Croatia Airlines To Fly To Pristina, Kosovo

In Kosovo’s attempt to become more “European,” one thing, apart from obvious statehood, has held Kosovo back:  airline flights.  Airline flights?  If you want to go to Kosovo, you’re only bet other than a NATO flight, is to catch a connecting flight to Pristina from Vienna on Austrian Airlines or Budapest on Malev Airlines.  And, if you want to leave Kosovo to visit other parts of Europe or the United States, you have to do the same thing:  catch a connecting flight from either Vienna or Budapest.

To be sure, there is a wider selection of choices at Skopje Airport . . . but that’s in Macedonia.  Unless you have a free ride, you’re out on at least a 120 Euro taxi ride, not to mention anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours at the Macedonian border.  There’s also cheap and convenient flights from Belgrade . . . but the visa situation for a Kosovo traveler is extremely difficult (a traveler cannot come into Serbia directly from Kosovo without a prior “entry stamp”).  There’s also special charter flights to Germany and Switzerland run by Kosovo Airlines, but they run only once a week.  There is one true bright spot:  a quick flight to Istanbul, which has direct flights to many other places, for a roundtrip which will sink you back no more than 185 Euros.

For Kosovo to become more integrated with the rest of the world, people not only need an easier way to come to Kosovo, but also an easier way to get out of Kosovo.  Although many people can’t point to Kosovo on a map to save their lives, Kosovo is in a highly accessible place by way of the crow.  It’s a stones throw to Bulgaria, a coffee spill to Greece, a whisper to Albania or Montenegro, and a football pass to Italy.  But to get to these places by plane is either ridiculously expensive or ridiculously inconvenient.   Often times, a traveler from Pristina will have to travel to Central Europe before he or she can reach a major capital in the Balkans.

Cheaper and more varied travel options need to be provided, particularly for flights within the Balkans.  You have to take a 10 hour plus bus to get to Budva or Sofia.  A 15 hour bus ride to get to Sarajevo.  Imagine if there were more travel options than slaving in the chicken buses. 

Croatia Airlines has joined the bandwagon.  It will have flights three times a week from Zagreb to Pristina, starting June 16.  I checked the website and a roundtrip flight will cost you about 4200 Croatian Kuna, which is about 575 Euros.  True, this is ridiculously expensive but at least the airlines are coming in with flights.  That’s the first step.  Get the planes in.  Hopefully the next step will be lower prices.

Pristina Airport is ready for more traffic.  True, they need an air traffic control system to support the new renovations at their airport.  But they’re ready.

It would also be beneficial if the former Yugoslavia had a more integrated train system.  This may be difficult given the amount of mountain passes.  But as many of the countries in the Former Yugoslavia seek membership in the EU, a revamped train system could do  wonders in helping the economy, cleaning up the environment, and opening up the doors to visitors who have never experienced the Balkans.

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President Bush Authorizes Supplying “Kosovo” With Weapons (Or: Cold War? Too Early To Tell)

The “big” news yesterday was President George W. Bush authorized a supply of weapons to Kosovo.  Almost like clockwork, Serbianna.com and others began characterizing the U.S. supply of weapons to Kosovo as either a) a provactive escalation of a proxy arms race between the U.S. and Russia, leading to “one-upmanship” which leads to Cold War,missiles.jpg b) an arming of jihadist terrorists making up the “narco-state” of Kosovo, a country which is the root of all drug trafficking, organized crime, and human trafficking on the planet, bent on destroying everything Christian and Jewish or c) a combination of both.  As with most things, I think we have to look past the headlines and the knee-jerk reaction conclusion and to assess the facts as they truly exist.

You may be wondering why I used quotes for “Kosovo” in the headline.  Well, if you just read the headlines, one may think that the weapons are going to the Kosovo government or the Kosovo military (or, if you Serbianna is on your “favorites” list, then to jihadist terrorists/criminals).  But there is no Kosovo military.  Of course, there is KFOR, which is a multi-national military force that protects Kosovo under the NATO Umbrella.  KFOR has the sole responsibility for the protection of Kosovo. 

