Updating one of our Kosovo features… This is the English version of our recent article in Italy’s LiberoReporter:
Kosovo, the predominantly Muslim land severed from Serbia by US and NATO military intervention, finds itself today in the curious position of being officially one of the most pro-Western Islamic countries in the world while simultaneously holding the unsavory record of having the largest per capita rate of citizens joining the terrorist group Islamic State (formerly ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. In a country of 1.8 million, 314 Kosovars have been positively identified by the police over the past two years as Islamic State recruits and the actual number may be far higher. This seemingly puzzling scenario defies a single, simple explanation, but there are several factors in the religious, political, economic and historical fabric of Kosovo that offer some answers…
Despite the heavy involvement of the United Nations and the European Union, underlying problems of corruption and crime have never been adequately addressed since the conclusion of the Kosovo War in 1999.
The judiciary is consistently ranked by Kosovars as the most corrupt institution in Kosovo and the European Commission reports that extensive electoral fraud continues with no end in sight. Further weakening the legitimacy of the government of Kosovo is the backdrop of the ongoing ethnic conflict between Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs (The Kosovo War left many weapons scattered across the country in the hands of those that know how to use them and who became accustomed to killing).
This political instability in Kosovo, coupled with a significant Kosovar diaspora built up in Western Europe during the 1990s has created ideal conditions for Kosovo to earn its reputation as “Europe’s crime hub.” And, indeed, violent street crime, particularly in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, and organized crime involvement in drug trafficking, human trafficking and organ theft remains rampant despite the ongoing efforts of the United Nations to build up a functioning police service in Kosovo and of the European Union through the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo.
The above conditions have led to high levels of unemployment and have kept Kosovo mired in an environment where the Gross Domestic Product per capita in Kosovo in 2015 (the most recent year for which records are available) was recorded at only $3,785.59 US dollars. These circumstances are leading many, particularly the young, to become bitter and looking for more out of life – prime targets for radicalization.
Islamic groups have happily stepped in to this vacuum in Kosovo and have been rapidly gaining influence. These gains have made local authorities and moderate imams nervous as they blame the problem of radicalization in Kosovo on a network of extremist clerics backed by money coming from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and other Arab nations. Funded through a network of private donations, shadowy religious charities and Islamic scholarship programs, these clerics spread the brand of Islam known as Wahhabism, a hardline sect to which Saudi Arabia adheres.
Since the end of the war, Islamic religious charities from the Gulf countries have also established a strong presence in Kosovo, offering computer and English lessons along with instruction in the Koran. Many young men have taken scholarships to train as imams in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries.
Women in veils or burqas and men in traditional Islamic dress with untrimmed beards have become a common sight across Kosovo.
And so it is that we are reminded yet again that the laws of unintended consequences remain alive and well.