Integrimi Evropian

Toward European Integration

June 21, 2013

Honourable hosts
Dear friends,

– I had a different lecture in mind, but then we had a strange last few days and my agenda here in Belgrade as well as my speech changed somewhat. As you have heard by now, our former diplomat Mr Lulzim Peci resigned from the important position of Kosovo’s first Liaison Officer. I was sorry to hear that as Mr Peci had just arrived in Belgrade, but I am equally happy that we managed to identify a highly competent substitution. Ambassador Valdet Sadiku has represented Kosovo in Zagreb. He used to be an advisor to Pieter Faith at International Civilian Office and has worked fro OSCE mission in Kosovo, which means he is well versed in issues related to cross-border cooperation and regional dialogue.

But we can learn few lessons from the entire affair. I offer here for this public few observations and three points. But before going to the very topic of this event, allow me to say few words on my visit itself.

I thank Dusan for hosting me today. You know, governments in both Kosovo and Serbia have come and gone, parties have changed, but people like Dusan have aways stayed, always giving proposals on how to improve our communication, how to improve neighbourly relations. If I look back more at the last decade since the last war unfolded in former Yugoslavia, in my own country, then it’s clear that many individuals who are part of the civil society here and Prishtina, as well as entire Balkans, deserve our words of gratitude for always pushing progressive agenda, never giving up when the silent majority or the vocal opposition pushed back and increased nationalist discourse or even rhetorical and physical violence. These are the people that brought down regimes and tried their best to bring our countries to the European Union, not only by assisting technical reforms but also for fighting for the right values, European values. Sonja Biserko, Natasa Kandic, Ivan Vejvoda, Soros people and many others in Belgrade were islands of sanity even at the most troubled times.

It’s interesting for me to be in Belgrade. I sort of have a non-relationship with the city. When I was kid I was angry at Belgrade, because I knew the story that my own father, a well-regarded Academic and a painter, who missed my own birth because he was doing his post-graduate studies in Belgrade Academy of Arts. I always asked how come Belgrade Academy was more important for him then me.

Later on, I was a member of a generation that unfortunately got some real reasons to strongly dislike the capital of former Yugoslavia. We were terrified as young teens seeing Milosevic organize demonstration and threaten Kosovo in early 1990’s, we were shocked when they closed our schools in Albanian language. We were bitter when Belgrade annulled Kosovo’s autonomy and between 40,000 and 80,000 Albanians, including my parents were fired from their rightful jobs just because their were Albanians. During later years, we were also terrified by Belgrade, as this was the source of the military and paramilitary forces that came burning our villages and cities.

In the end, I will also be honest with you and say that I wasn’t only angry with Belgrade, or fearing Belgrade. I was also hating Belgrade at one point. I was a very young and impressionable student in 1998 when I started translating for foreign journalists in Kosovo war. Unfortunately, I have seen more massacres and more killed men and raped women then any teenager should see and I probably wanted for Belgrade to disappear in fires of hell. But I will not dwell too much on those terrible few years of the actual war of 1998 – 1999.

To tell you the truth, I do hope that my generation will be the very last one that had to grow all their life in fear of Belgrade. As I walked last night in the streets I sort of knew that I need not fear this city, but so many years of uniform relations between Serbia and Kosovo that was based on violence and oppression doesn’t go away so easily.

Which brings me to the topic of the day and the observations and points I offer as a humble contribution and thinking from Prishtina:

To continue where I started, with resignation of Mr Peci – I think we can take one lesson from the news cycle: the process of normalization between Kosovo and Serbia is very complicated, stressful and in need of patience, good faith and string personal dedication. The two Prime Ministers met 11 times and spent over 100 hours in talks. They will meet again tomorrow to push for conclusion of several important items in the implementation plan, but it’s clear that the process will need continuous attention from stakeholders. This plant will need lots of water and personal attention before it starts bearing the fruits we want to see, of friendship and cooperation. In the last rounds of dialogue, the technical one led by Cooper, one of the main complains and challenges was that Brussels facilitated talks but didn’t facilitate implementation, which subsequently brought blockades and created opportunity for those that want to delay processes to do so. Not implementing what we agreed also brings unwanted situations such as the one from July 2011 when Kosovo police had to take full control of gates 1 and 31 between Kosovo and Serbia, as northern parallel structures opposed the customs stamp and border controls by Kosovo police. Non-implementation means keep status-quo. Keeping status-quo means opening path for escalation and regress.

