Kosovo President Hashim Thaci in an interview for Belgrade based daily Danas says that as leaders they are responsible for the well-being of our children and future generations, when talking about Brussels based negotiation, and he thinks that President Vucic and himself were willing to prevent the past from blocking the future or endanger peace in the region in the next five or 50 years. He says that as a very young man, he has entered the politics with three political goals: “First, to free Kosovo from the Serbian military and police occupation; Second, to make Kosovo an independent and sovereign republic, and, thirdly, to make sure that we become full members of NATO and the EU, ” reports today Danas.
And Vucic and you started talking about demarcation or “border correction” in the previous weeks. Also, both of you suggested that the final agreement between Belgrade and Pristina will be “painful”. However, the public very little knows about the progress in the Brussels dialogue, or about the framework for reaching any agreement. What are your expectations regarding the final agreement?
– Kosovo is already a moral and political winner because our people are free. They live in a free state, recognized by a large number of members of the United Nations. But now we need to move quickly to gain membership in the EU, NATO and the UN. Dialogue with Serbia, regional cooperation and reconciliation are key conditions for achieving this goal. I do not talk to Belgrade because of nostalgia. I do not suffer from Yugonostalgia as some. I do not even talk to Belgrade because I like to spend time in the halls of Brussels, eating cold sandwiches until late into the night. No, I am talking to Vucic and I am willing to find a solution because I want to see Kosovo in NATO and the EU as soon as possible. I will be very honest, I do not think we can get there until we have an unresolved border between our two countries. We must have a fully agreed border demarcation, so as not to leave some open questions to become a point of discord in the future. My goal is not an ethnic division, nor the creation of another Republic of Srpska in our territory, heaven forbid, my goal is to establish a 400 km long border, and this process requires creative solutions that will provide peace now and in the future.
You recently stated that you want to help the Albanians from the Presevo Valley to join Kosovo in this dialogue? Why did you open this question now? Do you think that Belgrade will agree to give part of its territory without getting anything more significant in return?
– Presevo Valley, people in these three municipalities, have already expressed their wishes and political goals in a referendum held in 1992. Any border demarcation between the two countries will be very meaningful to these families and to those citizens. Their interests must be respected and considered. There is an old saying: “If there is will, there is a way”. I think that if there is a will among the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia to find creative solutions, we will find a way to enable people in these border regions to feel safe, secure and have a secure economic and political future. Serbs in northern Kosovo, as well as Albanians in the Presevo Valley, care about jobs and economies the most. Who will invest in our countries if we have open border issues that have been going on for decades? How will we prevent our youth from leaving if they must face discrimination or fear every 10 or 20 years?
But we still do not have no concrete descriptions or solutions? Do you and Vucic talk over maps, with the coordinates of villages and borders, as was the case in Dayton and what is currently happening?
– No doubt, the last thing I have in mind is Dayton. I proclaimed the independence of Kosovo, as sovereign, secular and civil republic. And civil will remain. The maps will not define the fate of people. People will define the fate of the maps. I’m just thinking about European maps. The former Yugoslavia has collapsed and there are seven states created in this bloody process initiated exclusively in Belgrade – when people in some circles in Belgrade began to be obsessed with maps and memos. This obsession with maps has brought chaos and genocide. The final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia will be a European agreement. It will be accepted by Brussels and Washington. And it will be finalized by the new UN resolution in the Security Council, which will open the EU perspective for both Kosovo and Serbia. Or, one European solution will be found, with the support of the EU and the US, or there will be no agreement.
What will happen if there is no agreement? Many in Serbia and in Kosovo claim that it is better the status quo to remain? Will there be violence?
