Yugoslavia has now disappeared and been replaced with an artificial entity called the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, which few observers expect to survive once independence referendums are triggered in each jurisdiction. Thus the prospect of a further break-up of the successor state to Yugoslavia itself promotes the idea of an ethnically demarcated and independently constituted Kosovo.
Whilst UNMIK hopes centred on the provision of a space where an inter-ethnic dialogue could be fostered, in reality, Albanians and Serbs are now further apart than ever before. The panglossian policy choice of UNMIK and the EU has been to encourage democratic institution-building whilst continually refusing to address the issue of final status talks. Albanian frustration with this has grown steadily and now threatens to wreck the fragile post-1999 political compact. But, with talks on Kosovo's final status scheduled for next spring, the UNMIK and EU vision of the province looks increasingly unconvincing. The international community continues to oppose calls for Albanian independence. But the EU's own vision of a multi-ethnic Kosovo looks increasingly untenable in the light of the ever-diminishing Serb presence in the province (now standing at less than 100, 000).
In this political vacuum, dissatisfaction with the occupying forces has grown. After a triumphant entry to Kosovo as the liberators of the Albanians, the perception gradually developed of a neo-colonial occupying force, directed by 'the internationals', the western bureaucrats charged with reconstituting Kosovo as a functioning democracy. In the face of chronic unemployment and unleavened poverty, local views of the 'internationals' have grown profoundly negative. The marked differentials in salaries and living standards, allied to widespread perceptions of corruption on the part of the new ruling elite, have rendered the 'internationals' a much less neutral (and thus less effective) player in the political process. The government of Kosovo, headed by Bajram Rexhepi, governs only in a nominal sense. Five years after the NATO intervention, it is still NATO and UNMIK that wield real power in the province.
The goal of the political process, as in other post-conflict polities such as Northern Ireland, has centred on building trust between the communities. This has not been made any easier by the increased marginalisation of moderates on both the Albanian and Serb sides. It is extremists who now call the shots, sharing as they do a common aim: to scupper negotiations between the Serb government in Belgrade and the Albanian-dominated government in Pristina.
For some Albanians, independence remains desirable only as a stepping-stone to the real goal – the unification of all lands populated by Albanians within a Greater Albania. But even if that goal is not widely shared, Albanian enthusiasm for power sharing has diminished markedly. In Kosovo's first free parliamentary elections in November 2001 all its Albanian parties campaigned on an independence platform. There is clear evidence that last week's violence against local Serb communities was organised and systematic. Balkan specialists see it as a form of pre-emptive action on the part of some Albanian groups, that is, to ethnically cleanse as many areas as possible of Serbs before moving to a final settlement which will limit the geographic concentration of Serbs to a handful of cantons in the north. It is a very Balkan logic predicated on an ingrained belief that violence and action are demonstrably preferable to dialogue and compromise.