I am presently in Kosovo on a mission. Bad luck had it that I was attacked by two thugs, who wanted to steal my bag, and ended up with a dislocated finger and several bruises. Consequently, I have come to experience first-hand some of the sad realities of development aid, which I would like to share. I also do not conceal a certain therapeutic need to talk about the event as a way to overcome the trauma.

To be attacked and robbed is something that can happen everywhere and my bruises are in part the result of my instinct to defend myself and my belongings. What is less commonplace is what occurred afterwards.

I was on a side street leading to the Mother Teresa Boulevard, ten metres from the zebra crossing and a taxi stand. The only reason the location might be considered prone to crime, I realized later, is that it borders on a largely non-built area with an abandoned half-constructed Serb Orthodox Church. Those familiar with the recent history of Kosovo will know that cultural heritage is a sensitive issue. The looting of religious sites is not as acute a problem as it used to be, even if still occasionally occurring. However, this does not mean that the problem of protection has been resolved. Active harass often gives way to indifference and passive forms of aggression, such as the omission to install lighting on that side of the street bordering to the area. These little power games of symbolic recognition and representation often go unnoticed by donor counties and organizations involved in the reconstruction of regions that have suffered war end ethnic conflict.

It was evening but the street I walked on was not unpopulated. Behind me a family of four was strolling back home, ahead of me a parked taxi was waiting for its two guests approaching from the other side of the street. I called for help but received none, and had to make it back to my hotel alone and from there call the police and organize a ride to the hospital. The reason people did not help was not because they were vicious. I have had ample opportunity during my stay to get to know the friendliness and generosity of Kosovars. In a similar situation in Austria, where I live, the obvious and automatic response would have been to pull out a cell phone and call the police and possibly also an ambulance. The reason this did not occur here has to do with the lack of trust in institutions. Also the receptionist back in my hotel was hesitant about bringing me to the hospital. There is still a lot that needs to be done to improve the capacity of public authorities, but it is equally important to work on their interface with citizens.

As I had anticipated given my knowledge of donor programmes in Kosovo, the General Hospital did have the equipment necessary to check out my injuries. Yet it lacked basic hygiene and medical practice standards. This softer side of institutional capacity building needs human resources and is perhaps time-intensive, but it has a significant long-term effect as it directly impacts on quality of life.

Donor countries engaged in Kosovo can achieve a lot by investing in capacity building in social policy areas such as health care, and by helping in the implementation of the reforms rather than mainly concentrating on legal transposition and the elaboration of strategic plans. The fear of the spectre of colonialism should not lead to the neglect of practical engagement.

It is also time for the Kosovo government to begin to deliver on its promises