– The status quo can bring trouble in the long run. Criminals, populists, nationalists, “third parties” outside our region – they all try to maintain the status quo in order to “operate” and undermine Europe, NATO and the general Western establishment. The Balkans are safe today, we even had some progress, such as the fantastic agreement between Greece and Macedonia, as well as the accession of Montenegro to NATO, but we need to resolve all open bilateral issues. I’m not afraid of violence today. I am worried about the propaganda in Belgrade that the Kosovo police or the army are preparing some kind of plan to enter the war, or to “take the north”. It’s stupid and dangerous. Kosovo Police and Army are trained by NATO and the EU and they respect the Euro-Atlantic values. But if we do not solve our relations now, we miss the opportunity for the next generation or two to have a normal life. Why to delay a solution, if the two sides are ready to close a painful chapter from the past? Why leave our children to be the hostages of mythical, historical dreams? It is clear that Kosovo and Serbia are separate states. But it is also clear that neighbours must talk and resolve open disputes.
Does the EU and the US support your viewpoint? From the capitals of the EU and beyond, “mixed signals” arrive. London and Berlin are explicitly against the “border correction”, Washington is silent, and Moscow “closely monitors” the situation.
– We are holding a dialogue in Brussels and there are always representatives of the US government at all stages of the dialogue, so both the EU and the US support a mutual agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no doubt about it. I can say that we lacked a bit of focus, especially from Brussels, but this world is a difficult place and will become even harder. I have no illusions, as some have, that we are the center of the world and that everyone has to listen to our wishes and demands. No, we have a narrow space for work in key capitals when it comes to the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Therefore, we must use this opportunity in time, while there is readiness of our allies for the agreement to be reached and them to support a final agreement.
What will happen to the Serbs in the south of Kosovo if there are “border corrections”? Many fear exodus, as in the case of “Storm” in Croatia?
– There is an orchestrated propaganda. No one will dare to touch the Serbs in the south, north, west or east of Kosovo. There was also propaganda when we declared independence in 2008, that Serbs would leave Kosovo on their tractors, but they did not. They remained in Kosovo, and even took part in the creation of Kosovo institutions, the police, the parliament, the Constitutional Court. The Serbs are integrated today, and I see no reason for people in Strpce or Gracanica or elsewhere to fear their future in Kosovo. The final agreement between Pristina and Belgrade will help them reduce the threats of nationalists and extremists from their own Serbian community, which are hovering over their heads. I use this interview to re-invite all Serbs, all minorities in Kosovo to be sure that their country is Kosovo and that their future has been secured in this country.
Will any guarantees be given to the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo?
– The Serbian Orthodox Church is a constitutional category in Kosovo and is protected by the Constitution. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s politicized by organized religious communities in Kosovo, since some bishops, especially those extreme ones outside of Kosovo, send very unfortunate messages. I never answer those statements, because I do not want to place the Serbian clergy in Kosovo in the political landscape. I’m trying to protect them from themselves. I am very proud of the diversity of heritage in Kosovo and I do promote inter-religious dialogue as a key component of reconciliation. Prizren, Dečani, Orahovac are beautiful and tourist places because of the rich diversity – an Albanian, Serbian, Turkish, Bosniak. The major communities in Kosovo, such as Muslims, Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, Sufis – were here during the Ottoman Empire, during the Serbian occupation, during the Yugoslav dictatorship, and they will remain here in the future.
Analysts in Kosovo say that you will not have trouble convincing only the Serbian community to agree to a final agreement, but also that most of the Albanian opposition parties in Kosovo do not support your dialogue with Vucic?
– Kosovo is a true democracy. I do not have the “tools” to control public opinion in Kosovo, and I hope that no president will have that “tool” to control the media, the intelligence, the army, the parliament, as some have in the region. The Constitution of Kosovo requires the president to represent Kosovo abroad and, in the country, so I have the mandate of the people’s will to find a solution with Serbia. I will also return to the will of the people again to confirm the final peace agreement and mutual recognition by organizing the referendum. There are many “voices” in Pristina on how to deal with Serbia, but I reject calls for postponing the agreement or blackmailing the international community. Such ideas are dangerous. I also, from my personal experience, know that the parties of Kosovo always unite when necessary, whether it is Rambouillet, Vienna or elsewhere, so I am confident that we will reunite in the end to close this painful chapter and so that we can raise our flag in front of the UN building in New York.
