Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kosovo's moment

Kosovo's moment

PRISTINA, Kosovo: This is a critical time for the Balkans: Serbia holds parliamentary elections on Sunday as Kosovo anxiously awaits a final report on the future status of the disputed province by the UN special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari.

We expect Ahtisaari to deny Serbia's demand to grant Kosovo broad autonomy within Serbian borders, and to endorse its bid for independence.

We need an independent Kosovo and a democratic Serbia. The European Union, now under German stewardship, can help by ensuring a common EU position in support of independence.

An independent Kosovo would benefit the region economically, politically and in terms of security. A decision on its status is long overdue, and as a result local frustrations are on the rise while the region continues to stagnate.

We need a new dynamic if we are to catch up with the EU. An independent Kosovo can provide that dynamic. Only the people of Kosovo — ethnic Albanians, Serbs and other minorities working together — can ensure that the province undergoes a successful transition.

A stable and prosperous Kosovo means a stable and prosperous region. Kosovo has a sound macroeconomic system, a broad tax base and a modern legislative system that protects private property and investors. Our labor laws are flexible. Kosovo has one of the simplest mechanisms for registering a company in the region. The government is currently overseeing a $2.3 billion coal energy development project — Kosovo has the fifth largest reserves of coal in the world.

Kosovo has changed in fundamental ways since NATO forces defeated Slobodan Milosevic's army in 1999 and a UN mission came to administer the province. Standards of living and personal freedom have improved, and we are working to give practical underpinnings to our reassurance to our minority citizens that the process of transition in Kosovo is for the good of us all.

We are ensuring that our Serb minority will live in municipalities where the police, schools and hospitals will be run by Serbs. We recognize Serbian as one of the official languages of Kosovo, and we further guarantee representation to our minorities in the government.

The future of the Kosovo Serbs is in Kosovo, and Kosovo's future is with its Serbs. We will succeed if we manage to preserve the multiethnic character of Kosovo. Those who misguidedly advocate partition, ignoring the fact that most of our Serbs are spread across Kosovo, are trying to challenge this future as well as call into question the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Macedonia.

We understand the stakes. Independence is above all a responsibility — a responsibility toward our citizens and the region. Independence is a beginning. Kosovo must develop a sustainable economy and we must improve our security capabilities. We can do both if we invest now in our young population so as to ensure their competitive edge in a globalized economy.

Kosovo is committed to a European future, but we have no illusions. We know that the European perspective for Kosovo is a work in progress. But I firmly believe that the whole region will move faster once Kosovo's independence is recognized; this includes Serbia, which would move relatively quickly toward the EU if it were free of the Kosovo issue.

We have two Serbias today. One is modern and economically progressive, open-minded about Kosovo, and has its compass set on the EU. The other Serbia is obsessed with Kosovo and stifled by backward-looking nationalist thinking.

The election Sunday in Serbia is about Europe and the future. Serbia does not need Kosovo in order to move to Europe. In fact, Serbia risks losing both Kosovo and its European perspective if voters on Sunday elect radicals and nationalist politicians. The illusion that Kosovo will again be part of Serbia is better left aside.

International law bestows upon states both rights and responsibilities. It is the responsibility of a government to protect its citizens and accord them equal rights. Serbia has failed to do so.

Europe will play a key role in coming months as the discussion on the final status of Kosovo moves to the UN Security Council. European consensus on Kosovo's final status will help ensure that we soon have a UN mandate, which would be a preferred solution.

As the leader of the EU, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany can use her moral authority and Germany's political clout to build a European consensus backing Kosovo's independence.

Success in Kosovo would remind the world of the potential of the United Nations and of NATO to work for international peace. It would bolster international and national confidence in their continued relevance.

I firmly believe that both institutions have played a crucial role in Kosovo's transformation. It would be truly unfortunate to undermine all these years of hard work and progress by losing the political will to move to the logical next stage — the recognition of an independent Kosovo.

This is Kosovo's moment, but we share it with the European Union. Strong leadership by the German presidency in overcoming division in Europe on Kosovo's final status will ensure that we seize this historic opportunity, pronounce Kosovo independent and begin a genuine regional push toward the EU.

Agim Ceku is the prime minister of Kosovo.

Kosovo's moment - International Herald Tribune

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