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Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj: Redrawing Borders in the Balkans Is Closed Chapter

Exclusive interview of (Sofia News Agency) with Dr. Enver Hoxhaj, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kosovo.

Enver Hoxhaj was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo On 22 February 2011.

During the negotiation process (2005 – 2007), led by the UN Special Envoy, President Martti Ahtisaari, Enver Hoxhaj participated in all meetings as a member of the Kosovar delegation. The Ahtisaari document resulted in a Comprehensive Settlement regarding Kosovo’s independence.

As Head of the Commission for Education, Culture and Youth in the Kosovo Assembly, Hoxhaj dealt with education, youth and the modernization of Kosovo. On 9 January 2008, Enver Hoxhaj was appointed Minister of Education, Science and Technology.

Enver Hoxhaj graduated in 1993 from the Faculty of History at the University of Prishtina. He continued his post-graduate studies at the University of Vienna, Geisteswissenschaftliche Fakult?t, studying courses in history and politics.  After a long period of research between 1994 and 2000 at the Universities of Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Bologna, Florence and Paris, he successfully defended his doctoral dissertation.

During his stay in Austria, he was a scientific researcher at the University of Vienna and leader of a research team on the Balkans at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institut f?r Menschenrechte (1996-2000).

Between 2003 and 2004 he was a fellow at the London School of Economics – Center for Study of the Global Governance. He has published academic papers in English, German and Albanian about issues of ethnicity, nationalism, identity and ethnic conflict.

In addition, he has given various lectures at many world universities including the University of Oxford, University College of London, Johns Hopkins University, and Columbia University.

In 2006, he was appointed Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science in the Philosophy Faculty at the University of Prishtina.

He is fluent in written and spoken English, German and Serbo-Croatian. He lives in Prishtina with his wife Remzie, his son Liri and his daughter Lea.

Kosovo’s relations with Bulgaria seem rather cordial. How important is Bulgaria for the Republic of Kosovo in the Balkan countries? What does Kosovo hope to achieve through its ties with Bulgaria?

For us it is very important to have very close relations between Kosovo and Bulgaria. In the last 10 years Bulgaria has been supporting Kosovo in a very massive way to build our society and our country from scratch. It is actually among the first countries which recognized our independence.

Our independence is producing peace and stability throughout the region, and I think Bulgaria is part of that success story. Now it is very important to get concrete cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, education, culture.

I had a very good meeting with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov, and we discussed how in the future we could sign some of these agreements. These agreements can be used in a very good framework to promote close relations not just between governments and states but between the two societies and the two nations.

There has been some talk about Kosovo businesspeople wishing to trade through Bulgarian Danube (and maybe even Black Sea) ports. What is the level of economic and trade relations between Kosovo and Bulgaria – and, respectively, which aspects do you wish to emphasize to boost them? Which areas do you wish to emphasize?

I think the first thing we need to do is to sign some agreements supporting businesspeople in Bulgaria and in Kosovo so that this cooperation could take off.

Agreements to protect investments and regarding double taxation are very important to do this. Then the rest will come from the businesspeople.

We are very much interested to have Bulgarian investors in Kosovo. We are in a time of transition which Bulgaria is already completing. We are in a time of privatization of different public enterprises.

I think that Bulgaria is actually a very good success story. Bulgarian business people will be able to come and invest in Kosovo. At the same time, we have a very long history of trade relations between Bulgaria and Kosovo, and I think we should promote the opportunities to export Bulgarian goods to Kosovo, and Kosovo goods to the European markets via Bulgaria.

Some voices in Bulgaria have called for “importing” laborers from Kosovo because it has a young work force and excess labor. My wider question is - what exactly does Kosovo have to offer to foreign investors?

In terms of economic perspective I think we are one of the countries which for the time being has some of the best resources in the energy sector because of the huge reserves of coal that we have. I think energy could be something we will be able to export not just to neighboring countries but to the entire region.

At the same time, we think that our economy should be a service-based economy. Production is the first important factor of economic development, and the second one is having a skilled workforce.

In that regard, we will be very much interested in the future to have common qualifications, education, and training programs with Bulgaria.

But at the same time there some young business people from Kosovo who are working in all parts of Europe. I would fully recommend that companies in Bulgaria hire young specialists from Kosovo because some of them are highly qualified in different fields such as IT.

Going from economy to diplomacy and politics – how have Kosovo’s talks with Serbia been progressing? What are the most pressing issues in these negotiations, and when do you expect that Kosovo and Serbia will have mutual recognition and “normal” diplomatic relations?

One of the main reasons for this technical dialogue between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia, which was initiated based on a UN resolution from September 2010, is to have normal relations between Kosovo and Serbia, to put the past behind, and to start building trust.

The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue for the time being is focused very much on issues such as freedom of movement of people, freedom of trade, issues of telecommunication and energy, and other issues linked with our past. But the idea of the dialogue is to improve regional cooperation, and at the same time to prepare both our countries for their European perspective.

