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Strengthening sovereignty, a top priority

We have definite information that they have taken the decision to recognize the Republic of Kosovo and it is a matter of days before the decisions are published.

For us, the completion of full recognition of Kosovo and the strengthening of international subjectivity is a top priority. This is what the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo, Enver Hoxhaj, said. In this interview he spoke about his lobbying activities in many countries that still have not recognized the state of Kosovo, the drafting of a strategy which aims to achieve full international recognition of the Republic of Kosovo, the issue of the north, the situation of Albanians in other Balkan countries as well as many other topical issues in the country.

Illyria: Mr. Hoxhaj, Kosovo has had two very important recognitions increasing its international representation, the latest from Chad or the 91st state to recognize the new state. What are your expectations when you remember that you announced three other recognitions?

Hoxhaj: I met the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Chad on May 2 this year and he promised me that recognition of Kosovo was a matter of weeks and on June 1 this year Chad announced recognition of the Republic of Kosovo. Also, during this year there have been several other states that have recognized the Republic of Kosovo.
There has been determination, and dynamism and much energy has been invested to increase the number of recognitions for independent Kosovo. The Republic of Kosovo needs full recognition from all member states of the UN. For us, completing the full recognition of Kosovo and strengthening international subjectivity are a top priority.

Just this year, I have been in various countries of Latin America, and I also visited several other countries in this part of the world and in January of this year, Haiti recognized Kosovo during my visit there.
I have been two other times to the western hemisphere and my last visit occurred in June. I have also visited Asia and the Middle East twice, and several countries of this area, except Thailand.
We have a detailed agenda in terms of lobbying for recognition and we have visited a large number of states or held meetings with Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the countries that have not recognized Kosovo.

But unfortunately, many of these official meetings may not be made public and remain confidential, because for us it is more important to receive recognition than to produce a news item on the media.

Illyria: In the conversation we had together in Tirana, you said that you would be working with a new strategy for recognition. Can we know more about the details and route to be followed? You did quite well in the last debate in the UN.

Hoxhaj: Last year, after months of intensive work, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo, together with several international experts made a strategy for achieving full international recognition of the Republic of Kosovo.
The purpose of this strategy is Kosovo’s full integration, within an optimal time, in the community of free countries. This should happen through the completion of the process of international recognition of the state of Kosovo as well as further strengthening its international position as a top national priority.
This strategy is divided into three parts: the general part identifies the key obstacles and challenges that have been met so far in lobbying for international recognition of our state and provides general guidelines that are followed by state institutions in this process.
The second is the operational part that contains the positions and arguments of the Republic of Kosovo in relation to countries that have not recognized us.
It contains a detailed analysis of attitudes towards Kosovo’s independence in each individual state.

The strategy contains very reliable and objective information, which explains in detail the position of each country toward Kosovo’s independence, the fundamental reasons why a country has not recognized Kosovo, the political and ideological motives of the leaders of that country as well as public opinion in a country towards Kosovo.

On this basis, countries are categorized into five groups: countries that have recognized Kosovo, countries that have given positive signs towards recognition, countries that do not oppose Kosovo's independence, countries that have a neutral stance towards Kosovo and countries which strongly oppose independence.

The third part of the strategy is a general plan of concrete action, which serves as a roadmap for institutions and other actors, describing concrete steps to be taken for lobbying.

This strategy has yielded results and without it, we would not have achieved the recognitions we did in 2011 and this year.
I also would like to mention that for the first time after the strategy was drafted in a meeting held in Luxembourg with the political directors of the USA, UK, Germany, France and Italy, this document was given to these countries and based on this document, so far there has been full coordination between Prishtina and these global centers, with regard to the conclusion of full recognition of Kosovo.

As for the sessions of the UN Security Council on Kosovo, I want to say that Kosovo's foreign policy, in such a senior international forum, should reflect the goals, orientation and agenda of what is happening within Kosovo.

And at every meeting of the Security Council with great determination I set out the position of the state of Kosovo and its citizens and public opinion regarding certain political developments.

