Thursday, January 17, 2008

'The Date for Kosovo Independence Is Set'

Q&A: 'The Date for Kosovo Independence Is Set'
Interview with Hashim Thaci, Prime Minister of Kosovo

PRISTINA, Jan 17 (IPS) - Every passing day brings more pressure on the two million people of Kosovo over the future of the province. Demonstrations on the streets of Pristina and Mitrovica, for and against independence respectively, are strong indication of the social unrest in anticipation of a decision.

The newly elected Hashim Thaci, previously political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) and now prime minister who seems likely to lead Kosovo towards its declaration of independence will face a complicated reality of ethnic tensions, underdevelopment and corruption.

"My will is to create conditions for cooperation and not manipulation. Still, any decision about the final status of the region will be taken in coordination with Washington and Brussels," he told IPS correspondent Apostolis Fotiadis. Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: Are you ever afraid that the international community might look for new excuses to postpone the final status? This has happened many times.

HT: This time we are on a completely different stage of the process. I am absolutely convinced about the commitment of Washington, Brussels and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), and we have a clear agenda on which we will proceed. Pristina, Washington and Brussels already know the date of the declaration of independence. It is not going to be unilateral but a co-ordinated act.

IPS: Will you declare independence after the Serbian presidential election at the end of January?

HT: Perhaps; the weather will be much better then.

IPS: How do you respond to those who are concerned that independence of Kosovo will accentuate irredentism in surrounding areas with a strong ethnic Albanian element?

HT: Allow me to begin by saying that independence is the only solution for the people of Kosovo. Much more, it is the only solution that not only guarantees peace and stability but also that no change of borders will take place in the region.

IPS: Still, there is recent evidence, like the fighting between police and armed Albanians in the village Brodec of Macedonia and the declaration of the Albanian minority party 'Democratic Movement for Progress' based in Presevo valley (an area in Serbia with Albanian majority), which asked for international mediation in the region, that vindicate these concerns to some extent.

HT: What I would like to see is a stable Macedonia with a European perspective. Furthermore I don't believe there will be trouble in Presevo Valley; I think there will be peace and stability there as well. Sometimes there are declarations that get exaggerated or misinterpreted. But whoever exercises violence will be condemned by me.

IPS: To what extent is tension in the region the invention of media who come here looking for a great story?

HT: Some of it is indeed imaginary. Some is the result of efforts of people who don't want to see peace and stability in the region, and constantly spot issues wherever Albanians live, finger-pointing Kosovo as the source of the problem because we have entered the final stage for declaration of independence. What these people do not understand is that independence is an irreversible process.

IPS: What are the major challenges Kosovo will face after independence?

HT: Our task is the creation of a new democracy, in a new country and homeland which will belong to its citizens. On a political level the big challenge will be the integration of minorities, especially Serbs, in the democratic structures and processes. Then there are other priorities like reforms in social welfare and education, adaptation to European legal standards, and creation of employment especially for the youth. On an economic level we should create the infrastructure which will attract foreign investment in Kosovo.

IPS: Which means you intend to increase your effective control in Northern Kosovo, in areas inhabited by the Serbian population?

HT: I have stated several times that Kosovo will be an independent and united country which belongs to all its citizens, and not a space with division between Albanian and Serbs. I understand that Mitrovica is a very sensitive issue. But I am committed to make Mitrovica a space of integration and not a space of partition and separation. After independence there will be international presence there as well as NATO forces. There will also be United States troops stationed in Northern Kosovo; so things are moving for the good. I am visiting the Serbian community, I am talking to them. I want to reassure them that they can live in their houses and not be afraid for their property or themselves.

IPS: Are there specific policies you will implement for fighting corruption?

HT: I feel bad, embarrassed and offended with the fact that Kosovo is ranked number four (according to Transparency International's report published the first week of December) on the corruption list. I know it will not be an easy task because unfortunately corruption in Kosovo is institutionalised. This government will not make any compromise in the fight against corruption and organised crime, and in the real implementation of the rule of law. I am committed to working in this direction.

IPS: This means you are prepared to pay the necessary political cost in order to advance in this direction. Are you really confident that the political capital you have accumulated is enough?

HT: Certainly yes; there will be no selectiveness in my battle against corruption. I am not going to have some kind of compromise even with some internationals in civilian structures that might be involved. So far some of them have tolerated corruption or were involved in it. I am going to fight them as well. They have started a big investigation in United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIC) about this.

IPS: How do you think your previous role as a military man can be combined with a role as politician?

HT: I have always been a politician. I was the political leader of UCK, and the partnership we established back then with NATO, Washington, and Brussels was the result of co-operation on a political level. Of course realities have changed and so have I.

IPS: Are you ever afraid that you could fail?

HT: So far I have only had successes in my life. There have been three objectives for me. First, to push Serbian troops and administration out of Kosovo. For some people that was beyond imagination. It succeeded in June 1999. The second project is independence. Now we are at the final countdown of this success, we are reaching it. The third is development of my country. We fight, we win. Without independence there will be no development for this country. (END/2008)

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1 comment:

Phil/1937 said...

Maybe a practical compromise solution would be a)Kosovo gets independence; but b)Northern Mitrovica becomes a full part of Serbia; c) Preshevo Valley becomes part of Kosovo. There must, in other words be some give and take from both sides.

Also as part of this accord, the European Union and the United States should stop their obsessive attempts to prosecute Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

Both sides should drop their abstract, impractical and rigid historical and legal arguments and focus on the concrete and the pragmatic.