Kosovo Speech

I am sorry that I will not be able to stay here long; I have a long standing dinner engagement where I am speaking and giving an award to a Maharani who has come here from India.  Mr Chairman, can I please leave after I have finished my speech.  I am here because I am a friend of Kosovo.

 

As we know 2009 marks a decade since the UN took over the administration of Kosovo after the conflict and one year since the unilateral declaration of independence.

 

The very fact that we are able to stand here today and discuss Kosovan nationhood going forward is testament to how far the Western Balkan region has come. The all pervasive ethno-political tensions of the collapse of Yugoslav Federation in the wake of the fall of Communism have been mostly settled.

 

I was glad to see that the local elections this month, the first to be fully run by the Kosovan authorities, went successfully with higher participation among the Serb minority and fewer instances of fraud than many international observers had anticipated.  Extremely good progress has been made in regard to democracy in Kosovo.  This fact was explicitly recognized by the European monitors observing the election.

 

But that is not to say that there are not challenges for the future of Kosovo.

 

The election did serve as a reminder though of the issues facing one of the world’s youngest countries. The majority of Serbs in Kosovo, particularly in the North, still did not vote which is a sign of their discontent with emerging institutions.

 

Max Weber, the pre-eminent social scientist, declared that all states were defined by a sense of legitimacy and authority in the eyes of their populations. I totally agree with him that without these the future of a nation-state is bleak. A state is simply a power made up whereas nationhood demands much more in terms of loyalty.

 

Therefore, the attempts to reach out to the Serbian minority by Hashim Tachi are to be welcomed. Serbs still make up 5.3%, around 100,000, of Kosovo’s population and are largely concentrated in enclaves in the north of the country. The vast majority of the Serb population does not recognize Kosovo and are affected by a generation of poverty and unemployment.

 

Across Kosovo the unemployment rate is 44.9% and in Serbian areas this touches 60%. It is very difficult for a fledgling nation-state to build up legitimacy if everyday conditions are ones of poverty. GDP per capital is just £1026.

 

The economy is dominated by farming and textiles, which are struggling to keep everyone in employment. Economic diversification is required. I therefore urge the EU to work within the Kosovo Development Strategy and provide adequate support.  I also applaud the work of the Department of International Development in this country in helping Kosovo diversify its investment prospects. Targeted support is vital for strengthening Kosovo’s legitimacy.

 

Economic prosperity among all sections of society will convince that an independent Kosovo is best placed to increase the well-being of the whole population. This must be a first step towards securing legitimacy as nations have a duty to ensure the protection of their populations and this includes food, water, shelter and work. As the famous liberal economist Adam Smith said, this must be the basic contract that exists between the citizen and the state.

 

This requires reform to public administration as well which the UK is supporting. Good socio-economic governance by the Government of Kosovo will do much to ensure stability and prosperity.

 

In terms of security, policing and justice structures must be developed with co-operation of all sections of Kosovo’s community. Law and order must command popular respect; without it other structures will struggle to flourish. The European Rule of Law mission in Kosovo, which is called EULEX, NATO and the Kosovan authorities themselves all have a role to play.

 

While the international status of Kosovo is to be fully resolved it is vital that EULEX retains its neutral status stance under UN Resolution 1244 as it attempts to build long lasting legal structures in the region.

 

The ongoing co-operation between EULEX and the Serbian interior ministry must continue, particularly in reassuring the Serb minorities in the north of Kosovo around partition. Serbia is crucial to the future of Kosovo. Joint working must be encouraged. However, this equally must be done in consultation with the Kosovan government. We cannot afford a break between the EU mission and the democratically elected government of Kosovo.

 

EULEX must lay the basis for further negotiations between relevant state actors, from which solutions can then be brokered by people on the ground. It is essential that minorities are not felt that they are being pressured to co-operate but it also important that relevant state actors are consulted. The perception of co-operative justice is all important.

 

Serbs and ethnic Albanians must therefore build these structures together and the mandate of the international peace keeping presence needs continual renewal. This example goes to show how difficult this will be but while the “fear factor” remains among the Serb minority, engagement going forward is crucial. The development of the Ministries of Interior and Justice, as well as the demobilization of the Kosovo Protection Corps, is a major opportunities for all stakeholders to be fully involved.

 

Enabling the return of people who have left Kosovo is all important; this includes Serbs but also the Roma population. Only a tenth of the pre-war Kosovan Roma population remain. The Kosovo Property Agency is a welcome development in helping to determine ownership of land and enabling the assertion of legal rights. It is important that Kosovo going forward is seen as a place in which people can live in a vibrant, integrated society in which different ethnic, religious and cultural traditions are represented.