It is understood that here we need to consider providing arguments in such a manner and approach, which is logical and convincing to the international community.

Illyria: We should pause at the beginning for the north of Kosovo. The situation is problematic because of persistent bad behavior of Serbia. What will happen next?

Hoxhaj: With regard to the situation in the three northern municipalities, the Government of the Republic of Kosovo has been determined to integrate the Serb population into our political, economic and social life, as with the integration of the majority of the Serbian community living in Kosovo.

Kosovo is built on three fundamental principles: democracy, multi-ethnicity and secularism. Kosovo's political elite and citizens have been determined to build a multi-ethnic Kosovo, where today, the Serb community as a result of the implementation of almost over 95% of the Ahtisaari package, is integrated in the central and local level in all Kosovo’s institutions.

But I think that the north, even 13 years after the liberation of Kosovo and 5 years of independence, is under the influence of criminal gangs and illegal structures of police, security forces and Serbian paramilitary formations.

No doubt, all the governments of Kosovo after the war could have done more to improve the situation in the north, but I think the main responsibility lies with the international community.

The international community which is present in Kosovo, and important decision-making centers have not made the necessary and systematic pressure on Serbia to dismantle these structures in the three northern municipalities. I think it is the last moment for this to happen.

In all meetings with the most powerful state officials of international politics, I have tried to make clear that Serbia does not have one position, but follows two parallel approaches to the Serb community in Kosovo and Kosovo in general.

Serbia’s first position is at all costs, to prevent the implementation of the Ahtisaari package and the Constitution of Kosovo in the three northern municipalities, taking all measures to prevent the extension of sovereignty in the north.

Therefore the integration of the Serb population in the north in Kosovo’s institutions has been a difficult and complex process.

Serbia's second position was to silently not obstruct the integration of the majority of Serbs south of the River Ibër in central and local institutions in Kosovo.

Therefore think that the international community should have put more pressure with all means and at all levels against Serbia to dismantle its illegal political structures, police units and criminal groups in the north.

The situation in this part of Kosovo should in no way be seen as a conflict between the Government of Kosovo and citizens in the north.

What is happening in the north is not a phenomenon appearing for the first time in Kosovo, since we saw attempts by Serbia to exert control over parts of a country independent from Serbia, in Croatia and Bosnia in the 90s, attempts which failed.

The action of the Government to send police and customs officials to the border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia in July last year and the opening of an administrative office in the northern part of Mitrovica are decisive steps, which in a qualitative manner will shift the situation towards the integration of the north of Kosovo into a multiethnic Kosovo.

But it will take more than determination and state maturity to attain the confidence of the hearts and minds of the citizens of northern Kosovo, so that they can be part of our multi-ethnic state, like the majority of the Serb community in Kosovo.

Illyria: What does the victory of Tomislav Nikolić as President in Serbia mean for Kosovo and ethnic Albanians in their lands in the Balkans? Do we have to believe that the Serbs really differ when it comes to Kosovo or their eternal dream of a Greater Serbia?

Hoxhaj: The citizens of Serbia decided who will be their President. Since October 2000, when Milosevic was removed from power until May 2012, for about 12 years the Democratic Party of former Serbian Prime Minister Djindjić and former President Boris Tadić dominated political life, creating an impression that Serbia was democratizing and undertaking reform on its way to European integration.
The election result of May this year and Nikolić's election as President of Serbia, and strengthening of the conservative parties that were once allies of Milosevic during the wars in former Yugoslavia as well as in the party of former dictator Milosevic, is an indication that there was a change in the May elections in Serbia 2012.
But many do not concur with giving this change its proper name: a revival of past and radical nationalism in the political life of Serbia.
Anyone who does not believe such an assessment should just quickly count the number of seats won in the Serbian parliament, by a party which is very nationalist thought and action, in Serbian political life.
This shows that everything in the 12 years of propaganda that Serbia has been changing was only superficial, while the substance of political institutional culture and the Serbian public has unfortunately remains where it once was.