Do you think Russia will support the “border correction”?
– I had a brief conversation with Russian Prime Minister Medvedev recently and I carefully follow the statements of Russian officials. I think that Russia has clearly stated that it will support an agreement acceptable to both sides. They persistently say that “they will not be bigger Serbs than Serbs”. Russia has always been part of the Contact Group and has helped to devise proposals from the Rambouillet and Ahtisaari plan. Kosovo has no problems with Russia and it was grateful to the Russian Federation that it was creative and enabled our athletes and sportsmen to visit Russia during international sports events. Our Majlinda Kelmendi won the gold medal and the Russian President Putin allowed to set the flag of Kosovo a few years ago, so I think the symbolism of cooperation in sports, economy and culture is very important. The isolation of Kosovo in the future will mean the isolation of Serbia and the entire region. I’m sure it’s not on the agenda of Moscow.
Are you not concerned about Russian interference and media influence?
– I am not afraid of Russian interference in Kosovo, as 92 percent of our citizens support the EU and the United States, but also maintain good relations with everyone. Kosovo is a very small republic with modest needs and ambitions to be pretending of having a big role between the great powers.
What is happening with the Community of Serb municipalities and the implementation of the agreements reached so far? Why are they not being implemented?
– This is another issue that remains open and a reason to find the final solution as soon as possible. We had an agreement on energy networks, and Serbia refuses to apply it for several years, creating real problems and financial losses for Kosovo. We had an agreement on the Association (a Serb majority municipalities), and there were many delays. What people do not know is that many delays were in Belgrade. Often, when we wanted to go forward, such as work on the statute, there was some hesitation in some circles in Belgrade that wanted this Association to remain a stumbling block. I do not want to disclose everything for the newspaper, but Brussels and Washington are very aware of the reasons for the delay and our will to overcome them. Without a doubt, if the Brussels Agreement is respected, and this agreement is based explicitly on the Constitution of Kosovo, the Association will be formed to enforce municipal rights and obligations.
Some media in Belgrade claim that Vucic has threatened to withdraw from politics if Serbian citizens do not accept his possible agreement with you. Will you do the same?
– Indeed, I have already withdrawn from daily and party politics, as well as from many issues of administration. I have been elected President with the largest possible majority and now I am responsible for the Constitution and the people of Kosovo, to carry out my mandate. I have seen some UN agencies survey that Kosovars believe that the presidency should lead negotiations with Serbia, so I remain convinced that my third life mission, which need to be fulfilled – Kosovo in NATO and the EU. We have never been closer to achieving this goal, but we still need to be patient and cautious, working together to secure our place in the European family of nations. I believe that the same goes for Serbia and Vucic.
The Serbian President said he will insist on the issue of Serbian property in Kosovo in the next phase of the Brussels Dialogue. What do you think of such an initiative?
– Property issue is important for all people. For example, there is extensive documentation on the Kosovo pensions that Serbia stole in 1999, and there are more than one million pages of evidence from the International Court in The Hague that confirm that the Serbian state, the police, and the army deliberately destroyed the property of hundreds of thousands of Kosovars. I believe that when we open this chapter, Belgrade will be the first to want to close it as soon as possible. But we cannot close our eyes to the legitimate demands of people for justice and their own property. This is in line with the values that we want to embrace in the EU.
Is there any news regarding the formation of the Kosovo Army?
– Kosovo security forces already exist, they are trained by NATO, they have a hierarchy and structure. The process of transforming KBS into an appropriate, modern, dynamic and multi-ethnic force is a process that cannot be stopped. This has already started and cannot be stopped. Let’s hope that this will happen by amending the Constitution, but there are several formulas that can be applied to achieve that goal. No one can veto, and I expect that our men and women in uniform will contribute to NATO missions around the world, and I urge the Serbian authorities not to exert pressure on Kosovo Serbs who want to be honestly Kosovo soldiers. This was confirmed by all our strategic partners.