Elton Skendaj. Creating Kosovo: International Oversight and the Making of Ethical Institutions. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014. Illustrations, tables, figures. 248 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-5294-9.
Reviewed by Arlinda Rrustemi (Universiteit Leiden)
Published on H-Diplo (January, 2016)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
The Role of International and Local Community in Creating Kosovo
Elton Skendaj’s Creating Kosovo: International Oversight and the Making of Ethical Institutions provides an in-depth analysis of state building and democracy promotion in the case of Kosovo. State building has been analyzed in depth from the institutional perspective; however, Skendaj’s book tackles it from a different angle by focusing on bureaucracies. He attempts to reconcile the needs of the international and local communities in post-conflict reconstruction processes. He does this by contributing to the highly debated concepts in the literature on “local ownership” and “democratization” through a detailed analysis of the case study of Kosovo. Dealing with these concepts, the work draws attention to unresolved theoretical questions in the state-building and post-liberal peace-building literatures. Answering the democratization and state-building hypotheses with rich data (many interviews) and a structured organization and presentation of the material contributes to the salience of the book. His main conclusion is that to build effective bureaucracies, the international community must protect public officials from political and societal influences, whereas to build effective democracy, the international community must promote public participation and contestation.
By bridging the gap between theory and practice, he demonstrates the salience of citizens’ mobilization through international support for democratization to occur. Democracy promotions will be successful with the help of this mobilization, and when there is political support to organize free and fair elections; the creation of multiple political parties; and a strengthened civil society, including the media and governing institutions. In the case of Kosovo, the international community’s support for mass mobilization and participation of Kosovars was essential to the regime change in 1999. However, after the war, citizens were demobilized by the political elite, and when the international community supported mass demobilization, “further consolidation of democracy” was “undermined” (p. 30). Therefore, Skendaj argues, mass mobilization should be encouraged, because, when the international community supported citizens’ political participation and political contestation, democratization was more successful. The latter suggestion resonates with the post-liberal peace theorists who argue that politics should become the epicenter of post-conflict reconstruction, not only for the state but also for peace-building processes. Thus democratic processes are necessary from the beginning to maintain an efficient democracy. This challenges the Paris argument that sequencing of democracy and state building is more efficient for post-conflict reconstruction.
Most important, Skendaj analyzes state building by focusing on bureaucracies. In the case study of Kosovo, this focus is absent in state-building scholarship; however, general studies emphasizing state functions have been conducted in the peace-building literature. He focuses on four main bureaucracies of the state: two successful bureaucracies, the customs service and police force, and two unsuccessful bureaucracies, the central administration and court system. The unsuccessful bureaucracies failed to penalize corruption and were not responsive to the public’s demands by relying on clientalist patterns of political leaders. In contrast, the effective bureaucracies fought corruption and were responsive to the public’s demands. He derived these conclusions by developing a methodology to measure the effectiveness of bureaucracy with three indicators: mission evaluation, penalization of corruption, and responsiveness to the public. These conclusions may be used by states or international organizations to more effectively measure institutions in the future. According to Skendaj, the mechanisms that contribute to institutions’ effectiveness are presumed to be the international insulation of institutions from the political and societal influences by the hiring and training of competent employees and meritocratic recruitment and promotion. Since the international community insulated the police force and customs service from political interferences, the officials built their careers on merit and focused on performance and ethics rather than political gain. This contrasts the arguments provided by the post-liberal peace theorists (Olivier P. Richmond and others) requesting less international interference, more local ownership, and transference of the institutions to local actors. By advocating continued international interference in post-conflict reconstruction processes, Skendaj contributes to the local ownership debates.
He further argues that the performance of institutions and their insulation increases when media and civil society support professional bureaucracies by monitoring their work and showing the results to the public. Furthermore, reelection of leaders must be an incentive to not hijack institutions, since monitoring by civil society and media would expose them and incentivize them to support professional bureaucracies. However, this conclusion has not considered some aspects, such as political apathy that results in low voter turnout and the lack of fair and free elections in fragile states. In addition, there is high dependence and donor-driven civil society in fragile states. Because of these factors, insulation of institutions may be a short-term rather than a long-term remedy.
Some other aspects have not been considered in the book. Proposing meritocracy as the main factor for successful state building is limited. The author refrains from acknowledging the risks meritocracy poses in fragile and also democratic states. The book The Rise of Meritocracy by Michael Young (twelfth edition, 2011), a British sociologist, warns about the shortcomings of meritocracy in the United Kingdom and predicts a public revolt in 2033. Young provides a historical analysis on how the education system became compulsory and examinations were introduced to civil service in 1970s. As a result, the status of citizens could be altered, respectively upgraded by education, not solely by birth prescriptions. However, Young argues that the new social class has shortcomings since it allows less room for others to enter. This runs the risk that poorer groups may be marginalized and demoralized. Young’s argument is that these groups lack political representation in Parliament, since they are leaderless and disengaged and vote less often since ordinary people have fewer elite to identify with. Skendaj does assume that talent indeed promotes progress and wealth but this connection is not absolute.
Meritocracy has shortcomings in developing countries since generally the poverty level remains high and the level of education remains low. For instance, Kosovo has high rates of unemployment and poverty. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe; by the US threshold (five dollars per day), 80 percent of its population is considered poor. Furthermore, there is widespread unemployment; the employment rate is 28.4 percent. Education is considered as one of the main components to boost economic growth from the World Bank, while the latest World Bank report acknowledges that education quality is weak, inequitable, and does not provide the skills to transition to the labor market. Therefore, more caution may be necessary when advocating solutions based on meritocracy with an aim of creating effective bureaucracies. Instead, rather than only introducing meritocracy, a combination with serious reform of the educational system may be a more promising way to strengthen state institutions. Among other shortcomings, there is a need to engage with the growing literature on citizens’ resistance to the international community’s state-building and democracy promotion activities and the role of security in shaping the international community’s decision making in fragile states.
. Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh and Oliver P. Richmond, “Conclusion: Typologies and Modifications Proposed by Critical Approaches,” in Rethinking the Liberal Peace: External Models and Local Alternatives, ed. Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh (New York: Routledge, 2011), 221-241, esp. 232-233.
. Charles T. Call, “Ending Wars, Building States” in Building States to Build Peace, ed. Vanessa Wyeth and Charles T. Call (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008), 365-388.
. “Meritocracy and Its Discontents,” The Economist (2006), http://www.economist.com/node/7961962.
. The World Bank Group in Kosovo, Country Snapshot, 2015, http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/kosovo/overview.
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Arlinda Rrustemi. Review of Skendaj, Elton, Creating Kosovo: International Oversight and the Making of Ethical Institutions.
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