Zyra e Kryeministrit

Full interview of Prime Minister Kurti for the Croatian newspaper “Večernji List” translated into English

July 23, 2023

It is really hot in Kosovo, boiling both from the sky and from the ground. As the sun makes Kosovars sweat, there is a mild tension in the air-conditioned office of Albin Kurti, the Prime Minister of the Government of Kosovo. But the smiling Prime Minister, whom I have known for years, despite the many pressures, seems to be sticking to his planned path.

Večernji List: You are constantly being targeted and criticized from all directions, making it seem like you are the ultimate culprit for everything. What is happening in relations with the international community?

Prime Minister Kurti: Brussels and Washington have bet on the wrong horse in Serbia, in the president there. In the end it turned out that it was not a horse at all, but a fox. Nobody even imagined that a year and five months after the Russian aggression in Ukraine, Serbia would not impose sanctions on Moscow, but would even allow Sputnik to maintain its regional base in Belgrade. Instead of reflecting and introspecting on themselves, they attack me.

Brussels and Washington allowed Vučić not to sign the agreement from Brussels and Ohrid, then to violate that agreement and here we are in a situation in which there is a drastic asymmetry in access. Punitive measures against me, and on the other hand an apology for President Vucic. This is an injustice. But they say that these measures will be short-term, temporary and reversible, so we’ll see. With international factors, both Europeans and Americans, we have regular communication and coordination, but we also have small differences, sometimes in terms of tactics, and occasionally, eventually, in terms of strategies. But in terms of values, interests and goals, we have no difference.

Večernji List: Why did you decide to hold the local elections despite the fact that the international community said “don’t do it”?

Prime Minister Kurti: Last year, on November 5th, four mayors in northern Kosovo collectively resigned, along with ten deputies in our Parliament and 547 police officers in the north, their actual intention was for our Republic’s system to collapse due to the vacuum they created. However, this did not happen. Because of this failure, they became even more aggressive. According to our constitution we had to have extraordinary elections and they were scheduled for December 18. However, before that, we all consulted with our president Vjosa Osmani, all party leaders and we postponed the elections for four months, to the end of April.

In mid-March, the ambassadors of Quint (Germany, France, Italy, USA, Great Britain and the EU ambassador in Kosovo) stated that if we accept the Ohrid Annex of the Brussels Agreement and postpone the deadline for the registration of political parties for five days, until March 22, they will bring the Serbian List to participate in the elections. Although we postponed the deadline and accepted the Ohrid Annex, I was still ready to sign, but not Vučić, while the Serbian List did not respond.

Moreover, in addition to boycotting the elections, they also invited others to boycott them, and Belgrade engaged in unprecedented “bullying” of Serbs who would like to vote or run for office. In this way, for example, Aleksandar Jabllanović withdrew from the campaign two days before the elections, which were held on April 23. So, we postponed the elections for four months, we postponed the date of party registration, we also accepted the Ohrid annex of the Brussels Agreement, but this still did not change the situation.

We had to hold elections. This was not our choice, but a provision of our constitution, a requirement of our Law. With this, we ended up with four Albanian mayors of the municipalities, who really have a fragile legitimacy because the percentage of turnout in the elections was very low, but nevertheless they have some percentages in the elections, while the others have zero. You can get into the mayor’s office only through elections, not with violent behavior, not with violence against NATO, the police and our journalists, not with bombs neither bullets. I am ready for holding temporary elections. For more, I have made an additional concession by reducing our police presence inside and around the buildings by 25%. And in addition, we will hold regular fortnightly consultations with KFOR and EULEX to assess the overall security situation and reduce our police presence.

We are not fighting against Serbian residents, the Serbian population, but against criminals and perpetrators of various crimes, not just Serbs. Organized crime is multi-ethnic. In the last two years, we have eliminated 16 illegal smuggling routes in the northern part of Kosovo. Then eight laboratories for the production of drugs and five for the production of cryptocurrencies.

Večernji List: What do the US and the EU really want from you? Do they want the creation of Republika Srpska within Kosovo?

