Since Kosovo achieved independence in 2008, its leaders' mission was simple: win friends and influence people. At most Kosovo's future was to be a beauty contest. Having survived Milosevic's ethnic cleansing, Kosovo rightfully won the sympathy and the support of key Western powers. Billions of dollars of Western aid poured into the country. The aid supported all aspects of Kosovo's development from infrastructure projects to legal and education institutions. It was a simple and straight forward deal. The West would build the state, from its roads to its legal and education institutions; in return, the Kosovar leaders were to look good, look sharp, show an effort to build a state rooted in rule of law and most importantly maintain a good public image to win worldwide recognition as the newest state.
To date more 70 countries have recognized Kosovo's independence. However, it appears that the Kosovar leaders may have failed to keep up their end of the bargain. Hashim Thaci, former Prime Minister of Kosovo, is accused of corruption, running fraudulent elections, organ trafficking, drug smuggling, and murder. Thaci has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and with the support of many his followers, he has characterized the accusations as an attack on Kosovo. Once again, the Balkans have served up a quandary: the man or the state?
The Balkans have a strong tradition of bringing forth one-man, one-party governments. Kosovo is no different than any of the region's other countries. For decades the late President Ibrahim Rugova maintained cult like grip over the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) and the general public. Prior to Rugova's death in 2006, the LDK enjoyed overwhelming popular support. At the height of his popularity, an attack on Rugova was seen as an attack on Kosovo and the independence movement. Rugova's passing set in motion the collapse of the LDK. During the elections last month, LDK won a little more than 25% of the votes, second to Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova. The LDK's leaders blamed their poor showing at the polls on PDK manipulation of the elections. The LDK is struggling to find an identity in post-Rugova era. The party has become fractionalized. Its leaders and supporters have yet to decide whether they should build a political party based on policies or on another strong leader.
Hashim Thaci's PDK built its popular support from the former KLA commanders region of origin, Kosovo's rural regions. Thaci quickly established himself as the PDK's sole leader and the heir to the KLA's legacy. Taking a lesson from Rugova and other Balkan leaders, Thaci molded the PDK around himself. Although his PDK has continuously received no more than 35% of the votes, it currently is the largest party in Kosovo. Following last week's re-vote of the disputed national elections held in December, Thaci is struggling to form a coalition government in the face of an international public relations nightmare after the Council of Europe report that accused him of serious crimes. This raises a simple question: how many world leaders will risk their political careers for a photo opportunity with Prime Minister Thaci?
Kosovo is at a crossroads. In a perfect world Thaci and other KLA leaders who have been recently accused of wrongdoing should not be judged by the public until they have their chance in court. The burden of proof is on the accuser and not the accused. Unfortunately for them, the damage has been done. The PDK is attempting to make the accusations against Thaci seem to be accusations against Kosovo. This is not the case and as such drawing such a conclusion must be avoided. In the coming days Thaci and the Kosovars have a difficult choice either all for one or one for all? Failure to choose correctly will strain the relationship of the few real friends Kosovo has left.