Kosovo has "huge structural problems related to employment"

UNDP coordinator in Kosovo Andrew Russell has told B92 TV that the problems in Kosovo are the same as in the rest of the region, but that there are enormous structural problems relating to employment. However, he added that thousands of jobs have been created, including for Kosovo Serbs and other minorities

Source: B92

What is your appraisal of the economic situation in Kosovo? How do Unite Nations agencies influence changes in Kosovo?

On this first question, I think it’s an interesting question because actually at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s really that important what my opinion is on the conditions in Kosovo. What’s important for us, as UN and other international organizations, is to understand what Kosovars think, of all backgrounds, of all ethnicities. And so, what we do is a lot of public opinion survey work, and what we see again and again, is that Kosovars no matter what their background is, share the same concerns which is basically that they don’t perceive economic conditions getting better. They don’t see enough jobs being created. They have also, less now than the past, but they’ve felt very strongly about even basic access to services like water and that sort of thing.

That’s gotten a little bit better, but generally speaking Kosovars are very concerned about the economy, very concerned about jobs, very concerned about corruption as well, eating away their opportunities. And finally, I would have to say in terms of what we can do to change that. Well, we have to just focus on these real problems and real issues, and really try and bring to bear all of our technical capacities so that we can have better economic growth and start creating jobs.

The government of Kosovo is in favor of abolishing UNSC Resolution 1244, while the Serbian government opposes that. As a UN agency, have you fulfilled your goals based on the mandate stemming from Resolution 1244?

Again, excellent question. I’d have to say that, this goes back to my first response. The problems here are the same as in the rest of the region. There’s, you know, huge structural problems related to employment. I would say that in Kosovo, we really work very very similarly in how we do anywhere else in this part of the world because we’re technical, we’re not political, so we keep our eyes on the prize, we keep our eyes on the problems, the real problems, the real issues, and we don’t allow ourselves to get distracted by the politics that are always going to be present. That being said, I have to give you one example of where it is a bit of a struggle at times for us, and I can tell you more about this later if you want. But, one specific area where we do struggle compared to other parts of the region, is access to the global environment funds.

The issue of the UN’s status neutral position vis-à-vis Kosovo is a problem there because we don’t have access to those global funds, and all we have to do is be here, smell the air, look at the environmental issues. We need more resources to improve the health of Kosovars, and the environment plays a big role in that, and I wish, this is more of a criticism of us, we as the UN need to be more creative in terms of how we get access for Kosovo to these environmental, to these global environmental funds.

You have launched a campaign of 17 global development goals. Can that change the way of life in Kosovo, especially when it comes to non-majority communities?

So that leads exactly to where I want to go, which is if you look at the Global Sustainable Development Goals, look at them, they’re all about, how we have to do more on the environment, across the borders, in our cities, in our rural areas, etc. This is why we care so much about the environment, because they are critical to achieving the global goals, which are to eliminate poverty. You know this is our last chance to really reduce the enormous risks posed by climate change, and really bring equal opportunities to everyone in the world, not just here in Kosovo, not just for Kosovo Serbs or Albanians or Gorani, but across the world.

And so, the Global Sustainable Development Goals are a great opportunity to kind of connect Kosovo to the region, to the world, and really shine a light on some of the biggest problems facing Kosovo. So, for us the Sustainable Development Goals are an excellent platform for making the case for Sustainable Development in Kosovo.

We hear politicians say that life in Kosovo has improved since the start of the Brussels negotiations. From the development point of view, has the life for minorities gotten any better, what do your reports say?

And here now we’re getting into, okay, how have things changed based on these different political agreements that have happened. For us, as the UN again, we’re technical, we’re humanitarian, we have found that for us it has become easier not to create necessarily, cause we’ve always worked in the Northern part of Kosovo, we’ve always worked with Shterpca and other non-majority communities, Gracanica etc. We’ve always been there. Now, it has become easier for us and that helps us to be able to create more jobs so that’s been good for us.

I think that, when we go back to the surveys that we look at, Kosovar Serbs in particular are still concerned about the same things as everybody else, including lack of employment, lack of jobs, lack of economic opportunities. The one issue that they also indicate, perhaps more than others that we look at when we divide up between different ethnicities is the issue of public security that remains a concern for them as well. But I would that again, across the borders, non-majority population continue to be concerned about the lack of jobs and lack of employment.

The economic situation in Kosovo is very bad. What are you doing to change that, how do you strengthen economic circumstances through your programs, and do you support minority communities?

Again excellent question, very much relates to what we’ve been talking about. We have been able to scale up our programming for employment generation thanks to a number of generous partners including the Kosovo authorities who are working with us, investing, and also Finland, UK. We’ve been scaling up, we’ve been moving from generating hundreds of new jobs, here I’m specifically talking about the UN development program. Hundreds of new jobs a year to thousands, and a lot of these have affected Kosovar Serbs and other minorities.

So for example, in the North over the last year, we’ve helped over eighty survivors of gender-based violence to gain employment. We’ve done a huge amount of work over the last years so in Shterpca in particular, a lot of increases there in employment, in raspberry production. And finally, over the last I would say, fifteen years or so, typically about 15 to 17% of all of our beneficiaries, the folks who actually get jobs out of our programs are from non-majority communities.

In your opinion, how can Belgrade help Serbs in Kosovo?

We think, really again, from my perspective, the importance is to not ask my opinion on that, but actually to ask the beneficiaries, how they think they feel, about the impact of this kind of support. Certainly from, you know, my role as a development coordinator, as a development expert, I’m ready and we are ready, to work with anybody who wants to try and promote long term, holistic, integrated, sustainable development that is soundly designed and soundly implemented. Therefore, we’re the UN, we’re the services of our beneficiaries, of our member states, to help make sure that all of the resources that are being made available for development, reach those who need the most.

As I said in the beginning, we’re non-political, we’re impartial, we’re neutral, we’re the UN, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to solve real problems, we work with people across boundaries, across borders, we’re here to work with anybody who wants to work with us, including definitely, if there are ways that we can support job creation for example, that impacts and promotes cooperation between Kosovars, Kosovar-Albanians, Serbs, Macedonians, etc. We are here to serve in that capacity, we have no political agenda, we’re just here to get the job done.