When Vice-President Biden arrives in Pristina on Thursday, he is guaranteed a rapturous welcome. Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Hashim Thaçi and President, Fatmir Sejdiu have facilitated the warmest public welcome for the Vice President, including presenting him with ‘The Golden Medal of Freedom’, a state honor in recognition of his long-standing support for the country’s independence.
Kosovo’s independence attracted bipartisan support in February 2008 when it declared full independence from Serbia following seven years as a U.N.-administered protectorate. President Bush led the way by unequivocally and bilaterally endorsing the small enclave’s sovereignty which to date has been recognized by 59 countries, including 22 EU Member States.
As a pro-Western, Muslim nation, there was some speculation that Kosovo was in the running for President Obama’s much-vaunted presentation to the Islamic world (it lost out to Egypt, where the President will travel on June 4). However, the visit by Vice President Biden should be taken as a significant show of support by the Administration for both Kosovo and the Balkans more generally (Biden will visit Bosnia and Serbia too during this trip).
Since Kosovo declared its independence, EU jurists and trainers have been dispatched to the region to work on the country’s administrative and legal infrastructure, and earlier this month Kosovo formally joined the IMF. A true milestone was reached in July 2008 when Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic was captured and transferred to the International War Crimes Tribunal, demonstrating green-shoots of cooperation on Serbia’s part. This contrasted sharply with events months earlier, when Serbian rioters set fire to the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. If Serbia is now genuinely interested in compounding an image of a cooperative partner for Balkan peace rather than an anti-American belligerent, it must work with international investigators to hunt down the notorious war criminal, Ratko Mladic.
As Vice President Biden tours the U.S. Bondsteel military base in Kosovo and meets with U.S. and NATO officials, he should bear in mind the awesome power – both hard and soft – of the alliance, which was the only international institution prepared to end the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo’s Muslims in 1999.