeks ago. An unknown paramilitary group has since claimed responsibility for the attack. Normally, such cases are resolved between befriended countries with diplomatic elegance and without public uproar.

Kosovo-German relations unscathed

The primarily Albanian population in Kosovo is thankful and positive toward Germany for its military and civil engagement. It's unlikely that the incident will damage relations between the two countries. After all, Germany was one of the first to recognize Kosovo's independence.

However, the case shows that hard-earned trust can very quickly be put to the test. And the most challenging test for Kosovo's ties with the international community is linked to EULEX. On the one hand, Kosovo's government and parliament have welcomed the EU mission, but on the other hand, EULEX won't be able to fulfill the Kosovar Albanians' expectations.

They had hoped that EULEX would secure their state's sovereignty. But according to the UN Security Council's most recent ruling, that's precisely what EULEX will not do. Instead, the mission is to maintain a neutral status and won't be active in the North of the country, where there is a Serbian majority. There, the UN mission in Kosovo will continue to have the say.

Kosovo's central government is practically disempowered in the North, which has led many Kosovar Albanians to see the EULEX arrangement as cementing the division of their country.

Fuel for radical groups

That's why it's all the more serious that the hype surrounding the German suspects detracted from an investigation of other leads in the bombing case. Because of the disappointment many Kosovar Albanians have faced, it's now possible that radical groups, which view EULEX and the UN mission UNMIK as colonial regimes, will get a boost.

Promptly following the UN Security Council's decision, the otherwise unknown "Army of the Republic of Kosovo" claimed responsibility for the attack. It's strange that the group waited nearly two weeks to deliver its claim. But regardless of whether or not they're just taking advantage of the opportunity, the attack shows that a functioning statehood must be urgently established. And that is EULEX' task.

However, it's doubtful whether or not all the powers in Kosovo are interested in a functioning judiciary. Organized crime circles are more concerned with maintaining a free hand to keep smuggling and trafficking people and even organs. These networks don't know ethnic or national borders.

The dark side of the current solution is that the continuation of Belgrade's controlled parallel structures in the North only prolongs insecurity and creates a good environment for organized crime to flourish.

Nevertheless, Kosovo's government should not let itself be lamed by this, but should take advantage of the chance that EULEX is offering. That means taking a consequential and public stance against radical groups.

Fabian Schmidt heads DW-RADIO's Albanian service. (kjb)