‟Kosovo’s independence is irreversible” says Bekim Çollaku

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In 2008, Kosovo’s assembly declared its independence, despite of strong resistance from Serbia. It finally began its foundamental work towards rebuilding and restructuring its institutions, while simultaneously invigorating its relationship with neighboring countries by establishing a vigorous democracy.

Former Chief of Staff to the President of the Republic of Kosovo and Former Minister of European Integration, Bekim Çollaku answers a few questions to Politically Global and discusses the progress, the recent developments and the challenges of the country.

Kosovo recently celebrated its 13th year of independence. What can be highlighted as the biggest accomplishment for the newest country in Europe during this time?

Bekim Çollaku : Establishing functioning and accountable democratic institutions from the scratch, certainly was the first priority. This was followed by immediate actions to improve the urgent country’s infrastructure (roads, highways, schools, hospitals etc.), and certainly by improving the living standard of the citizens. State-building process for Kosovo has been and remains a difficult one, both domestically and internationally. Regarding the last aspect, gradual consolidation of the Kosovo’s statehood through recognitions and the membership in various international organization has been and remains a priority, until Kosovo gets its deserved seat among the free nations of the world, respectively the membership in the UN. What matters most, Kosovo’s independence is irreversible.

How do you evaluate the progress of Kosovo towards its European integration for the past years? Is it headed in the right direction?

B. Ç. : Kosovo’s relations with the EU is very unique due to the lack of the recognition by five EU member states (Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus). As result of this situation, the EU lacks a unified approach towards Kosovo, which in return undermines the EU’s credibility. Within this context, Kosovo’s progress towards the EU membership has been and remains very limited. Regardless of the fact that Kosovo and the EU have both signed and adopted the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), Kosovo’s progress towards the EU is blocked.

In addition to this, the EU has failed to deliver on its old obligation to lift the visa regime as agreed in the Visa Liberalization Roadmap in 2012.

The green light by the European Commission to allow the Kosovars to travel visa free in the Schengen zone was given in 2016. However, since then, the EU has been able to provide all kinds of useless justification but not the well-deserved decision. Overall, EU’s inability to speak with one voice for Kosovo, the lack of the recognition by five EU MS, undermines any further progress for Kosovo towards the EU membership.

An outstanding number of the country statistics is the 53% of the population being under the age of 25, with the capital holding an average age of 28. How are political institutions supporting youth development? Do you see the younger population as politically mobilized?

B. Ç. : The young population of Kosovo is a very valuable asset for the country. But Kosovo has very limited resources and limited annual budget which needs to be balanced well in order to match country’s needs. Regarding the youth, priority should remain in improving the quality of the education and prepare them adequately for the free market. In my view, young people are politically mobilized and play an important role in the political and institutional set up in the country. Certainly, there’s room and need for further improvements.

It has been shown that from the year 2008 until 2018, a total number of 203,330 Kosovar citizens had chosen to leave the country and apply for asylum in the European Union. Have government policies under Hashim Thaci’s rule endeavored to reduce this outward flow?

B. Ç. : Every government, and in particular the one under the leadership of the PM Hashim Thaci 2008-2014 has put significant efforts to implement policies which would improve the quality of life ( social welfare, education, healthcare) and to empower the private sector in order to generate new jobs for the youth. However, the rates of unemployment in Kosovo still remain high and this in return has triggered the need to search and apply for jobs outside the country. Nevertheless, one should admit that the trends of emigration for job or simply a better life in the countries of the Western Balkans, remains a common attitude for all the countries, including Kosovo.

Former president Thaci’s detention over war crimes charges occurred during a moment where the future seemed to be optimistic regarding the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. The Trump administration was active in resolving the conflict in the Balkans and Thaci was convinced that it will result in an agreement between the two countries. However, this process was interrupted and in November 5th Thaci was arrested and transferred to the detention facilities of the Kosovo Tribunal in the Hague. Does the chosen time of his arrest and detention raise suspicion as to this being a Serbian-led decision?

B. Ç. : We have to be realistic and admit the fact that Kosovo’s independence in addition to many friends, had and still has its opponents, too. Certainly, Serbia and Russia continue to oppose forcefully Kosovo’s independence yet. Part of the obstructions towards Kosovo was the support of the allegations of the Dick Marty’s report against the former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). In particular the allegations about the human organ harvesting were shocking and in return, the international community imposed on Kosovo the establishment of the so called Special Court to investigate on these allegations. Regardless the fact that the investigation found no evidences to support allegations on human organ harvesting, yet the Special Prosecutor’s Office in the Hague last year filed several indictments against the key figures of the former KLA, including the former President Thaci. Since this is a legal process under progress, I prefer not to comment, but those familiar with this process, can already identify many flaws which will be addressed in the due course during the trial process.

Albania and Kosovo have always had each other’s back. Albin Kutris’ recent statement of unifying the two countries gained a lot of international attention. How do you assess his comment?

B. Ç. : Well, I don’t know which Kurti’s statement you are referring and I prefer not to comment on his attitude towards this issue. All I would emphasize is the fact that the time for empty words and fake patriotism has ended, and now it’s time to deliver. Personally, I don’t expect from Kurti or any other politician in Kosovo or in Albania to be serious about the potential unification. This ideal scenario consumes a lot of energy only in time of the elections and often for nationalist public discourse. But it ends there. Unfortunately the political elites in both countries, lack the courage and the will to put this matter in the agenda for various reasons. Nevertheless, what is much more important than the old demagogy about the unification, is to remove all the existing barriers in terms of trade and free movement for the people. International community is not concerned with this matter because they know very well that none of the politicians or the governments in Kosovo and Albania are serious about unification.

❝As a topic, as long as no serous actions are indeed undertaken towards that end, the public discourse and the rhetoric helps only Serbia to keep criticizing about the possibility of “Great Albania”, while silently working on “Great Serbia. ❞

In February, President Joe Biden encouraged Serbia to not only continue the dialogue with Kosovo, but also acknowledge the independence of the country. Aleksandar Vucic didn’t seem to respond positively to his statement regarding the recognition. Do you believe this may change in the near future?

B. Ç. : The appeal of the new elected U.S. President Biden for Serbia to continue the dialogue leading towards a recognition of Kosovo is a reiteration of the U.S. consistent policy towards the dialogue on the normalization of relations between two countries. U.S. foreign policy towards Kosovo has been clear from the very outset and it doesn’t change because of the eternal strategic alliance between Kosovo and the USA. In the other hand, I find it difficult to believe and expect that Serbia will suddenly become pragmatic and recognize the independence of Kosovo. At this period, I don’t see the EU as a mediator having any leverage over Serbia, and let’s not speak about any leverage left over Kosovo. As long as the EU is not in position to be firm on its policy towards Serbia and Kosovo, as long as there are no carrots on the table, I don’t expect either side to be willing to reach a final deal. So, my prospect for a potential deal in the near future is very pessimistic.

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