To be sure, as some may point out, there is a 5000 strong Kosovo Protection Corps (TMK).  What do they do?  They do what most protection corps do in other parts of the world:  provide disaster response, humanitarian assistance, etc.  More importantly, what do they not do?  They have absolutely no authorized role, under either UN Security Council Resolution 1244 or the Ahtisaari Plan, in either Kosovo’s defense, law enforcement, riot control, internal security or any other law and order task.  Kosovo will have, under the Ahtisaari Plan, a lightly-armed NATO supervised/controlled security force.  And, finally, under UN SCR 1244 and Ahtisaari Plan, there is the Kosovo Police Service, which is about a 7,000 member strong police force, which critically is subordinate to the UNMIK Police.  

Under the circumstances, while it appears that the weapons are going to “Kosovo,” they are really going to the international forces which ultimately have supreme control and power over Kosovo despite its declaration of independence on February 17, 2008.  In two words, this legal mumbo jumbo is called: “supervised independence”.  So, when you read Serbianna, please do not get the mistaken impression that nuclear weapons or stinger missiles are going to be handed out free to anyone in front of the Grand Hotel in Pristina at 12:30 p.m. this Friday.

But there are several questions that we still need answers to.  For instance, how many weapons are being sent to Kosovo and what kind of weapons are being sent?  Is it just “light weapons” like firearms or is it “heavy weapons,” such as missiles?  What measures are in place to ensure that the weapons do not get in the wrong hands?  Regardless of the answer, it would be interesting to see which defense firm or firms are getting this “Kosovo” contract — either because the defense firms could disperse these weapons at a loss and thus receive major tax benefits or disperse the weapons at an overinflated price to either conceal total losses or rake in major profit.  Indeed, that is a different inquiry altogether. 

Further, one must ask why President George W. Bush remained rather opaque in his statement about the weapons delivery.  Sure, his advisers or the State Department will likely cite security concerns, but the President could have certainly said a little more than: “I hereby find that the furnishing of defense articles and defense services to Kosovo will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace.”  What the hell kind of statement is that?  It sounds like a draft of a washing machine contract or a manifesto for the imaginary Country Island of Galacktigar that President Bush was too lazy to transform into a readable speech.  Perhaps he spent so much time on his “War Speech” yesterday that he forgot about this one. 

President Bush left too many questions that will undoubtedly leave those like Russia and Serbia vexed.  Of course, regardless of whether these two countries will always be vexed at the hip by U.S. policy, President Bush could have added more facts or assurances (hah, yes, these are different) about the nature of the weapons, who they were going to, and that the U.S. was not intending to start a proxy arms race.  But by leaving these issues completely unaddressed, countries like Russia and Serbia are certainly justified to think the worst.

As history has taught us, Cold Wars can start on faulty assumptions and quickly cascade into an arms race.  The idiot from NSA who probably drafted President Bush’s “speech,” should spend a little more time crafting better words for the President instead of trying to find justifications for the Iraq War.

One Of The Most Endangered Jobs In The World: Serbian Ambassadors

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With the recent announcement by Japan and Canada recognizing Kosovo’s independence, coupled with a list of countries which are expected to recognize Kosovo’s independence in the very near future, such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Norway, Lithuania and Pakistan, Serbian Ambassadors should certainly start feeling a bit uncomfortable about their job security.  As most know, being appointed an ambassador by your government is a fairly plush job.  You attend dinners.  You have guests.  You hold meetings.  You give speeches here and there.  You write Letters to the Editor.  You get to be somewhere other than your home country.  And you get paid pretty well.  That’s why those who are appointed ambassadors generally are very well-connected to their home country’s government.  Indeed, an ambassadorship is often a prized job.

But as the list of countries recognizing Kosovo’s independence grows — particularly the ones that most would like to visit on a holiday — so has the unemployment line for Serbian ambassadors.  For every country that recognizes Kosovo’s independence, the Serbian government recalls their ambassador back to Serbia.

Ouch.  Hate to break it to the remaining Serbian ambassadors . . . but the list of countries recognizing Kosovo’s independence is growing not shrinking.  So, to the remaining ambassadors out there, if you haven’t done your “tour” of the country yet or tried the local cuisine, you better do so quickly.  Because once a country recognizes Kosovo’s independence, Serbia usually gives you no more than 48 hours to return home.  Thus, to the ambassador in Japan, I hope you had some good sushi; to the ambassador in Canada, I hope you had an opportunity to view some great hockey and to sip on some Labatts.

