The Bid for Recognition: The Enduring Cost of Being Unrecognized

By: Megan Hall 

Kosovo is a tiny, landlocked country in the Balkan region of Europe, tucked between Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, and Macedonia. The Kosovo Assembly declared independence on February 17, 2008, and over 110 countries have recognized Kosovo as a country.[1] The International Court of Justice ruled this declaration to be legal in June 2010, leaving Serbia few avenues to dispute Kosovo’s independence.[2] However, it still seeks full international recognition and is still not a member of the United Nations or European Union.[3]

Kosovo is a small region, slightly larger than Delaware.[4] It is the second poorest country in Europe with a GDP of $10,400 in 2017.[5] The modern boundaries were established after World War II when Kosovo was an autonomous province of Serbia in Yugoslavia.[6] During its history since the Ottoman Empire, Kosovo has seen a lot of ethnic conflict. In the 7th century, ethnic Serbs moved into Kosovo, which then became the center of the Serbian Empire.[7] During the Ottoman Empire, a large number of Turks and Albanians moved into the region, and Albanians became the dominant ethnicity at the end of the 19th century.[8] Albanian nationalism increased during the 1980s, calling for Kosovo independence. In 1991, Albanian leaders called for Kosovo independence, which led to Serbian leaders taking repressive measures against Albanians during the 1990s.[9]

In 1998, Serbia launched a brutal campaign against the Albanians in Kosovo.[10] An estimated 300,000 Albanians were expelled from their homes by October 1998 by the Serbian Army.[11] A ceasefire between the Serbian Army and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) occurred in October 1998.[12] Fighting renewed in the new year, and NATO forces became involved in March 1999.[13] After 78 days of airstrikes, the Serbian leader capitulated and withdrew, leaving a NATO Peacekeeping force in place.[14] Finally, in April 2013, Serbia and Kosovo signed the Brussels Agreement, the first agreement since the conflict to provide for a way to normalize relations between the two countries.[15] Still, Serbia refuses to recognize the country, and China and Russia back Serbian claims to the region.[16]

NATO has continued to have a presence in Kosovo with 355 personnel deployed as of March 2018.[17] The United Nations Security Council authorized the establishment of a civil presence in Kosovo in Resolution 1244 on June 10, 1999.[18] The international community recognized the ongoing human rights crisis in Kosovo and responded. However, much of Kosovo’s current malaise can be traced back to this crisis, as it was never properly resolved.

By the end of the conflict in June 1999, an estimated 4,400 people were missing.[19] The International Commission on Missing Persons has used DNA matching to identify those missing but around 1,700 people remain unidentified.[20] In Kosovo today, the youth unemployment hovers around 60% and the average age is 26.[21] The population of Kosovo is young and poor and stuck in a mire assisted by the lack of international recognition.

A country being recognized by other countries around the world means the country can actively take part in international law. Because it is not recognized by # countries, Kosovo is not a member of the European Union. Without membership, Kosovo citizens cannot freely move throughout the European Union. Thus, the borders are closed, and Kosovo youth are trapped in an economy with few opportunities. Other issues also persisted, like a lack of a postal system or SWIFT codes.[22] Kosovo lacked a postal service and relied upon Albania’s, which created issues with sending or receiving goods.[23] Similarly, Kosovo banks did not have SWIFT codes, making transferring money more difficult.[24] In 2017, Brookings estimated that the cost of the lack of recognition was the equivalent of a 14% tariff when trading with Kosovo, which is enormous.[25]

Serbia is also not a member of the European Union but has been told that it could join in 2025 provided it resolves its conflict with Kosovo and carries out some reforms at home.[26] Similar to Kosovo, Serbia is a small country, slightly smaller than North Carolina.[27] However, the Serbian economy has not suffered to the same degree as the Kosovo economy. Its GDP per capita was $15,200 in 2017, and its unemployment rate is around 16%.[28] Although this is relatively high, it is significantly lower than its neighbor’s rates.[29] Still, it too seeks full international recognition.

The resolution of the Serbian-Kosovo conflict and the official recognition of an independent Kosovo by the full international community would help move this region out of the mire it has wallowed in since the 1990s. Continuing non-recognition poses a large economic cost. Kosovo has a large youth population and not giving them the freedom to move within the European Union and find opportunities to work hinders the European Union as well as Kosovo. Recognition would likely boost trade, increasing opportunities for the entire region. Finally, official recognition might be enough to finally push to heal the wounds still festering from the ethnic conflict. The 1,700 people should be identified and the people who suffered through the War should be able to finally feel a sense of peace and hope in the region.



[1] Kosovo, Central Intelligence Agency, (last accessed Apr. 23, 2018).  

[2] Peter Beaumont, Kosovo’s Independence is Legal, UN Court Rules, The Guardian, Jul. 22, 2010,

[3] Kosovo, Central Intelligence Agency, (last accessed Apr. 23, 2018).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Niel Tweedie, Kosovo War: Thousands Killed as Serb Forces Tried to Keep Control of Province, The Telegraph, Mar. 31, 2009,

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Piotr Smolar, Serbia and Kosovo Sign Historic Agreement, The Guardian, Apr. 30, 2013,

[16] The Associated Press, Kosovo Marks Progress, if not Universal Recognition, on 10th Anniversary, CNBC News,

[17] United Nations Peacekeeping, “UNMIK Fact Sheet”, (last accessed Apr. 23, 2017).  

[18] S.C. Res. 1244 (June 10, 1999).  

[19] Kosovo, International Commission on Missing Persons, (last accessed Apr. 23, 2017).

[20] Id.

[21] Kosovo, Central Intelligence Agency, (last accessed Apr. 23, 2018).  

[22] Jieun Choi, The Costs of Not Being Recognized as a Country: The Case of Kosovo, Brookings, Nov. 16, 2017,

[23] Id.  

[24] Id.  

[25] Id.  

[26] Ivana Sekularac, Serbs Won’t Back Kosovo Recognition for EU Seat, President Warns, Reuters, Feb. 16, 2018,

[27] Kosovo, Central Intelligence Agency, (last accessed Apr. 23, 2018).

[28] Id.

[29] Id.