We think that Serbia should start coming to terms with an independent Kosovo, and I think it is the job of the politicians in Serbia to start modernizing its economy, society, and politics, and to start overcoming the agenda of conflict. The sooner this happens, the better, it will be for the benefit of the people living in Serbia.

We know that the Kosovo Serb minority has been integrated in the best way, and we were able in the last three years to implement the plan of Marti Ahtisaari, which was actually an international settlement for the Kosovo status in the best way possible. In that sense, having normal relations between Prishtina and Belgrade is very crucial.

There have been rising calls in Belgrade and among the Kosovo Serbs for the partition of Kosovo along ethnic lines. Is such a scenario possible as far as the Kosovo government is concerned? Why has the Kosovo leadership declared itself so vehemently against it?

Let me explain that Kosovo is the seventh independent state in the territory of the former Yugoslavia – like Slovenia, which is part of the EU today, or Croatia, which is getting invitation these days, and other states.

Kosovo is actually the last chapter in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Montenegro got independence in 2006, and Kosovo in 2008.

That said, the issue of borders, states, and territories in the region is actually a closed chapter. We would never accept ideas of ethnic and territorial partitions because these ideas would create instability, they would produce violence, and the whole region would simply go back as it was 20 years ago.

We are not at all in favor of creating monoethnic states in the region but we should have heterogeneous states and societies. In that sense, no one is supporting the idea of the partition.

At the same time, the majority of the Kosovo Serbs actually live not in the northern part of Kosovo, the majority live across the country. They are taking part in the political life, in the central government, they are members of parliament, they are running a lot of municipalities across the country, and they are actually very well integrated.

I think the idea for partition is a very dangerous one, and it could have a domino effect across the region, and it could start a new phase of ethnic violence and fragmentation across the region.

A recent poll among the ethnic Albanians in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia, found that a majority of them in all three countries are in favor of the so called “Greater Albania”, i.e. a unification of all Albanian-populated region into one nation-state. How does the Kosovo leadership view the ideas about forming a “Greater Albania”? Do you believe such a project is worthy of consideration, especially because of the situation of the large ethnic Albanian communities in Macedonia, Southern Serbia, and other neighboring countries?

I think there are always different ethnic minority groups living across Europe, and I think it is a really anti-European vision to promote the concept of monoethnic or ethnic states.

I think this was something which 20 years ago created an environment of hatred and started ethnic conflicts, prepared the spirit of the ethnic wars, and I think the idea of creating new ethnic states in the Balkans is very dangerous.

In that sense, people in Kosovo are actually very much committed to having a civic state, as it is in our Constitution, and to implement the Ahtisaari Plan. The whole state is actually organized around the principle of citizenship not ethnicity. What the government might think and propose in Belgrade, we are saying no to that because these are very bad solutions, and they will actually open the gates to hell.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has recently reacted to the Serbian ideas for partition of Kosov by warning that if these calls do not stop, Prishtina's demands might become much greater than just the recognition of its independence. Could you please explain this comment? Does it refer to the potential demands about the ethnic Albanians living in Southern Serbia?

We are an independent country. We got recognized by 76 states. We got membership in the IMF, and in the World Bank. Today Kosovo’s independence is a fact in the region, and I don’t think that we would accept or recommend ideas that are actually coming from the time of Milosevic. For us, the ideas for exchanging territories and population belong to the past, and this is a closed issue.

Going back to the mulinational character of Kosovo – there have voices in Sofia stating that the Gorani community, which some believe to be ethnic Bulgarian Muslim, should be recognized as a Bulgarian minority in Kosovo. If the Bulgarian state makes a formal request for that, how would the Kosovo authorities react to it?

For the time being, the Gorani-Bosniak community is part of our legal life, as they have always been in the past. I don’t think it is my job to talk about the identity of each group. They can define their own identity.

But their position in the public life has been accommodated according to the Ahtisaari Plan and our Constitution. The common understanding is that they are Slavic Muslims, and I think for the benefit of the Gorani and Bosniak community to be as much as possible integrated, and they are doing it. I actually know very well the situation the situation in Dragas. For me it is known that they are just Gorani, nothing more or less.

If 5 out the 27 EU member states still don’t recognize Kosovo’s independence, and, yet, Kosovo apparently hopes to join the EU one day. How and when do you hope to convince Spain, Romania, Greece, Slovaia, and Cyprus to recognize Kosovo?

One of the reasons these countries in the EU – and there are just five of them – did not recognize Kosovo is that for them this is not an issue of foreign policy, it is an issue of internal politics.

I think that after the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice last year, none of these five non-recognizers really has a reason or motivation not to recognize Kosovo because the UN Court was very firm in that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law, and that the independence of Kosovo is sui generis, that is, it cannot be used and misused by others.

I think that after the decision of the Court they should simply move towards recognition, and I think some of them have started to be flexible. It is their interest and in the interest of the peace and stability in the region if they would be able to do this as soon as possible.

At the same time, I think that the European Union as an organization understands very well the situation on the ground. They are very much in favor of the EU integration process. I think we will be able to have the needed dynamic towards integration even though some EU members have not recognized us yet. It is a fact that the majority of them were able to do this.


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