Enver Hoxhaj, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Kosovo, comments on the current situation in Kosovo, the elections in Serbia, the Kosovo-Serbia talks and other related issues in an exclusive interview for FOCUS News Agency.
FOCUS: How do you evaluate the current situation in Kosovo and the region?
Enver Hoxhaj: Kosovo has made great progress in its internal state building and in the consolidation of its international position. We have undertaken numerous reforms ranging from reforms in Kosovo’s justice system, public administration, education and other likewise important sectors.
There are 91 countries that officially recognized Republic of Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state. Kosovo has been recognized by all of its neighbors and we enjoy friendly and good neighborly relations with all (except Serbia). With establishment of Kosovo as a state, and with the large number and global geographic scope of recognitions, we have a new geopolitical reality in the Balkans and beyond. Existence of Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state has produced over half a decade peace and stability in our region.
In terms of economic development, Kosovo’s independence has improved the life of the people that reside in Kosovo. Kosovo’s current GDP is at around 5%, which is twice higher than the GDP before independence and twice higher than countries in the region.
FOCUS: What is your comment on the election of nationalist Tomislav Nikolic as Serbian President, and how will this affect the negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade?
Enver Hoxhaj: Election of Tomislac Nikolic as Serbian President is the choice of Serbian voters. But, it is important to keep in mind that he brings with him a difficult legacy. At the same time, he carries an enormous responsibility to determine Serbia’s path in the future, whether it will be a European or an anti- European path. Peoples of Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and others, are well aware of what an anti-European Serbia would mean for our region. Therefore, we are left to see whether there will be substantial change in Serbia’s political landscape or we are dealing with just a change of political rhetoric. What his election means for the region and Kosovo remains to be seen. And, he will be judged on future acts. There are, however, some statements by him, which in my view are very negative signs. Let me mention here some examples: a few weeks ago in an interview for an international newspaper he pretended that the Croatian city Vukovar, a city bombed to the ground by the Serbian army during Croatia’s independence in 1992, that this was a “Serbian town”. In an another interview for the Montenegrin National Television he said that “there was no genocide in Srebrenica”, which was Europe’s worst slaughter of civilians since the World War II and was proclaimed genocide both by the International Court of Justice and United Nations War Crimes Court for former Yugoslavia. Regarding Kosovo he repeatedly said that he will never recognize Kosovo and will give up Serbia’s membership to the European Union if this is going to be a precondition for Serbia.
In my view, Serbia’s non-recognition policy toward Kosovo and failure to treat Kosovo as an independent neighbor state and an equal partner is routed in the same ideology that produced wars and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999, whereby more than one million people were expelled, over 12,000 people died, most of them women and children. Therefore, Serbia’s non-recognition policy to Kosovo and its intention to hinder our international consolidation of statehood and membership in the United Nations is the same with Serbian ideology of a greater Serbia characteristic of nineties and of a policy of ethnic cleansing. This and the examples above demonstrate a lack of respect for the dignity of the victims and the survivors of the recent wars in Yugoslavia and the lack of commitment toward peace, stability and security in the region.
FOCUS: What results do you expect from the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, and the relations between the two countries in the foreseeable future?
Enver Hoxhaj: Kosovo acknowledges the European accession process to be an important driver for reform and development in Kosovo and the Western Balkans. Our efforts do not stop with our commitment to fulfill the necessary requirements and complete the reforms. Earlier in 2011, we accepted an EU invitation to engage in a technical dialogue with Serbia on issues that our peoples are faced with every day (on university diplomas, integrated border management, cadastre, customs, and regional cooperation and representation). Believing in the spirit of dialogue and cooperation, Kosovo engaged in the dialogue in good faith. We have continuously demonstrated commitment to implement conclusions that come from the technical dialogue. It is important that Serbian institutions begin full implementation of concluded agreements in Brussels as well.
I do not think that there will be other meetings in Brussels as part of the technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia until Serbia will not start to implement the agreements reached especially on regional cooperation and on Integrated Border Management. Agreements on the paper are worthless if they are not fully implemented on the ground. In this respect, I think the European Union and the United States as facilitators and guarantors of this dialogue should act in order to make this happen.
FOCUS: How would you comment on the demands for separation of Northern Kosovo, and are there any fears of alteration of the borders on the Balkans?
