With so many foreign policy hot spots around the world, many Americans take the stability of Europe for granted. But as recent events in Ukraine remind us, we have yet to reach the point at which Europe is truly “whole and free.” In the Balkans, great strides have been made as some countries have entered the European Union and NATO and others appear on the path toward future Euro-Atlantic integration. Yet we must not lose focus, as other nations in the region are still working to consolidate their gains and overcome the legacy of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
This week marks the sixth anniversary of Kosovo’s independence in 2008. Since that time, Kosovo has built the infrastructure of a modern state. It is now a vibrant democracy with an improving economy and business environment. Today, 105 countries recognize Kosovo, and it is a member of international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The past 12 months have been particularly noteworthy. In April 2013, Kosovo signed a historic agreement with Serbia, with the support of the EU, normalizing relations between the two states. In October, the EU launched negotiations with Kosovo on an agreement that will bring the country closer to Europe. And in November Kosovo held an overwhelmingly peaceful and orderly local election that marked an important step forward for its young multiethnic democracy.
Given where Kosovo was just a decade ago, this progress is remarkable. But even with its achievements, challenges remain. Domestically, the jobless rate is still high, corruption remains a concern, and interethnic trust and cooperation must improve. The bottom line is that the work of consolidating democracy, prosperity, and security in Kosovo, and indeed in the Balkans, is not yet done.
I see three factors as critical to ensuring the lasting success of Kosovo and its neighbors. First, the United States must remain directly and actively engaged in Kosovo and the wider region. Recent history has shown that progress in the Balkans has always been accompanied by high-level U.S. attention, and now — when Kosovo’s notable achievements are still solidifying — is not the moment for us to shift our attention and resources away. We have invested heavily in Kosovo, and we need to stay focused to keep the process on track.
Second, normalized relations between Kosovo and Serbia is key to both countries’ development, as well as wider regional stability. Both must build on the accomplishments of the past year and tackle the difficult task of implementing the April 2013 agreement. This means that Kosovo must continue down the path of integrating Serbs and other minorities and Serbia must dismantle the parallel structures in northern Kosovo, which are a lingering source of instability. Here again, I see a key role for the United States in support of the implementation process.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.