Here’s a list of countries that have recognized Kosovo’s independence as of March 19, 2008:

1. Costa Rica
2. United States
3. France
4. Afghanistan
5. Albania
6. Turkey
7. United Kingdom
8. Australia
9. Senegal
10. Malaysia
11. Germany
12. Latvia
13. Denmark
14. Estonia
15. Italy
16. Luxembourg
17. Peru
18. Belgium
19. Poland
20. Switzerland
21. Austria
22. Ireland
23. Sweden
24. Netherlands
25. Iceland
26. Slovenia
27. Finland
28. Japan
29. Canada

Kosovo: PDSRSG Larry Rossin Is A Mentiroso

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Principal Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Kosovo, Larry Rossin, is a mentiroso.  Let me show you how. In a recent press conference, PDSRSG Larry Rossin stated:

I personally spoke to Minister Samardzic on Friday evening to . .  .underscore that while we hoped and wanted to resolve this situation peacefully and without any resort to force and through persuasion, that we were disinclined to permit this occupation to continue indefinitely or for very long . . .I know that there has been some statements to the effect that somehow there was an implicit or explicit agreement that we would not move until he visited. That was not the case. I made it clear that we would move at a time of our own choosing . . .I further made it clear to him when I spoke to him yesterday morning, while events were going on in Mitrovica, that we had not had such an arrangement and in fact he agreed with me in our private telephone conversation, that there had been no such agreement.

Okay, it seems pretty clear from Mr. Rossin’s statement that there was no “private” agreement whatsoever regarding when the police would move in to remove the protesters inside the Mitrovica courthouse.  But was there any “private” agreement dealing with the protesters that were arrested?  That question apparently was not asked to Mr. Rossin and therefore not answered by him. 

Larry Rossin went on to say the following:

That being the case and after planning and consultation with COMKFOR and with the Police Commissioner, I authorized the operation that took place early Monday morning to reassert our control of the courthouse and to re-establish legality and law and order in North Mitrovica at the courthouse.

Okay, Mr. Rossin “authorized” the operation. Without commenting at length on how a PDSRSG becomes the person in charge of “authorizing” a police action, it is clear that at least in Mr. Rossin’s mind, he believes to be in charge.  Fine, give Napolean his due. 

Here is where it gets interesting.  Here is where most newspapers are going to get it wrong.  And here is where lying by omission becomes tangible.  Larry Rossin then quickly said the following:

According to the established Kosovo law, thirty-two of the court occupiers were temporarily detained, processed, and then released back to north Mitrovica. Criminal investigations into all these illegal acts, including murder and attempted murder, perpetrated on UNMIK and on KFOR soldiers are ongoing and we firmly intend to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice.

It’s interesting that all the questions by the press dealt either with the “agreement” Larry Rossin had with Minister Samardzic or what the UN plans on doing in Mitrovica. The real issue here deals with Rossin’s statement about “thirty-two of the court occupiers” who were “temporarily detained, processed, and then released back to north Mitrovica.” Mr. Rossin smoothly talked past this subject with the same ease as Bill Clinton.  Suprisingly or perhaps not surprisingly, no one picked up on it.

Doesn’t anyone find it the least bit interesting that thirty-two protesters were only “temporarily detained” after they were apparently “arrested.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, the police have no more than 72 hours to detain an individual who has been arrested. The policy reason behind the “72 hour rule” is to allow the police to gather additional evidence. 

Now, answer me this, Mr. Rossin:  what could the police truly have gathered on 32 protesters if they were only temporarily detained? Nada.  Further, how are the police going to find the thirty-two protesters in North Mitrovica to continue with their investigation?  Good luck with that. 

Essentially, these 32 protesters were released without a full and thorough investigation.  What kind of message does this send about the rule of law?  In many ways, the message is that violence works.  Shoot at police and throw grenades at police anytime anyone gets arrested.  So much for taking a stand.

The question is, why? Mr. Rossin’s version of events makes absolutely no sense. Let’s break down his statement:

1) There was no implicit or explicit agreement with the Serbian Minister;

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2) The situation of the protesters in the building was a serious one because they were there illegally and had to be removed to establish the rule of law;

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3) Rossin authorized an operation to remove the protesters;

-EQUALS-

Protesters are removed and then released later that day back to North Mitrovica.

Huh?  This doesn’t add up. Someone from Reuters should ask Larry Rossin directly about why the thirty-two protesters were only temporarily detained and not arrested. Someone should ask Larry Rossin whether he had anything to do with why the thirty-two protesters were only temporarily detained and not arrested? 

