Wednesday

24th Apr 2019

Opinion

20 years on: Kosovo is still waiting

Twenty years ago this month, my region was wrought by unspeakable violence and crimes which at the time the world had thought it would never see again.

Nato saved us.

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Its intervention between March and June 1999, based not on territorial ambition but on values, made clear that the world would not stand by: Slobodan Milosevic's campaign of ethnic cleansing could not be met with impunity.

It was, as Czech president and tireless peace advocate Vaclav Havel called it, "the first war for values".

The intervention led to the successful return of over one million refugees, and, ultimately, the independence of my country in 2008.

Indeed, Kosovo's very existence is a testament to the engagement and will of the transatlantic community working in partnership, through Nato and the European Union to craft, design and then push a vision for long-lasting peace.

But the Kosovo mission remains unfulfilled.

In a world in turmoil, we are at risk of turning inwards, of seeking out the supposed safety of isolationism, and of ignoring problems which have not yet been completely solved.

Kosovo is one such issue: our attempts to resolve historic disputes with Serbia continue; our efforts to fully integrate with the international community remain unfinished; and our citizens tire of a process that has dragged on for over 20 years.

At a time when the EU is faced with the "EU fatigue" of many of its citizens, us Kosovars seek closer integration.

Our history has taught us that we are stronger together, not apart.

Our political leadership is united in its determination to finish the peace process with Serbia.

We wish to finalise our dialogue with Belgrade, which was started by the EU and supported by the UK, the US, and the rest of the transatlantic community.

We need a comprehensive settlement so we can take our rightful place within the EU as the most pro-Western country in a hitherto unstable region currently threatened by harmful Russian influence. 

Like in all peace talks however, our success requires international engagement.

Joint path to EU membership

We need the international community to lean in, just as it did 20 years ago, and again in 2008, to ensure that Kosovo and Serbia make the necessary steps to achieve a lasting peace, and a joint path to EU membership.

Without clear transatlantic commitment, we are at risk of descending back into a fierce diplomatic battle.

Memories run deep, here in the Balkans, and the UK, the EU, and the US are seen as indispensable partners to ensure that relations with Serbia are fully normalised .

We seek nothing short of victory over toxic nationalism and populism, which has divided the Western Balkans for centuries.

We believe, just as we did when we signed up to the EU-sponsored dialogue process, that through diplomacy and cooperation, we can lay the groundwork for a better future for all our citizens.

Kosovars are young and resourceful; we have so much to contribute to the European project and want to be given the opportunity. 

What does this mean in practice? We want the transatlantic community to signal its unequivocal support for a peaceful settlement through a strong and united engagement.

We want the EU to agree that normalisation requires actions on both sides, and that both Serbia and Kosovo will need to make tough decisions to reach a lasting peace.

We have to use the unique chance president Donald Trump provided to president Hashim Thaci of Kosovo and president Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia to reach a historical deal.

We have to use the legacy chancellor Angela Merkel's direct commitment, when in 2011 she initiated the dialogue process, under the auspices of the EU.

In times of uncertainty this is a chance for all transatlantic partners to unite for the future of Europe, bringing about peace on a continent whole and free. 

As we have said repeatedly: we are ready to show the political courage and vision to come forward with realistic and far-sighted solutions.

Negotiations take two to tango, however, and we cannot negotiate with an empty chair: Serbia must show good will too.

In a world of change, where there is so much to divert us, let us not forget that we have the potential to solve one of Europe's last remaining conflicts.

Let us prove, once and for all, that nations, working together in partnership, can put aside a history of conflict to create a future built on peace and prosperity for all.

Let us finish the task that NATO started 20 years ago today.

Behgjet Pacolli is Kosovo's first deputy prime minister & minister of foreign affairs

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