 

There is a great degree of hope in this regard. The security situation was recently described by Markus Bentler, the head of NATO’s operation, Kfor, as “very, very favorable.” A mayor from the Serbian Independent Party was elected in Gracanica. One Serb candidate in the elections said, “This vote here shows … the fear … is loosening its grip” We saw that Serbia, although calling for a boycott of the elections, did not deliberately obstruct them. Kosovan authorities must take advantage of these signs of growing acceptance and use it as a catalyst to push the integration agenda forward.

 

The Kosovan constitution is generous in the degree of decentralisation and devolution it offers to its minorities. It is important that the authorities build on these elements of tentative engagement by the minorities by pushing the development of these structures forward.

 

Dialogue with the Serb Orthodox Church is also vital as a crucial opinion former among the minority Serbs and as a link to Serbia itself. Politicians must engage with the churches and also encourage them to interact with the mosques across Kosovo. I am a great believer in the power of inter-faith dialogue and this is an important step in reducing ethnic tensions within Kosovo.

 

This leads me to the international dimension which I have already touched on; the fact that many countries have yet to recognise Kosovo. 63 countries have so far accepted Kosovo as an independent nation, including the US and most of the EU.  Recently, New Zealand became the latest country to recognise Kosovo as a sovereign state.

Being a Muslim I would urge all Muslim countries to recognise Kosovo.

 

Yet, crucially Serbia has not done so. In the words of one official Serbia is “still digesting” Kosovo’s independence. The top line from Serbia’s Foreign Minister was recently that “Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia and it will always be so.” Others, including Spain, Russia and China have also yet to do so.

 

Next year the International Court of Justice will reflect on the legality of Kosovo’s status. However, in the meantime, tangible steps can be made internationally towards widespread recognition of Kosovo.

 

The EU’s ongoing engagement with Serbia will be crucial in the next few months and years. If Serbia moves closer to the EU then currently entrenched positions over Kosovo are likely to be relaxed. The Serbs must prove to the international community that it is doing all it can to capture those accused of war crimes and I am glad that Serge Brammertz, the UN Chief War Crimes prosecutor, is likely to report positively in this regard next month.

 

Such a report will make it more likely that the Netherlands will reduce their long running opposition to further EU integration for Serbia. The removal of their veto will allow Serbia to make a formal application for EU membership and help Serbia reintegrate into the international community. Such moves will have profound consequences as Serbia relaxes its stance and the Serb minority in Kosovo follows this lead. The current exodus of Serbs, with estimates of 1/3 of Serbians fleeing across the border, is likely to diminish.

 

In regard to Serbia being a Muslim and who cares about humanitarians issues I was horrified, sad and totally condemn the Serbs in their massacre and abhorrent treatment of Muslims and non-Muslims.   The perpetrators of war crimes must be brought to book and punished.   I am a person who believes in truth and reconciliation.   We need to think about the present and future.   This policy worked very well in Rwanda and South Africa.   We can forgive but necessary forget and Serbia must redeem itself.

 

The expected decision by the EU governments to allow the next stage of Albania’s application to the EU Commission to go ahead for an opinion is also to be welcomed. An Albania and Serbia converging on EU membership and finding common ground is all important in ensuring the viability of Kosovo.

 

I may add that Serbia must recognise Kosovo and this is vital as it will affect how Kosovo is seen across most of the world and crucially in Russia and China. This is important in opening up new trade agreements as well as new recourse to financial aid.

 

Kosovo has a role to play in this itself. An ongoing fear is that Kosovan independence is one of the first steps towards the longer term aim of joining an enlarged Albania. Political leaders in Kosovo must continue to ensure internal minorities that this is not the case and that they have a long-term crucial future in the building of Kosovo. Work must also continue apace towards further European integration through the meeting of social, economic and political standards under the Ahtisaari Plan.

 

Securing the legitimacy of Kosovo will not take place in a vacuum. It requires the development of domestic structures that can command the respect of all sections of Kosovan society. Alongside this a concerted economic growth programme is required to ensure the long-term prosperity of the region.  We should all endeavour to achieve this.

 

Multi-ethnic democracy in Kosovo is obtainable but it needs hard work. I look forward to us meeting in ten years again to discuss a successful, confident Kosovo at the heart of Europe and as a model for young nations across the world.

 

Updated: 19/01/2010 — 1:48 PM