However, we will assess and judge Serbia’s political behavior based on their actions and behavior in the future and not on the basis of their past, which undoubtedly contains a heavy legacy.

The first news coming from Serbian political life after the political elections there are not very promising.

The denial of genocide in Srebrenica; that Vukovar was allegedly a Serbian town; and, the position that Serbia will not recognize Kosovo even at the risk of its European future, are all elements of a policy of the past, which at that time brought much violence, war and pain.
However, the relationship with Serbia should not be viewed from the perspective of who leads Serbia because I think that there is no significant difference between the current president and past president in terms of their position on Kosovo.
Serbia’s approach toward Kosovo should be understood on a conceptual level and here the main problem has been and remains the hegemonic tendencies of the Serbian policy towards all countries in the region, including Kosovo.

It is high time for Serbia to realize that it has lost militarily, politically and diplomatically with regard to Kosovo and other countries of former Yugoslavia.

Kosovo's political fate does not depend on who runs Serbia, as Kosovo today is a geopolitical fact in the Balkans, its independence is an irreversible reality and the state of Kosovo is a factor of peace, security and stability in the region.

Illyria: You commented on the statement of the Russian Ambassador to Serbia about preventing the alleged "creation of a Greater Albania"? Did anyone ask for this?

Hoxhaj: From my political experience and especially after my appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo, I realized many times that states which oppose Kosovo's independence always endeavor systematically to claim that the political elite in Kosovo, in Albania or in Macedonia are allegedly trying to keep alive a greater Albania.

What the Russian Ambassador in Belgrade said is only a reflection of an element of diplomatic propaganda by some states against Kosovo's independence and a strong European Albania.

Such statements, for the so-called idea of Greater Albania intend to present Albanians in the region as a destabilizing factor for peace and security in the entire Western Balkans, which is not true.
Neither today nor in the past two decades, has a serious political force in Tirana, Prishtina or Skopje or elsewhere where there are Albanians in the Balkans, had as its strategic and political goal such an idea. So I do not think this should attract attention.

Illyria: Kosovo reached a significant point in the dialogue with Serbia, specifically, the possibility of participation in regional meetings with the footnote. Many opposition voices or not, did not welcome this agreement. Do you think that footnote was really the best solution?

Hoxhaj: In a technical dialogue between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia nine rounds of meetings were held and some technical agreements were reached that aim to improve the daily lives of citizens in both countries.
From the beginning, dialogue was technical and the resolution of the UN Security Council in September of 2010 that called on both parties to dialogue facilitated by the EU makes it clear that such a dialogue is technical and has nothing to do with the status, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo.

I think that the dialogue achieved two important agreements that should be understood and interpreted correctly: The agreement on cooperation and regional representation allows Kosovo to attend, speak, sign and join in its name as an equal partner state with all countries in organizations, European institutions and regional forums.

This agreement is a legal bilateral inter-state agreement in which Serbia accepts the legal and factual reality of the state of Kosovo.

Also the agreement on integrated border management is a European model of regulating interstate borders. This is also a bilateral agreement and acceptance of the state border of Kosovo by Serbia.

I am aware that there were debates and different opinions regarding these agreements. But one thing we should bear in mind is that Kosovo has made great progress, with the support of its Euro-Atlantic partners, who in technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia are guarantors of these agreements.

Illyria: In various regional meetings after the agreement, Serbia did not respect the footnote. Does this prove that Belgrade remains problematic still? Will the negotiation team change?

Hoxhaj: I think that Serbia’s failure to respect the agreement should not be surprising to anyone who has followed political developments in the region in the last 20 years.
Serbia’s policy towards Kosovo during the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia and the international community's involvement, can be described with a simple sentence, that Serbia in most cases has not accepted agreements which were the product of any international mediation.

Or if it agreed in a few cases, it took all measures to obstruct their implementation.

