Hashim Thaci: Even Serbia Will Recognize Kosovo in the Not So Distant Future
An interview of Novinite with Kosovo's Foreign Minister Deputy Prime Minister Hashim Thaci following the anniversary of Kosovo's independence which was proclaimed in 2008.
Thaci, who was the first Kosovo politician to head the government after Pristina declared independence, gives his account on the past seven years' developments in his country.
Mr Thaci, as Minister of Foreign Affairs do you think that Kosovo's positioning abroad has substantially improved since the country declared independence in 2008?
Kosovo became a state only 7 years ago and is now recognised by the majority of UN members. We became members of international bodies such as IMF and World Bank as well as International Olympics Committee. Independence of Kosovo helped Balkans become a stable and peaceful region. I think that after a long and dark century under Serbian occupation and communist rule, as well as genocidal war in 1999, Kosovo today can stand tall and proud of its position in the new regional geopolitical architecture.
The past weeks saw renewed tensions between Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. Against this background, what more do you think Kosovo needs to do to improve both social cohesion and ties with Belgrade?
Tensions between Kosovars of Albanian and Serbian origin are decreasing and relations are much better than in the years after the war. Serbs participated in the local and national elections and now have 10% of the seats in the parliament although they are only 5% of population. Our constitution was very generous in granting political rights to local minorities. I have led the dialogue with Serbia for many years and we achieved historic agreement in Brussels in 2013. Biggest problem in reconciliation still lies with Serbia and a part of its political elite that is stirring nationalist emotions even today. But I am optimist for the future of inter-ethnic relations in Kosovo as I have been witness to the progress reached.
Are you putting in effort to win support from countries which have not yet recognized Kosovo, apart from Serbia?
Recognition of Kosovo is a one-way street. One day in not so distant future even Serbia will recognise Kosovo and our flag will wave in Belgrade because EU will demand full and good neighbourly relations between candidate countries aspiring EU membership.
Kosovo's previous Parliament dissolved itself after failing to adopt a bill setting up a national army. Back then, as PM you said a Parliament unable to take the step is redundant. How do you assess the prospect of achieving this in the current legislature?
Kosovo government already last year voted new security strategy that creates Kosovo Armed Forces from the Kosovo Security Force. Parliament has to vote to amend Constitution to allow the name change, but in any case in 2015 Kosovo will receive its native, non-offensive, multiethnic and NATO-trained military forces. It's not a question if but when this will happen.
What is the government in Pristina doing to tackle unemployment and boost growth in Kosovo?
Unemployment is a problem in the entire Balkans, but even more so in Kosovo which was a victim of a destructive war 15 years ago and decades of neglect previously. Our growth during 7 years of independence has been on average 4%, well above Balkan average during these years of global financial crisis. More is to be done and several new investments are in the pipeline, especially in energy sector as well as agriculture, winter tourism, etc. There is no magic stick to solve unemployment but education is a key component because very often there are jobs in Kosovo but the workforce is not compatible with the needs of labour market. We need less political scientists and more engineers, IT experts, etc.
The EU's rule-of-law mission EULEX was extended last year amid corruption allegations. What has been the overall impact of EULEX on Kosovo?
I think EULEX played a positive role as it reinforced the new system of rule of law that was established after independence. Some bad news coming from EULEX regarding the corruption allegations among its own staff cannot negate years of good work in fighting crime and organised corruption. But time has come next year for Kosovo to take responsibility for its own justice sector.
President Atifete Jahjaga said last week that Pristina would use Sofia's experience in the process of stabilization and association with the EU. How exactly could Bulgaria's path of EU integration be of use to Kosovo, in your opinion?
We have very good relations with Bulgaria and I met your PM in several occasions. Kosovo appreciates the help from Bulgaria for membership in various organisations. Conditions for EU membership have become more extensive and sharper from the days when Bulgaria was admitted in EU, but there is a certainly a need to pass body of knowledge in reform process so we can save time by not doing some mistakes of the others. In this part, Bulgarian experience is valuable.
Following the recent terror attacks in France, do you see radical Islam posing an immediate threat to the Balkans?
Kosovo has received high praise from White House and State Department for our role in fighting extremist. We actively engage in interfaith initiatives and have taken several large-scale operations against suspected ISIS extremists and some of their ideologues. Kosovo is a secular society with majority Muslim population. Islam is not a problem but radicalism of marginalised smaller groups can pose security threat.
Kosovo is currently aspiring for NATO membership. How do you envisage Pristina's main contribution to the alliance and also to the comprehensive integration of the Western Balkans?
Kosovo will turn from importer of NATO security resources to an exporter of peace initiatives. I am the only European foreign minister with actual war experience and I know how important was NATO for Kosovo freedom. Kosovo can definitely bring diversity and experience in nationbuilding to NATO HQ.
What is the likelihood of the EU lifting visas for Kosovo citizens in the near future?
It must happen sooner rather than later. We will fulfil all the technical conditions by summer and I hope EU officials will then visit and asses our plan. If everything goes to plan and there is no political reasons to delay Kosovars, we can obtain the visa-free regime in less then a year.
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