Implementation is everything, but good faith is the mother of implementation. We need to believe in what we are doing as we need to create as wide possible support with our own local landscapes, our own voters, our own people on the necessity of closing the chapter of pain between Kosovo and Serbia and open a new tabula rasa of a relation based on Copenhagen criteria of good neighbourly relations. Entering this process with cynical objective of obtaining favours, finances or fine compliments from Brussels without talking in earnest to our public is counter-productive. If we sign an agreement for Kosovo to be represented regionally and for one side not to block the other in European integrations, the last thing one should do is to – well – block the other side in regional European processes, as it happens when President Nikolic boycotted the Ohrid Summit because of participation by President Jahjaga. Both Prime Minister Thaci as well as Prime Minister Dacic have been blunt with their publics, but this message has to be consistent and repeated. PM Thaci says repeatedly that Serbia being late in European integrations brings delays for all of the Balkans and that formula found for implementation of Ahtisaari in north will have to be utilised, if not lovingly accepted, by Kosovo Serbs in the north. Similarly, Dacic has said that lies have to stop, that propaganda that Kosovo in the part of Serbia is futile. Sincere communication with our own publics must continue.

Communication is one part of implementation equation but we must also deliver on our promises, in order for the agreement to trickle-down from the level of PM’s to the medium-level government managers and further down to grass-root level. This will not be possible only by the sheer force of truth and sincere communication. People need jobs not words. In the north, the fund set up to bring about investments must be one of the first features of the normalization to function. Other steps must follow.


Kosovars lose around 25 million Euros due to lack of the telephone code, so sorting that out brings direct benefits for the citizens. The agreement that we have signed on free movement of people is worthless if our insurance agencies in Serbia and Kosovo don’t cooperate as currently the free movement between Kosovo and Serbia is not so free – people have to pay hundreds of Euros every month if they travel regularly since Serbian companies refuse to agree with Kosovars on lowering the tariffs and mutually accepting insurance claims. Similarly, I had to drive 5 hours to Belgrade as must hundreds of Kosovars, not only Serbs, but also Albanians, Gorani, Roma, who come here every day for visa-issues, collecting old pensions, or going to hospitals. We cant open flights Belgrade – Prishtina, as Serbia is continuously refusing to open up airspace for flights from Kosovo airspace. Trust me – there is little good will left when one has to drive 5 hours through bad roads in 40 degrees in summer in order to advance dialogue. Speaking of which – Kosovo has just finished its highway from the border with Albania to Prishtina and is soon reaching the border with Serbia. It’s of paramount importance for both Serbia and Kosovo that we connect further to the highways in Serbia. If we do so, citizens of Nis, Prokuplje, Vranje will travel to Montenegro through Kosovo and Albania, and that in itself could bring more normalization and exchanges between our countries than many more meetings between politicians.