Allow me to mention some examples: Serbia accepted the Kumanovo agreement and UN Security Council Resolution 1244, but from June 1999 to December 2007 did everything to prevent their implementation and to undermine their operation in the field.

In the international process to determine Kosovo's final status 2005-2007 Serbia took part in this negotiation process, but refused its eventual final outcome which was the comprehensive proposal of former President / Special Envoy Ahtisaari.

I do not think that the negotiating team will change, but this is up to the Prime Minister.

Illyria: Serbia constantly invokes UNSC Resolution 1244. But, although the resolution does not give Serbia any authority in Kosovo, Belgrade for the 13th year in a row, declared elections in Kosovo’s territory, now an independent and sovereign state. Besides being a mistaken approach and characterizing Serbia’s conduct, does this prove that Belgrade exploited the footnote agreement for EU "candidate" status, with no intention of actually making any change?

Hoxhaj: As for the elections, I think that after 13 years, Serbia in 2012 eventually gave up organizing elections within the territory of the Republic of Kosovo.

There was an agreement between the OSCE and the Government of Kosovo in order to offer citizens of Kosovo's Serbian community who have dual citizenship the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, as provided by the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo.

I should mention the fact that the interest of citizens of Kosovo to vote in these elections was low if we compare them with the participation in parliamentary elections 2010.

With regard to the technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia and agreements reached, I agree with you completely that Serbia's goal was just to reach some agreements on paper with Kosovo and not to make them a reality.

This means dialogue was exploited by Serbia only as an instrument to benefit from its so-called cooperation with Kosovo and European behavior towards Kosovo in order to obtain candidate status.

I've said in all international forums that agreements on paper are worthless if not implemented on the ground, which is not happening.

Here above all I mean the agreements on regional cooperation and integrated management of borders, which have not yet been implemented.

However, with the formation of a new government in Serbia, the EU and the US, as the guarantors of these agreements, will have to exert pressure on the Government of Serbia in order to implement the agreements.

Illyria: Resolution 1244 is based on a territory that was not recognized by resolution UNSCR 777 of 19 September 1992 which specified that the name Yugoslavia no longer existed. The UN did not recognize then, the Yugoslavia of Slobodan Milosevic with Momir Bulatovic of Montenegro. The late diplomat Richard Holbrooke in January 2001 stated that Resolution 1244 was left deliberately vague. If so, why do we still invoke 1244?

Hoxhaj: When it comes to Resolution 1244 and its effects on Kosovo, I think a fair and professional interpretation is that of the International Court of Justice.
This was a clear decision that the declaration of independence is in full compliance with international law and also such an act expressing the will of the people of Kosovo took place in accordance with Resolution 1244.

According to the Court, the legality of our independence is within the international law of this Resolution. Therefore, no state has any legal reason to postpone the decision to recognize Kosovo's independence.
The main purpose of Resolution 1244 was to provide an institutional and legal framework for determining Kosovo's final status, in an international process led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and after a negotiation process a final solution was proposed in the form of Kosovo’s independence.

In practical terms, this means that independent Kosovo’s political, institutional, legal, fiscal structure, and many others, was created under international administration of Kosovo.

This situation together with Kosovo's fight for freedom, several years of discrimination by Milosevic, genocide against the citizens of Kosovo and NATO’s humanitarian intervention, made Kosovo a unique case on its path to state formation.

Illyria: What was Your role as a Kosovo diplomat, and that of Albania and the Albanian-American community in this visit and in general for Albanian-American relations?

Hoxhaj: Relations between the Republic of Kosovo and the United States of America are sacred for us as an independent country, as it is a strategic partner.
This sacred relationship will remain as such in perpetuity. The visit by Prime Minister Thaçi to the U.S., his meetings with Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reinforced and deepened these sacred relationships with the U.S.

But we are interested, besides the excellent diplomatic relations, to have also excellent economic and educational cooperation between our two countries, strengthening cooperation and ties and deepening our friendship.

