PRISTINA, Kosovo My cabby curses at the white Nissan Patrol blocking a teeming intersection in Pristina. The SUV's driver, a Pakistani U.N. worker, desperately jerks the gearshift while angry hooting builds from the cars behind him. Something inside my cabby snaps, and he roars with laughter: "First the Turks. Then the Serbs. And now? We are invaded by Pakistan!"via LaurenceJarvikOnline
That's right, he called the U.N. worker an invader. But you can hardly blame him. The man driving the Nissan Patrol is part of the most extensive U.N. operation in history, one that wore out its welcome long ago....
To understand this resentment, consider the case of a 70-year-old Kosovar widow who awoke one morning in December 2000 to find her telephone disconnected because of an unpaid bill. The bill wasn't hers, she protested -- it belonged to the international manager of Kosovo's power company named Joe Trutschler who rented her home in Pristina. When the telephone company contacted him about the bill, he denied responsibility for the calls, even though they were made to his home phone number in Germany.
The widow didn't give up. She didn't have much choice: The bill was for the equivalent of $5,100, a year and a half's salary in Kosovo. But when she appealed to U.N. officials, they claimed no responsibility for an employee's private activities, she said. She filed a complaint at the local court in Pristina, only to learn that, as a U.N. employee, Trutschler enjoyed immunity in Kosovo.
Trutschler, who got his job with a bogus résumé that was never checked by U.N. officials, didn't just bilk his landlady. In 2003, he was convicted in Germany of embezzling the equivalent of $4.3 million from the Kosovo power company, and he was recently named in newspaper reports as one of 11 suspects being investigated for bilking $10 million from the water company. Meanwhile, the widow's phone is still dead.
Only 30 percent of Kosovars have faith in the United Nations, according to a U.N. bulletin in fall 2006 -- half the number that believed in the international administration four years ago. Fifty percent of the population is prepared to participate in organized protests against the world community, U.N. reports say. It's easy to see why. Kosovars have watched fraudsters use U.N. immunity to escape justice and seen foreign companies pocket millions of dollars in aid without delivering meaningful results....
Kosovo's gross domestic product is scandalously low. Kosovars use soap from Bulgaria and wear T-shirts from Taiwan. Their flour comes from the Czech Republic and their drinking water from Hungary. As long as Kosovo remains a U.N. protectorate, a non-country, outside business investments will never come.
But what investments do you need to grow cucumber? While their own fields lie fallow, Kosovars eat tomatoes from Turkey and lettuce from Italy. It pays better to sell chewing gum to internationals than to toil in the fields. And eight years after the war, the local courts appointed and supervised by the United Nations still have not sorted out who owns the fields.
The United Nations could argue that it lacks the funds to pay judges. But then why does it pay an employee from Sierra Leone more than $11,000 per month to teach Kosovars how to run their railroads? The Kosovar railroad workers, who survive on just over $200 per month, were more than a little offended to learn that Sierra Leone's last trains stopped running in 1975. Their teacher was an expert on harbors.
U.N. top brass knows full well that Kosovars are losing patience. Last year Inga-Britt Ahlenius, U.N. undersecretary general for internal oversight services, warned if the administration continued to ignore corruption, the whole mission could be jeopardized. "[T]he reluctance by senior Mission management to address fraud and corruption will have a devastating impact on public perception inside and outside of Kosovo," she wrote.
UPDATE: Doug Muir at A Fistful of Euros wonders whether Kosovo is destined to become a Balkan Taiwan.