One Kosovo official suggests a free economic zone in Kosovo north, but experts say rule of law is the precondition for improvement in the ethnically divided area.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 25/07/12
Behgjet Pacolli, Kosovo deputy prime minister, suggests a tax-free zone for the country's north as a solution to the area problems. [Reuters]
Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Behgjet Pacolli is suggesting an economic free zone in northern Kosovo as a step towards decreasing local tensions.
"I would do my best to enable the functioning of the free economic zone, for which the international community would benefit, as the money it spends on police could instead be invested in production," Pacolli, who owns several private businesses, said in an interview with Frankford-based Vesti.
He added that both Albanians and Serbs would benefit from this zone, but admits that the proposal has not been discussed yet, although he proposed it several years ago as an economic means to a solution for northern Kosovo.
"Over the next 20 or 30 years it would create thousands of new jobs annually," Pacolli said, explaining that while producers in Germany currently pay up to 50% tax, the free tax zone would be 5%.
Seb Bytyci, the executive director of Balkan Policy Institute, told SETimes that although boosting the economy can help decrease tensions, the rule of law must be ensured.
"A free economic zone can help decrease tensions in northern Kosovo, but only if it's established along with the rule of law. … That region has the standard of living in Kosovo, and it is also [economically] subsidised by Serbian public servants' double salaries [from Kosovo and Serbia government posts]," Bytyci said.
Bytyci acknowledged that economy is an important factor, but building civic links across the ethnic divide should be a priority. He said nationalist politics are to blame, not the economy.
"Economic co-operation between Serbs and Albanians already exists, but it has not lessened the tensions, especially in the public sphere, mainly because politicians use ethnic politics as a populist way to gain sympathy. We cannot blame the tensions [on] the lack of economic development, because we know politicians have used public companies to build and man barricades, and young people from Serbia come to man the barricades in north Kosovo," Bytyci said.
Olivier Ivanovic, outgoing secretary of state at the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo , said that Albanians in Pristina must accept that the north is different from the south, and should have unique programmes.
"The north of Kosovo will be something special, which can be reflected in what will be no customs zone," Ivanovic told reporters in Serbia.
"It is … clear that in principle all Albanians believe that the north will be somewhat different," he said, adding that this idea "shows the specifications of the north, which Pacolli admits, because this is the reality that must be translated into some legal and political definition," Ivanovic said.
Citizens in Mitrovica had different views on the political outcome of Pacolli's proposal, but agree that economic problems need attention.
Xhemshit Kasumi, a bakery owner from Mitrovica, said that that economy can help unite the city, as it did before.
"We all, Serbs and Albanians, worked together in the factories and market here, never had problems until Milosevic and the war started. People are unemployed and this makes them to react negatively towards each other, and think that it's the other side to be blamed for the economic situation," he told SETimes.
Dragomir Rasic, a painter, told SETimes that Pacolli's idea has merit.
"All live badly, Serbs and the Albanians; the economy has not changed and I hope his idea would become reality, but I don't think that they in Pristina and Belgrade would support this, because they do not live here and don't have economic problems we have," he said.