About the Author: Henrietta H. Fore is Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and Director of Foreign Assistance for the U.S. Department of State.
When future historians look back on our era, they will be as dismayed as the rest of us by the ethnic conflict and violence that tore apart the former Yugoslavia after the collapse of communism. After all, the future was supposed to be about peace, not war. But history was not yet done as war came to the Balkans, and Kosovo was caught in the middle.
For more than a decade, the violence continued, until the UN and NATO intervened to help Kosovo back on its feet. Today, with the help of the international community, the people of Kosovo have begun writing a new chapter in their history, and it is, at long last, an encouraging one. Kosovo has become an independent nation recognized by more than 40 countries, including the United States and over two-thirds of European Union member states. It has a new constitution, a democratically-elected, multi-ethnic government, and a new set of laws to protect minority rights and Kosovo's unique cultural and religious heritage.
By almost every measure, the people of Kosovo have come a long way. But what they need now is our support and on July 11, an international donors' conference, chaired by the European Commission, will be held in Brussels to help Kosovo continue its recovery. Despite the progress it has made, Kosovo still needs our help building national institutions, consolidating its young democracy, and laying the groundwork for future investment and development to help forge sustainable economic opportunity for its people.
So, you may ask: Is Kosovo a good investment? Absolutely and here is why.
First, international assistance is really making a difference on the ground. I saw firsthand on a recent trip as donor aid has helped build roads and schools, strengthened the financial sector, and provided electricity and clean water for citizens throughout this tiny nation. For example, in the divided northern town of Mitrovica, internationally-funded projects have brought high school students from ethnic Serb and Albanian backgrounds together and helped them gain job experience. Other projects have supported the rule of law by providing technical assistance, training and equipment for Kosovo's police force and judiciary and helped municipal governments expand their services to citizens while also increasing their revenues. By operating in both Serb majority and Albanian majority towns, these projects have increased the citizens' confidence in the government as well as in their own future inside a sovereign Kosovo. I was also impressed by the energy and entrepreneurial spirit I encountered from business owners and entrepreneurs eager to sell everything from vegetable seedlings to furniture.
Secondly, Kosovo has also taken important steps to bring together its ethnically divided society. The government has passed new laws on decentralization and minority rights that will support the plan by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari to help Kosovo become a stable and functional state, oriented toward Europe.
Thirdly, the United States has already spent over $1.1 billion for Kosovo's development, and we will pledge more on July 11. Our commitment is for the long-term but we recognize many challenges still remain. They cannot be tackled without additional international assistance. Kosovo needs help to prepare for the debt it will inherit from Serbia. It needs to create and maintain strong rule of law institutions such as independent courts and police so they can provide the foundation for a safe and secure society. And there is more work to do to support private enterprise, create jobs, improve the energy and transportation infrastructure, and develop a professional security force as Kosovo moves away from international administration. All of these projects will take time, money and commitment.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, most of the citizens of Kosovo are more than ready for reconciliation. When the U.S. Agency for International Development sponsored a week of cultural and sports activities last month that attracted more than 1,500 people in five Kosovo Serb communities, one young participant summed up the feelings of many: "Finally," he said with a smile, "there is something happening in our community, and it is not politics." Indeed, Kosovo has become an engine of hope for a region plagued by a history of conflict.
I will be in Brussels this week as head of the U.S. delegation, and I look forward to seeing my counterparts from Europe and other regions. Our presence underscores our belief that Kosovo's success as an independent nation is vital not only to regional stability but also to a larger Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.
The people of Kosovo are still writing their history, they have turned to a new chapter and they need our help.