Since the establishment of the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) in 1999, the international community has been working to develop local institutions and help them function at a level comparable to western democracies, writes Nikola Gaon of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.
In late 2003 UNMIK created the Standards for Kosovo, which relate principally to the establishment of functioning institutions of local governance and respect for fundamental human rights.
The main Standards are: functioning democratic institutions; rule of law; freedom of movement; sustainable returns and the rights of communities and their members; the economy; property rights; dialogue and the role of the Kosovo Protection Corps.
Plan for Standards implementation
A plan for the implementation of the Standards has also been drawn up in co-operation with the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government. The institutions are required to make significant progress on implementation before discussions on the future status of Kosovo are held.
However, despite the international community's adoption of the slogan 'Standards before status' - intended to underline the importance of the benchmarks - local authorities were often reluctant to move forward with the implementation process.
UNMIK and the OSCE Mission have taken many joint initiatives to help build public acceptance and support for the implementation of the Standards, the latest of which is an interactive play for schoolchildren (as well as teachers and parents) by a multi-ethnic theatre group from the Kosovo Institute for Drama, Theatre and Choreography.
The group, which is currently on the road, plans to visit all primary schools in Kosovo to teach the benefits of Standards and their adoption. Performances are in both Albanian and Serbian, depending on which language is spoken in the schools.
The play, the premiere of which I had the pleasure of attending at Ismail Qemajli primary school in Prishtinë/Pristina in May, is straightforward and easy for children to understand, using situations from daily life to illustrate the benefits of the Standards.
The show must go on
The government officials who were invited to attend the premiere were late, so the play began without them and their entourage - the show for the children had to go on.
In the play's first scene, children are selling telephone cards and cigarettes on the street, while an elderly man from out of town is having problems finding the municipal building. All the signs have been spray-painted over to cover the parts of street and institution names written in Serbian, which makes the Albanian language writing on the signs harder to read (in addition to Albanian, Serbian is also an official language in Kosovo).
Things get worse after the man finally reaches the building, as he is sent from office to office by staff who are more interested in playing computer games than helping him. He even witnesses a staged media appearance by a senior municipal official who claims to be working in the best interests of the people.
At this point, the play is stopped and the audience asked to comment on what they have seen so far, and what they would like to see changed.
Children of Kosovo "get it"
The children at the performance I attended were able to identify all the instances where the Standards were being ignored, and the scene was then repeated, but with all the elements of a functioning local institution in place.
Listening to the children's comments, it was clear that they - and their parents too - know what they want: functioning institutions that provide services to everyone, regardless of their appearance or ethnic background.
The majority of the people of Kosovo want the Standards to be implemented, probably even more so than the international community. However, there are still a number of public servants, officials and politicians who still need convincing that the Standards are good for Kosovo.
This all means that the OSCE Mission, which forms the third of UNMIK's four operational 'pillars' (democratization and institution building) still has plenty of work to do to ensure that progress is made and that the voice of the people prevails over political reluctance to move forward.
Written by Nikola Gaon