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COUNTRY BRIEFS


INTRODUCTION

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008. Kosovo has been under the interim administration of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) since 1999. In December 2008, the European Union set up a police and rule of law mission (EULEX) to take over from UNMIK, to assist with preserving stability in Kosovo, and to help with capacity building.

Australia recognised Kosovo on 19 February 2008 and officially established diplomatic relations on 21 May 2008. The Australian Embassy in Vienna, Austria, has non-resident accreditation to Kosovo.

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HISTORY

Kosovo has been inhabited since the Neolithic period and has long been a place of tension between the Serb and ethnic Albanian population. In 1389, Kosovo was the site of an important battle where invading Ottoman forces defeated a coalition army composed of various ethnic backgrounds led by Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović. This battle is immensely significant for many Serbs.

Following the Ottoman victory, Kosovo remained under Ottoman rule for more than four centuries. The Ottoman defeat in the Russian-Ottoman war in 1878 marked a turning point. The opening of a Serb seminary in Prizren in 1871 was the starting point of a pronounced strengthening of the Serb presence in Kosovo. Kosovo was partitioned between Montenegro and Serbia in 1912 and became part of Yugoslavia after World War I.

Following Italian and German occupation during WW II, Kosovo was defined as an autonomous region under Federal Yugoslav, but not Serbian, jurisdiction. In response to protests, under the 1974 Yugoslav constitution Kosovo was given the status of a Socialist Autonomous Province within Serbia, which made it a de facto Republic within the Federation alongside Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia. Kosovo received a seat on the Federal Presidency and had a vote in the Federal Presidency Council alongside the Federation's six Republics and the Federation's other Autonomous Province, Vojvodina.

In 1981, Kosovo Albanians agitated for full Republic status. However, the protests were suppressed and inter-ethnic tensions continued to worsen throughout the 1980s. In 1989, Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, in violation of the 1974 constitution, abolished Kosovo's and Vojvodina's status as Autonomous Provinces and Kosovo came under direct rule from Serbia, giving Milošević a majority in the Federal Presidency Council (he controlled four votes out of six which was a major factor in the breakup of Yugoslavia). In response, Kosovo Albanians began a campaign of peaceful resistance, setting up parallel state structures. In 1991 in a referendum organised by the parallel structures, Kosovo Albanians voted for independence. One year later, Ibrahim Rugova was appointed as Kosovo's first President. Rugova's party, the Democratic League of Kosovo, declared independence on 28 May 1992.

Following the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the 1995 Dayton Agreement, which failed to address the situation in Kosovo, frustration over the situation and lack of international attention led to the formation of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group. The KLA started armed resistance with the ultimate goal of securing the independence of Kosovo.

The tension escalated into a humanitarian crisis and NATO forces intervened with air strikes against Serb forces in Kosovo and Serbia. In response Serbian armed forces intensified ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. On 10 June 1999, Milošević agreed to withdraw Serb troops from Kosovo, ending the conflict. Following NATO's intervention, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, which authorised the establishment of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the deployment of a NATO security force (KFOR) as an interim administration pending the resolution of Kosovo's status.

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STATUS PROCESS

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was appointed on 20 February 2006 as UN Special Envoy for Kosovo to oversee Kosovo's status process. He facilitated talks between negotiating teams from Belgrade and Priština; while some agreement on technical issues was reached, the parties remained diametrically opposed on the issue of status. Ahtisaari presented his final report to the UN Secretary-General on 26 March 2007. The report found that further talks would be unproductive and that the only viable option for Kosovo was 'managed independence,' with an initial period of supervision by the international community. The report concluded that neither full Serbian control, nor autonomy within Serbia, were viable options for the province. Instead, the report found that independence was the only tenable means of ensuring political stability and economic viability in Kosovo, a province where ethnic Albanians make up almost 90 per cent of the population.

On 17 February 2008, Kosovo declared its independence. Australia formally recognised Kosovo on 19 February 2008 (http://foreignminister.gov.au/releases/2008/fa-s034_08.html) and established diplomatic relations on 21 May 2008. The Australian Government welcomed the Kosovo Government's public commitment to adhere to the Ahtisaari plan, in particular to ensuring the safety of minorities and the protection of religious and cultural heritage sites.

While widely recognised (by some 75 countries to date), Kosovo's declaration of independence has not been universally accepted, most notably by Serbia, Russia and five of the 27 member states of the EU (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain). In October 2008, Serbia asked for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), on whether Kosovo's declaration of independence accorded with international law. On 22 July 2010, the Court published an Advisory Opinion stating that Kosovo's declaration of independence did not violate international law.

The European Union has set up a police and rule of law mission (EULEX) to take over from UNMIK. EULEX is the EU's largest civilian mission ever launched under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Its aim is to assist the Kosovo authorities in the rule of law area. EULEX is a technical mission which monitors and advises whilst retaining a number of limited executive powers. EULEX works under the general framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and has a unified chain of command to Brussels.

On 8 March 2011, the first meeting of the EU sponsored and facilitated Priština - Belgrade dialogue was held. The ongoing dialogue is meant to be technical in nature and aimed at resolving inter-state disputes on practical issues such as access to civil registry records, freedom of movement and telecommunications.

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SOCIETY AND ECONOMY

Kosovo's population is estimated to be 2.1 million, comprising Albanian (88 per cent), Serbian (7 per cent), and other minorities (5 per cent Bosniak, Gorani, Roma, and Turk). Priština is Kosovo's capital and its largest city, with over half a million residents.

The official currency of Kosovo is the euro. While rich with mineral resources, agriculture remains a major economic activity; other key industries are mineral mining, construction materials, base metals, leather, machinery and appliances. Kosovo became a member of the International Monetary Fund on 29 June 2009. According to the World Bank, Kosovo has averaged 4 per cent economic growth since the end of the conflict in 1999; GDP growth is estimated at 5.5 per cent for 2011. Inflation for 2011 is averaging 8.2 per cent, up from 3.5 per cent for 2010. Unemployment was estimated at 45 per cent in 2009.

Kosovo's main trading partners are the European Union, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Main exports are mining and processed metal products, scrap metals, leather products, machinery and appliances.

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POLITICAL SITUATION

Kosovo held its first democratic elections since independence on 12 December 2010. In response to reports of irregularities in the voting process, the Election Complaints and Appeals sub-Commission of Kosovo called for re-runs of elections in several municipalities in January 2011. Final election results were endorsed by the Central Election Commission on 7 February 2011.

The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) received the largest share of the vote and formed a governing coalition, with Hashim Thaçi as Prime Minister. In a deal with coalition partners the leader of the New Alliance for Kosovo (AKR), Behgjet Pacolli, was elected as President. Pacolli stepped down after 35 days when the Constitutional Court ruled that his election was invalid. In a compromise deal, Atifete Jahjaga was elected President on 7 April 2011.

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Last Updated: August 2011

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