Therefore, in addition to topics related to the internal consolidation of Kosovo's statehood by strengthening its international subjectivity and integrating municipalities in northern Kosovo as a whole, we discussed concrete projects relating to economic, education and cultural cooperation.

In the world in which we live it is crucial that besides proper institutional and state links to also have strong human connections between our peoples and societies.
When it comes to foreign policy, I would like to say that in addition to our determined Euro-Atlantic orientation, we have full coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Prishtina, the State Department and many other institutions in America.

Undoubtedly with the creation of these historic ties, and friendly diplomacy, the Albanian-American community played a crucial role and Kosovo’s freedom, and independence cannot be imagined without the international role of the U.S. and Albanians living in America.
We have harmonized our positions regarding our strategic interests in the region and beyond with Albania and diplomats from Albania have had, and still have, a very important role in Kosovo's statehood.

Illyria: Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi clearly and sharply stated in the Assembly, that if the borders of Kosovo were violated, or there was a retreat to claims for border changes, Albanians could freely live in one state. A foreign minister obviously does not bear responsibility for the statements of the Prime Minister, but can you tell us if you have had questions on this topic internationally and what is your answer to our position as a nation with the aim of integration?

Hoxhaj: The message that Prime Minister Thaçi gave in his statement was that any idea of moving the frontiers or exchanging territories could have a chain effect on many countries of the Balkans, since all these states are multiethnic countries and comprise territorial regions inhabited by different ethnic groups.

It is understood that his statement was a reaction to ideas cast several times by Serbian politicians in Serbian politics for the partition of Kosovo, ideas which are very dangerous for the entire region, as they would produce an extremely violent situation, instability and insecurity for peace in the region.

Prime Minister Thaçi and all stakeholders of the institutions have expressed themselves very clearly against such options, as for us the borders in the Balkans are unchangeable, while the ideas of creating homogenous states belongs to the past.

Illyria: Albania has stressed that racist developments against Albanians in Macedonia, will not threaten relations between the two countries. While in Prishtina, the Macedonian embassy was hit. Can you tell me, if racist acts, murder, violence, and discrimination do not affect interstate relations, what else can do this? In general what are the relations with Albania?

Hoxhaj: As to the position of Albanians in Macedonia, I think that compared to the position they had in the past there has been a genuine improvement in their political, economic and cultural position in state institutions.

Nevertheless, the position of the Government of the Republic of Kosovo is that Macedonia should do more in implementing the Ohrid Agreement and Macedonian and Albanian political representatives should be more committed in this regard.

The attack on the Macedonian Embassy in Prishtina was an ugly act against the state interests of the Republic of Kosovo and the good relations we have with neighboring countries like Macedonia.

The police are investigating the case, and I was in constant contact with the Macedonian Foreign Minister on the day the incident occurred.

Relations with Albania are excellent, and both our respective ministries have full coordination on a daily basis and coordinate the cooperation between relevant sectors and institutions of our two countries.

This cooperation has so far operated on the basis of strong political will, while the objective of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to institutionalize cooperation through the concrete bilateral agreements in many areas of life.

Illyria: Albanians in Eastern Kosovo, the Presheva Valley, clearly have almost no similar rights to Serbs in Kosovo. Does Kosovo ask that Albania intervene on behalf of its ethnic territory which remained under Slavic rule with the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and then Yugoslavia, up to its dissolution?

Hoxhaj: Albanians in the Presheva valley currently represent the most discriminated ethnic group in the Balkans, since the way they are treated by Belgrade's policy raises concerns not only in Kosovo, but in other political centers in the world.

This discriminatory position of Albanians is unacceptable for us in Kosovo and I have raised this issue at every official meeting which I have had with relevant decision-making factors. I think the state of Kosovo, surrounded as it is by Albanians should have as its mission the continuous improvement of their political and economic life and promotion of the Albanian national identity wherever they live outside Kosovo and outside Albania.

Interview du ministre Enver Hoxhaj pour "Epoken e Re"La Serbie plus agressive envers le Kosovo