UN Policeman Ihor Kinal Dies From Injuries Caused By Serbian Protesters/Hyenas

Senior Lieutenant Ihor Kinal, a UN policemen from the Ukraine, died last night from shrapnel injuries sustained yesterday from Serbian protesters.  In fact, all twenty Ukrainian officers from the Special Police Unit involved in the situation in Mitrovica are in the hospital due to injuries.  All of this started yesterday when United Nations police arrested thirty-two protesters (none of them were minors or “youths”) who were illegally occupying the courthouse in Mitrovica. 

None of these thirty-two protesters were hurt at all by police, nor anyone else for that matter inside the courthouse.  To be sure, several police came into the building armed and with protective gear.  But that was a precaution in any type of case where police are entering a building such as this and particularly when there was a grounded belief that the protesters may have weapons (due to the fact that a grenade was found last Friday in the courtyard of the courthouse after the protesters removed the gates and stormed the building). 

The protesters were arrested on the minor charge of Unlawful Occupation of Real Property, which carries a sentence of between a fine to 1 year imprisonment.  These protesters were released yesterday after questioning in Pristina.  It is unclear why they were released when the police certainly did not complete their full investigation, but I am sure there was a political component that sidelined a full and complete police investigation.  I’ll save that for a later post, but journalists should ask the Police Commissioner and the Head of the Department of Justice about who forced them to sideline their investigation.  Unfortunately, the answer is business as usual, because while those residing in the UN’s Main HQ preach volumes about judicial independence and the rule of the law, their actions are precisely contrary to that.

Anyway, as the 32 protesters were being placed into vehicles for the drive to Pristina for processing, a large group of Serbian protesters (none of them were minors or “youths” as some have reported) began throwing stones and other objects at the vehicles.  The police were able to remove the 32 protesters safely from Mitrovica, but not before several UN vehicles were destroyed or set ablaze by the Serbian protesters.  At that point, KFOR released tear gas and only tear gas. 

Angry that the 32 protesters were arrested for illegally occupying the courthouse and apparently believing that tear gas was a lethal threat to their lives, several Serbian protesters began shooting AK-47s and throwing grenades at the KFOR soldiers. hyena.jpgThe shrapnel from one of these grenades thrown by a Serbian protester caused the death of Senior Lieutenant Ihor Kinal.  Other law enforcement officials were injured severely as well due to the attacks by the Serbian protesters.

It was only after Serbian protesters began directing lethal force at KFOR did KFOR respond.  Even then, KFOR’s response was muted due to political pressures. 

For his part, and to prove to the world that he is in touch with reality, Serbia’s President Boris Tadic publicly and vehemently accused the UN and KFOR of using “excessive force.” 

WTF?!  What the hell planet is he from?  And to think he’s the “moderate” one?   

Kosovo: UN Takes Back The Courthouse In Mitrovica From Serbian Protesters . . . Mayhem Follows

Breaking–  At about 5:00 a.m. today, international police and KFOR stormed the courthouse which has been illegally occupied by Serb protesters since last Friday.  Approximately 30 people have been arrested and are expected to be brought to Pristina for processing.  Under the Provisional Criminal Procedure Code of Kosovo, if the police have “grounded suspicion” (akin to probable cause) that a defendant has committed a crime, then the police can detain the defendant for 72 hours. matches.jpg A defendant has access to an attorney.  After 72 hours, the police either have to release the defendant or bring the defendant in front of a judge for a detention hearing (bail or no bail). 

It is unclear what the protesters have been arrested for at this time, but there is likely a range between minor offenses to crimes related to the participation in a crowd that commits a criminal offense.  Given the ethnic tensions, I do expect this case to be handled by International Prosecutors.

Although the arrests and seizure of the protesters inside the building went without incident, the same can’t be said for what happened after.  Once the protesters were arrested, approximately one hundred Serbian protesters gathered near the District courthouse and began hurling stones and objects at both the international police and KFOR.  Despite the police use of tear gas, at least two UN vehicles were damaged.  Police and civilian injuries are unknown at this time.  The “confrontation” between the Serbian protesters and police is still underway.  I had hoped that everything will settle down shortly. 

It did not.  Serbian protesters are firing their AK-47s and other firearms.  Protesters have also thrown grenades at KFOR.  At least 20 KFOR officers have been injured, some seriously. 