Enver Hoxhaj: I think partition of Kosovo is not at all an option and the borders of the Balkans cannot and should not be changed. Kosovo - with its current borders - has been recognized by almost half of the United Nations members and will continue to be an independent state in the political map of the Balkans.
Ideas of partition promoted by some politicians in Belgrade, which are not supported by the international community and national elites in the Balkans, are very dangerous, as they would open a Pandora’s box of instability, insecurity and violence. The whole region would go back to a situation where we were in 1990s. No state in the Balkans is a homogenous state and partition of Kosovo would have a domino effect in many other countries of the region. Our commitment and aspiration is to build a multiethnic and diverse Kosovo and this is happening. We have to replace politics of confrontation with those of reconciliation and cooperation. In this way, we need to move away from talks on partitions and alteration of borders, which would only generate future conflicts and instability.
FOCUS: Is the idea for Greater Albania still alive, having in mind that Albania will celebrate 100 years since its declaration of independence this year?
Enver Hoxhaj: Neither in Kosovo nor in Albania are there serious political forces and members of political elites who are promoting such concept. Kosovo and Albania are two separate states and they will continue to be so. Similar with our relations with Montenegro and Macedonia, Kosovo enjoys excellent relations with Albania as well. But, it is a fact that Kosovo Albanians share with Albanians in the four neighboring countries a language as well as common historical, social and educational links. While we are politically distinct, we foresee that our cultural ties of friendship and economic cooperation will continue to deepen. I think is the same situation as in some French or German speaking countries in the European Union or in other parts of the world where people of common history and language are living and are politically organized in different states.
FOCUS: What is Kosovo’s Progress in its path towards EU integration?
Enver Hoxhaj: The Republic of Kosovo began this year with a reinforced objective of European Union integration. Culturally, historically and certainly geographically Kosovo is in Europe. The post-independent years in Kosovo are characterized with major efforts to secure full recognition from - and integration in - the EU. We have understood the integration efforts as important drivers for reform and development. Therefore, we too share our region’s strategic goal of EU accession.
But, we also understand that the integration process is lengthy and complex, involving political economic and legal processes. We started this year by securing the roadmap dialogue on visa liberalization for Kosovo citizens. In March, we received the good news on the initiation of the feasibility study ahead of contractual relations between Kosovo and the European Union. The study requires Kosovo to fulfill a set of criteria to be able to negotiate contractual relations ahead of integration. Areas to be harmonized with EU standards are: rule of law, public administration, trade, economic development. However, with the presence and assistance of the European and international representatives in Kosovo, with bilateral exchanges with countries that have gone further in the process, we are uniquely positioned to progress in our path toward the EU. Since the feasibility study will involve many institutional actors, securing commitment and broad support is imperative. For that reason, Kosovo recently established National Council for European Integration, which, in an effort to ensure broad consensus, draws together political and civil society representatives.
As mentioned above, looking forward to a European future for Kosovo citizens, the Government of the Republic of Kosovo has engaged in the technical dialogue with Serbia. In the nine rounds of dialogue, Kosovo and Serbia were able to conclude a number of agreements, which – if fully implemented – would better the lives of our peoples immensely. Kosovo government has taken the dialogue very seriously and has ensured implementation takes place. We hope that implementation on the side of Serbia will ensue.
FOCUS: Do you believe that Kosovo could catch up with the other Western Balkans states and Turkey, and join them in the next wave of EU enlargement?
Enver Hoxhaj: I am sure that this is going to happen but I cannot certainly speak about timing when this will happen. What I can say with certainty today is that Kosovo’s main goal is its integration into the European Union. With commitment, optimism and strong confidence and we are working very hard to achieve this. But implementing reforms in the spirit and according to the standards of the European Union is something we are doing not just because of our EU integration goal but because of our strong will to have a modern, functioning state. However, Kosovo started the EU integration process at a much lower base line and at much later time. We declared our independence and have ensured that we build a country that is modern, democratic and tolerant. Mindful of the complexities and length of the integration process, since early stages of statehood we ensured that our country is build under EU standards and values. We have come a long way to adopt policies reflecting the EU spirit of tolerance and inclusion. We look forward to close communication with EU institutions in Brussels in this process. Furthermore, we look forward to strengthening of bilateral regional ties of friendship and cooperation with countries that have undergone similar process, such as Bulgaria.