Can Kosovo survive on its own?

ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images Once again, leaders in Kosovo are planning to declare independence — and this time, the announcement could come as early as this Sunday. Kosovo’s impending independence has sparked great international debate, mostly around questions of legal and political precedent. But perhaps the real question is one of economics: Will an independent Kosovo be ...

596517_080212_kosovo2.jpg
596517_080212_kosovo2.jpg

ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Once again, leaders in Kosovo are planning to declare independence -- and this time, the announcement could come as early as this Sunday.

ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Once again, leaders in Kosovo are planning to declare independence — and this time, the announcement could come as early as this Sunday.

Kosovo’s impending independence has sparked great international debate, mostly around questions of legal and political precedent. But perhaps the real question is one of economics: Will an independent Kosovo be financially viable?

Judging by statistics from the World Bank, the answer would appear to be: not very.

Kosovo is one of the poorest economies in Europe, with per capita income of an estimated $1,600 per annum in 2005… Approximately 37 percent of the population live in poverty (below $2.07 per day); and 15 percent in extreme poverty ($1.35 per day).

Youth unemployment will present one of the biggest problems for Kosovo’s future independent economy. Last year, during a trip to Pristina — Kosovo’s dusty, provincial capital — I met two young Kosovar Albanians, ages 24 and 25. Neither had a job, but neither seemed too concerned about it. Most people don’t work, they told me (unemployment is actually 44 percent). One of the two wasn’t even looking for employment. He lived off remittances from his brothers who were working in Sweden and Canada (nearly one quarter of Kosovars are now living abroad). “He’s lucky,” the other told me, “I wish I had brothers.”

For a generation that has grown up with little opportunity and, in turn, little motivation, adjusting to a self-sustaining economy will likely prove a long and painful process. As of now, the U.N. is holding Kosovo’s economy somewhat together, and the EU will increasing take over that role. But if Kosovars are serious about independence, they’re going to need to back up their coming declaration with a real plan for keeping their tiny new country afloat.

Lucy Moore is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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