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The joint fight against terrorism

Vienna, 21 March 2015 – This week Austria hosted a ministerial meeting of the foreign and interior ministers of the Western Balkan Countries, joined by those of Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and leaders of important regional organizations, to discuss ways of cooperation in our region to combat violent extremism and terrorism. The meeting took place in the aftermath of the recent horrific attacks in Paris, Copenhagen and Tunis that have disturbed the global audiences. These violent incidents provided a stark reminder that the battle for values of humanism and diversity are not national battles in each one of our states but rather a joint effort to define what kind of world we are building for the future generations in the 21st century.

By Hashim Thaçi / Die Presse

Kosovo welcomes Austrian initiative as a very timely one. Minister Sebastian Kurz has been spearheading efforts to provide a new platform of integration of minorities in the Austrian mainstream and we fully support and endorse the policies as well as the new law that regulates the way how religious communities are organized in Austria. We have followed carefully the debate in Austria and we are also looking to adopt some similar measures in my own country to ensure that extremist religious interpretations don't challenge the main aim of all Kosovo people, which is joining EU and NATO.

We are a country in which majority of population are declared Muslim, but we are also a very secular society with long tradition of interfaith tolerance. Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians as well as smaller Jewish and protestant communities have thrived in Kosovo for centuries. It was not unusual for Muslim to visit holly Christian sites or for Christians to visit famous Sufi tekkes to seek cures for illness or comfort in time of personal tragedies. The Kosovo war in 1999 was not a religious war, but a war borne out of ethnic and political repression. Similarly, Kosovar Declaration of Independence which established a new state in European continent was not based on creating a homogenous ethnic or religious state but it was rather a civic model and a civic state that we established based on long negotiations we held here in Vienna under the coordination of UN envoy President Marti Ahtisaari. Thus, it is my constitutional obligation to ensure that diversity and protection of all religious heritage is always protected.

However, Kosovo became a state in a difficult time of global financial crisis and wars in the Middle East. We have managed to grow our economy but unemployment of youth remained high. Explosion of social media also meant that wars far away become a part of our daily intake of news and many people are emotionally affected by scenes of massacres in Syria or other war-torn countries. We have seen in Kosovo that smaller groups have been created that threaten the historic, interfaith tolerance and have become exponents of global extremist discourse. This development has troubled us as we understand that Kosovo will be seen with a special eye by our European partners and we have to deliver even more than the other countries in comforting our partners and neighbors that Kosovo is not an exporter of problems but of peace initiatives.

Kosovo has now voted a new law that will sentence up to 15 years in jail all the foreign fighters that participate in conflicts in Syria and Iraq; We have also arrested over 45 suspects involved in training or sending young people to battlefields of Syria. We have also arrested individual imams who were engaged in hate-speech or recruitment. We have organized international interfaith conferences that are considered as very positive contribution by Secretary General of UN Ban Ki Moon. As result of our efforts, we have seen a decline of foreign fighters from Kosovo in Syria. According to our intelligence service, no more than 60 Kosovars are now in Syria and Iraq, down from over a hundred just a year ago.

But more must be done. We must engage parents who don't want to see their children disappear in the deserts of Middle East. We must talk to our neighbors in cutting trans-national lines of communication between extremists and we must work to improve economic perspective of young people. These challenges require a collective approach and integrated campaign. We are therefore ready to partner Austria in ensuring that peace in our continent is maintained and that religion doesn't become an issue that divides us but rather unite us in the global quest for peace.

Hashim Thaci is the First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Republic of Kosovo