Principle of equality must prevail. Serbia in the initial stages of dialogue and still tries whenever it can, to insist on asymmetry between Kosovo and Serbia. The whole affair with the deal for Kosovo to be represented regionally with a footnote was just a way to continue insisting on a charade. We in Kosovo are not as busy focusing on symbols and semantics, but every now and then problems will arise if Serbia insists on an explanation that somehow we are not equal. The background for this insistence is not only political or constitutional and its not only centred on the question whether Kosovo was right to declare independence. ICJ already gave a very clear verdict that Kosovo was not in breach of international law when we declared independence, but I fear that Serbian insistence goes back to something older and more sinister, the feeling that Kosovars – and I know that you insist on ethnic terms – but I will insist on Kosovars, are citizens of second tier. There is something inherently racist in the attitude of Serbia towards Kosovars. Look at the yellow press, look at the statements, look at the public discourse. In Serbian, to be “shqiptar” is derogatory. It means “something less”. To tell you the truth, the Serbian insistence that the population of Kosovo doesn’t matter or that it can be ignored, is old. Just read Dimitrije Tucovic or Trotsky on how Serbia mistreated Albanians after Balkan Wars and you will understand the roots of our conflict. I am not saying that you should all now change the history books and disband your Academy of Sciences and all other bodies that have re-enforced such a narrative from racist and nationalist point of view, however I am saying that in long term, real problems will be created if Serbia continues to refuse symmetrical and equality under the sun of international community. Live and let live. Can you imagine that Serbia has signed a Special Strategic Partnership Agreement with China, while it exports 20 times more stuff to Kosovo than to China? This is absurd.
This specific point, of Serbia accepting Kosovo as equal will be most difficult. I understand this but Serbian politicians will also have to understand that never again – and I repeat – never again will Kosovo be in the position of subjugation to Serbia. This is not what European integrations is about. This is not what the Agreement on normalization is about. This is not what future of our relations is about. This mental bridge will have to be crossed by Serbia, but I have to say by Serbs as well. Different kinds of challenge we have in Kosovo but its not necessarily an easier challenge to change perceptions about Serbia. For a century, to a greater or to a lesser degree, we had a very specific relation to Belgrade and it will take force, it will take tremendous willpower to get away from a mode of victimisation to a mode of partnership. A new societal contract in Kosovo was established by Ahtisaari, but Ahtisaari Plan was never a product but rather a process that must continue by reinforcing and defending principle idea of devolution of power from the capital city to the citizens.

Otherwise I am an optimist. Kosovo is now recognised by almost 100 countries. Since we signed agreement with Serbia, Tanzania, Yemen and Guyana recognised Kosovo. Kosovo also became a sovereign Member of Council of Europe Development Bank last week. In European integrations, 2012 was a truly European year. International Civilian Office ended supervision of Kosovo independence and President of Kosovo renewed the mandate of EULEX for 2 more years, but it’s clear that Kosovo is the freest it has been. We have problems with 35% unemployment, but we don’t have problem with pensions as our demographics are positive. Our Debt Per GDP ration is less than 7% while IMF expects for Kosovo to record the highest growth in 2013 in all of Balkans. In 2012 we also launched the roadmap for visa-free travel and we hope soon to join rest of Balkans in being able to travel freely within Schengen. We also expect a Stabilisation and Association Agreement this June. Many people have always insisted that European integrations are evaluated on individual basis, which is true – but it’s also true that in case of Kosovo and Serbia, neither will progress far if the other is blocked. I hope that next few weeks implementation will start in earnest and that security structures will be tackled. Once we clear those out of the way and we install a native, Kosovar security apparatus in north that will reflect the ethnic composition of that region, we will be able to move towards free local elections and the subsequent establishment of Association of municipalities that can assist the communes in some of the tasks and services towards citizens. Many people have always claimed that it can’t be done in Gracanica or Strpce or Ranilug. We proved them wrong and we will prove them wrong again.

Thank you again for your invitation, thank you all for your attention, and ladies and gentlemen allow me to finish by saying that the only road that will guarantee peace, prosperity and well being for our citizens is our path toward Europe and European Integrations, After all, Robert Schumann, Jean Monnet and the other founding fathers of the European Union based their ideals on this idea: “As distinct from ideas of federation, confederation or customs union the main development in Europe depends on a supranational foundation to make war unthinkable, materially impossible and reinforce democracy”.

Thank you very much again.

Last modified: August 16, 2022

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