West fails to put money where its troops are

The province's budget for this year is equivalent to the cost of half a day's bombing by Nato

Jonathan Steele

Thursday March 16, 2000

Pristina - Petrit Dushi waited patiently in the street, in sub-zero temperatures, for his pension. Eight months after the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (Unmik) set up shop in Pristina, the word had gone out that it was finally going to give money to the over-70s.

Although Unmik runs the old Yugoslav television station, it had not seen fit to make a formal announcement of the new payments, let alone create an orderly handout system. So thousands of elderly people besieged the office on the strength of the rumour. "I waited for three days and then caught a cold and gave up," Mr Dushi said later, smiling.

Had Mr Dushi received his money, it would have amounted to DM30 (£10) a month. He can afford to make light of it because his son, Besar, a fluent English-speaker, gets a reasonable monthly salary of £360 from Oxfam.

UN officials acknowledge that the pensions which Serbs over 65 get in northern Mitrovice are roughly double the UN payments. The Serbs get extra money from President Slobodan Milosevic's government in Belgrade.

But the blame for the stinginess lies with western governments which have refused to give generously for a budget which is only £184m for a population of 2m. "Kosovo's entire budget for the year 2000 is equivalent to the cost of around half a day's bombing," says Bernard Kouchner, the UN administrator.

Public service salaries are pitiful. The average is £90 a month. What every Kosovo Albanian with language skills - from doctors to engineers - wants is a well-paid job as a translator.

"We have no English teacher in my school. They're all working with non-governmental organisations," says Arben Kajtazi, 18. "I kid my French teacher that if he gives me a decent mark, I'll find him a job with Médecins sans Frontières."

Serbs, too, do well as translators. It is almost the only job they can get, although they do have to travel to work with an armed escort along streets they can no longer walk safely.

Next rung up the pay ladder are the foreigners who work for one of the 340 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or, better still, one of the big international organisations. Their Japanese four-wheel drives whoosh up and down Pristina's roads.

But visible signs of the international community's success are scarce. Power cuts interrupt the cold evenings for three hours at a time. Water comes patchily, and telephones do not exist in large parts of the town. The massive destruction of houses by the Serbs in the countryside has brought tens of thousands of people to Pristina, doubling its prewar population to almost 600,000. This partly explains the pressure on public services which, UN officials claim, received no investment in the last decade of Serb rule.

On the military front and across Kosovo, coordination is little better. When French troops put on their masks and launched tear gas at Albanian demonstrators in Mitrovice last month, they did not bother to warn the British soldiers who were trying to hold back the crowd. The French got a brisk lesson in English bar-room abuse.

General Klaus Reinhardt, the commander of K-For, the Nato-led international peace force, has been trying without success to get authorisation to deploy men from any of the five sectors (US, British, French, German and Italian) into which Kosovo was carved.

Meanwhile, Russia is stepping up its complaints that the UN has gone too far in separating Kosovo from Yugoslavia by giving it the deutschmark as its currency and setting up customs points on the border.

For the residents of Kosovo, there are more shocks coming. Donor governments have made it clear they will not finance any more current expenditure after this year and will only pay for large investment projects.

The European Union has also made it clear it sees Kosovo as a typical communist economy "in transition". The old welfare system must go, to be replaced by "means-tested social welfare payments to the needy instead", says Joly Dixon, the EU official in charge of the economy.

On the housing front, although 50,000 houses were destroyed by Serb forces during the war, the EU has only budgeted for 20,000 to be rebuilt with state aid this year. "We prefer a needs assessment to a damage assessment, which concentrates on the household rather than the house," says Mr Dixon.

Families who struggled back from refugee camps to find mass graves and ruined homes are getting a tough message.

Pristina's streets are already filling up with a generation of bored young people, demobilised guerrillas, country-to-town migrants, and school-leavers with no chance of a good job except as drivers and translators for an international circus which will soon start pulling out. Welcome to peacetime Kosovo.

Original article