The Serbian protesters  who had been holed up in the Court for the last three days, some of whom were former employees of the court, demanded to set up their own court.  Not surprisingly, UNMIK refused this request.  Fortunately, the dispute was not sent to the Troika for further negotiations. 

Here is a press release from UNMIK:

Principal Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (PDSRSG) in Kosovo Larry Rossin and COMKFOR Lt.-Gen. Xavier Bout de Marnhac condemn the resort to lethal violence, including direct fire, taken by a mob today at the Mitrovica Court house.

The PDSRSG and COMKFOR underlined that the violence directed at UNMIK police and KFOR personnel, which had re-established control of the Court in a joint operation this morning, is a flagrant breach of UN Security Council resolution 1244. They urged all communities to exercise calm. They said further that the resort to violence crosses one of the red lines that have been clearly articulated to the leaders of Kosovo Serbs in the north and to officials in Belgrade, adding that UNMIK and KFOR will reassert control of north Mitrovica.

As a temporary measure, UNMIK police from north Mitrovica are redeploying outside of the city while KFOR re-establishes control. UNMIK police, supported by KFOR, remain in control at Gates 1 and 31 and in other parts of the Mitrovica region. The operation by UNMIK Police and KFOR to restore law and order in northern Mitrovica by re-establishing control of the UNMIK Courthouse began at approximately 5:30am this morning. The Court house had been forcibly occupied by a mob on Friday, 14 March.

Drop Down Menus: The Real Barrier To The Independence of Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro? (Or How Kosovo and Serbia Have More In Common Then You Think)

In its rocky but resolute path towards independence and after, Kosovo has met its share of notable detractors.  Russia.  Serbia.  China.  Cyprus.  But, truth be told, the positions of these countries were never really in doubt.  There was no surprise in anyone’s mind that Russia or Serbia would not now, and probably not ever, recognize Kosovo’s independence. http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://interactionculture.files.wordpress.com/2007/11/countrydropdown.jpg&imgrefurl=http://interactionculture.wordpress.com/2007/11/02/balancing-values-usability/&h=390&w=419&sz=46&hl=en&start=18&um=1&tbnid=OH5sgxCRrsnrpM:&tbnh=116&tbnw=125&prev=/images%3Fq%3Ddrop%2Bdown%2Bmenu%2Bcountry%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff The same probably goes for China (i.e., the People’s Republic of China as opposed to the Republic of China) as well as for Cyprus (but not the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus).

So what now?  Does Kosovo and the international community try to spend its limited resources on changing the minds of countries that will unlikely change their mind?  Shouldn’t hard earned money and time be spent on things that really can make a difference?  Well, like what?

For starters, how about drop down menus.  That’s right, the real barrier to worldwide recognition of Kosovo’s independence are not countries or cults of personality, but the silent killer: drop down menus.  To date, I have not been able to locate any drop down menus where you could select “Kosovo” as a country.  In fact, I have only been able to find one drop down menu that lists “Serbia” and “Montenegro” as separate countries.  Most drop down menus either list “Yugoslavia” or “Serbia & Montenegro” or both as countries.  Of course, as I’m sure everyone in the matrix knows, neither “Yugoslavia” nor “Serbia & Montenegro” exist.  But in the real world of drop down menus, they do.

Don’t think for one second that these drop down menus are mistakes or oversights.  After all, I have to date not found a drop down menu that lists the U.S.S.R as a country.  The super-majority of drop down menus list Taiwan as a country, Kazakhstan, and of course Macedonia (although some report it as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

So what gives?  Who or what is behind these drop down menus?  Perhaps if the international community spends time discovering the mastermind behind the drop down menus, then maybe there would be less tension in the Balkans. 

A large part of me, though, feels that the majority of the programmers who are making these drop down menus are Americans.  As most know, Americans are horrible at geography, even when it comes to their own geography.  I think this is the result of believing you are the center of the world, so why feel any need to know where anything else is.  I think if you say “Yugoslavia” to most Americans, you’ll likely get this response, “Oh, that’s the country that makes those crappy cars, right?”

Jeez.  To all those programmers out there, you may have different stands on whether Kosovo should be independent or not.  But at least change what isn’t at issue:  YUGOSLAVIA NO LONGER EXISTS nor does SERBIA & MONTENEGRO.