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Plesch: Tensions between Kosovo leaders and Western allies (RFE)

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“The effort to revoke the legislation on the special court in Kosovo can be seen as the biggest crisis between Kosovo leaders and Western allies since the end of the war,” says U.S. reporter, Valerie Plesch.

In the last couple of days, we have heard that Kosovo Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, will not be travelling to the United States because he does not have a visa. There have been different opinions that this is related to efforts to revoke the legislation on the special court for war crimes. How do you see this?

I don’t want to speculate, but someone can question the time of the visit and the visa and the latest news for revoking the legislation on the Specialist Chambers. It is not known if the visa was rejected based on the latest news about efforts by Kosovo Assembly members and Kosovo’s most senior leaders to revoke the legislation on the Special Court, or if this was only a procedural matter. But certainly this raises the issue of the timing when these events are happening.

You said you heard speculation. What kind of speculation are there?

I have seen in social media and in local news that these two events are highly correlated. Yet none of the parties has confirmed why the visa was rejected. But you do need to think about the timing.

Following this initiative in the Kosovo Assembly, which for the time being has failed, there has been strong opposition by Western countries, including the United States of America. Do you think relations between Kosovo officials and Western countries are tense and that some view this as the biggest crisis between Kosovo’s senior leaders and Western allies?

I think so yes. I would say that the situation is tense between Kosovo and the allies and its biggest supporters in the last 18 years. The British Ambassador said on December 22 when all this started unravelling that “this could be the most dangerous night for Kosovo since the end of the war”. The U.S. Ambassador also said that this can be seen as backstabbing if the legislation is revoked. Therefore, Kosovo’s biggest supporters want to see Kosovo making progress and moving forward with its commitment to investigate, prosecute and try war crimes. During a visit by a French and German delegation to Pristina on Wednesday, there were specific discussions about the special court. There were reports that members of these delegations warned Kosovo’s leaders that revoking the Specialist Chambers could have serious consequences for Kosovo’s leadership. Yes, this can be seen as the biggest crisis between Kosovo’s leaders and Western allies since the end of the war.

In your article for The Washington Times last year, you wrote about Kosovo’s profound love and gratitude for the U.S. Do you think that the latest political developments are threatening this approach?

If I understand your question correctly, I don’t think that the United States will back down from supporting and investing in Kosovo’s long-term development. I think that Kosovo’s gratitude to the United States will always be seen throughout the country. So in reality I don’t think there is any threat. I think the United States are here to stay. They are building a new embassy here in Pristina, huge premises, and I think this is a clear sign that the United States will remain here and invest in Kosovo’s future.

It seems that another serious obstacle to these relations is the ratification of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. This is also the European Union’s main condition for visa liberalization for Kosovo citizens. Having lived and reported from Kosovo for some time now, do you think this issue will have a positive ending for Kosovo’s citizens who are isolated?

Yes, but I think this will take some time. I have been living here for three years now and there hasn’t been significant progress on the matter, which would improve the living conditions of citizens and who could be able to travel freely. Leaders have made many promises but Kosovars still cannot move freely in Europe. This is extremely frustrating for them. I think that people are fed up with promises during election campaigns that visa liberalization will happen during the leadership of a certain candidate. For example, Haradinaj told the people that if he is elected Prime Minister, they will be able to travel visa-free within 90 days. But this certainly did not happen. Last month, he promised visa liberalization will happen in March. I don’t see it happening. People here are fed up with these promises and they don’t want to remain isolated. They have to wait in long queues in front of embassies and pay high fees for visa application.

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