Mr. Ymeri, can you tell us first please what is the purpose of your visit to the U.S.?
There are two reasons in fact. First, we have been invited to attend the works of the Congress of the International Socialist Organization, which was held on 11-12 July at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York. Then we arrived in Washington where we will be having meetings today at the State Department and Congress. These were the two main reasons. We will also be meeting the Albanian community living in Washington, the same way we did with the Albanian community in New York.
You have asked for these meetings and what is the message that you want to deliver to U.S. officials?
We want to talk to them now that we are in the post-election phase. There is now a completely different situation in Kosovo’s political landscape. The Vetevendosje Movement is now the first political party in the Republic of Kosovo after the 11 June parliamentary elections. This has redefined politics in the Republic of Kosovo in general. This is why we need to talk to Kosovo’s allies, especially with the United States of America, so that we can explain to them what we plan to do through our governance and also to discuss issues that are important for Kosovo.
How will the Vetevendosje Movement act if the President does not give you the mandate to form a new government if and after the winning coalition fails to form a government?
We need to take into account that the President is obliged to give the mandate to the party or coalition that has managed to secure a sufficient number of votes in Parliament to form a new government. In Kosovo’s parliament, at least 61 votes are required for this. After an unfair and absurd ruling by the Constitutional Court, the first try is given to the coalition that has won the biggest number of votes, in this case the PAN coalition. And then the mandate is given to the coalition that has secured a sufficient number of MPs and we are trying to do this together with the Democratic League of Kosovo, or the LDK-led coalition.
You have called on the LDK to form a coalition government, but in the past you have criticized and attacked them. What has changed in your opinion?
We criticized the actions of the Democratic League of Kosovo during the time their joint government with the Democratic Party of Kosovo. We have met with LDK representatives last week, I was with Albin Kurti and we met with LDK leader Isa Mustafa and deputy leader Lutfi Haziri. We agreed to start discussions to approximate our positions on a joint government program and then to build a joint government. I believe that this cooperation would bring about positive changes in the Republic of Kosovo and our government would be a government of change because in this government, the Vetevendosje Movement would have the lead and would be what the people of Kosovo have asked for in the elections.
Whatever the new government of Kosovo will look like, it will be faced with difficult challenges, exactly the same ones that led to the crisis of the previous government, such as the border delineation agreement with Montenegro, the Association/Community of Serb-majority municipalities. How will Kosovo address these challenges in the future?
As far as the border delineation with Montenegro is concerned, we will contact Podgorica immediately after the formation of a new government. We would request a meeting in order to discuss the issue with the idea of starting new negotiations and amend the current delineation agreement because it has been legally proven that it damages Kosovo’s territorial integrity. We have evidences and facts about this.
Certainly there is a different opinion in this regard?
We in fact have never blamed Montenegro on this matter. We believe that the Kosovo government committee is to blame because it did the worst job possible and this resulted in an agreement that is damaging for the Republic of Kosovo. We certainly don’t want to have bad relations with Montenegro, let alone a conflict with Montenegro. We want to have good relations with Montenegro. We are on the same side, geopolitically speaking. Montenegro is now a member of NATO. And I think there will be willingness and understanding to re-discuss the agreement so that a new agreement does not threaten the territorial integrity of Kosovo or Montenegro. This is what we are interested in. With regards to the other issue you rightly raised, we have continuously stated that when it comes to relations Kosovo should have with Serbia, the Brussels dialogue has so far caused more damage than an actual benefit. In this sense we believe that such a dialogue should be done in a way so as to first assess how it was conducted so far and second, to build a national consensus within the Republic of Kosovo, between the political forces, the civil society, academia, intellectuals, on what kind of dialogue we need and we definitely need to move towards a new approach on Kosovo-Serbia relations and these have to be built on the principle of good neighbourhood, which is a European Union guiding principle, and not on the cycle of normalization which is ambiguous to many people. In this sense, we believe that there are two things that need to be done: first and more pressing, is to launch a direct dialogue with Kosovo Serbs so that through talks on economic development and social integration, we achieve their full integration in the Republic of Kosovo and second, with regards to Serbia, we need time for another dialogue which would discuss relations between the two countries based on, as I said, the principle of good neighbourhood and reciprocity.
You are speaking about toned-down positions of Vetevendosje?
In fact, we have maintained this position since 2014. We have proposed back then to have the central Kosovo institutions take on responsibility for the security, welfare and rights of Kosovo Serbs and not leave this in the hands of Belgrade while when it comes to Kosovo-Serbia relations, they need to be such as those that exist between two neighbours. We are aware that Serbia is our neighbor.
Mr. Ymeri for a long time you have been categorized as a hardline movement, not on very friendly terms with the international diplomacy, and with requests such as that for national unification. Has your approach to international community changed?
We have been continuously interested and had contacts with ambassadors, diplomats in Pristina as well as occasional visits in different countries that have helped Kosovo and in this direction we continuously meet with them and discuss things we think should happen in Kosovo and on which we do not always agree on. Having said that, the more we have talked with them, the more they have understood the position of Vetevendosje…
Yes, but disagreements were sometimes severe.
I think these were a result of that the Vetevendosje Movement was much more badmouthed by political forces in Pristina than elsewhere and I think that…
Some incidents such as release of teargas deteriorated the situation.
Yes, but that was our reaction to a dangerous situation facing Kosovo at the time by decisions of the government. That had nothing to do with the international community. That was our protest against the government of the Republic of Kosovo.
Mr. Ymeri, are you ready to remain in opposition? This is a hypothetical question but has to be asked.
I think Kosovo is not ready for Vetevendosje to remain in opposition. If Vetevendosje has achieved such a high increase of votes, it shows that the citizens of the Republic want to see Vetevendosje in the government. Vetevendosje can stay in the opposition but I think the only, the best, and the most sustainable government would be that formed by Vetevendosje which would guarantee a positive change for the Republic of Kosovo. We have been governed by policies of other parties for a long time and we are seeing where that has led the country. Of course, the citizens of the Republic of Kosovo have begun to lose patience. We saw that in 2014-2015, 100,000 people left Kosovo. This trend continues to this day and this is an extremely big problem Kosovo is facing and this needs to be directly addressed. So far, institutions of the Republic, unfortunately very badly led, did not focus at all on the needs and the interests of the citizens and we have to bring back institutions of the Republic to the citizens.