Prime Minister Kurti: First of all, they want the de-escalation of the situation in the north of Kosovo and the normalization of relations with Serbia, and we completely agree with them. Regarding de-escalation, police withdrawal, and early elections, these are something they have requested and we are positive about this, and we respond positively to this request. But I cannot immediately get the police out of those buildings because outside there are various extreme elements of organized crime and at the same time elements of parallel illegal structures of Serbia. Therefore, I have responded to their request by proportionally and gradually reducing the number of policemen. On the other hand, I said that I cannot force anyone to resign or leave the official buildings that are actually the property of our Republic, but let’s have early elections. Article 72 of the Law on Local Self-Government states that it is possible to hold early elections if 20% of the electorate petitions and then the vote is held. If more than 50% of the voters vote against that mayor, his mandate is practically taken away. We must proceed legally towards new early elections.

The international community is aware that it is dealing with an official far-right Belgrade, which in rotation creates problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo – every month one of the neighbors gets its turn. We want justice while the international community fears destabilization and there is a gap here.

This gap is extended by another gap when the international community has low expectations of Vučić in the present, but high hopes in the medium term. Therefore, whenever Belgrade makes a positive gesture, they magnify it, because they have extremely low expectations. In this sense, the international community, paradoxically, is more optimistic about Vučić than about itself! Of course, I am the biggest optimist, but I am optimistic for Kosovo, for the EU and NATO, but not when it comes to Vučić.

Večernji List: How much does this serve Vučić, considering that the international community is criticizing you and not him? Furthermore, I read his statement where he compared you to Enver Hoxha by saying that you work like him and that you want there to be no Serbs left?

Prime Minister Kurti: Belgrade is waging a hybrid war against Kosovo. They call me different names because each of their labels fades quickly so they have to replace them. Every month they announce that next month the storm against the Serbs in Kosovo is starting. They are not at all ashamed that they will turn out to be liars because they know that no one is surprised anymore.

They often and publicly fantasize the revenge of the Albanians against the Serbs in the 21st century, because they know very well what they did in Kosovo during the 20th century. We advocate for and stand for justice without revenge and against revenge. Serbs are citizens of Kosovo with human and civil rights and needs. I am the Prime Minister of all who desire and I must serve all without distinction. I have Nenad Rashić as a minister, the most well-known Serbian politician in Kosovo. Only he is hated more than me by the government in Serbia. Belgrade wants to decide who is a Serb and who is not. For example, the cars of Serbs from Kosovo who have returned their license plates to RKS have been burned in many cases, but no word from Belgrade about this. So, from Belgrade’s point of view, there are good and bad Serbs. Those who have a part membership card in power are good, while all others are evil.

On the other hand, this is a confrontation between the new Republic of Kosovo and a state which is nominally a Republic, but which in fact would like to return to a kingdom. Not only democracy, but also the Republic are disturbing the authoritarian president and he would like to be king. It is not a coincidence that the president’s family circle has become much more important than the state hierarchy and the political party. In the north of Kosovo, we have calm and good days when there is no order from Belgrade for violence. On the other hand, in Serbia, on television screens, in reality shows, and then in schools and streets, there is a lot of violence and murder. Serbs in Kosovo live much better than Serbs in Serbia. But criminals in Serbia live much better than in Kosovo. You see the Vučić’s protests in Kosovo are violent, and the anti-Vučić protests in Belgrade are peaceful. The life of Serbs in Kosovo is made difficult by Belgrade, which does not allow them to integrate. People who don’t integrate don’t live the best, while those who integrate live better.

But Belgrade doesn’t want them to live better, it wants to somehow fuel tensions and the potential for destabilization. I am the prime minister of all citizens of Kosovo, including Serbs, and I believe that politics should serve all citizens publicly without discrimination.

Večernji List: Does this mean that Belgrade wants the division of Kosovo?

Prime Minister Kurti: As it seems, this idea is not dead. Five years ago, the project of Kosovo’s division was peaceful and dialogic, but today it is far-fetched and violent, because in dialogue they could no longer find an interlocutor, that is, an interlocutor, who would calmly discuss the division. The greatest damage to the integration of Serbs in Kosovo has been caused precisely by this division/separation project.

I now want the normalization of relations in a European way by implementing the agreement with all 11 points, which we decided on in Brussels on February 27, and this is first of all de facto mutual recognition. This agreement also became part of the conclusions of the European Council. We need the normalization and Europeanization of relations with Serbia, which as such, unfortunately, strongly resists this. Good neighborliness means everyone in their own home and everyone together in the European neighborhood. But as of December 2015, there has been no progress regarding Chapter 35 in Serbia’s negotiations with the European Union, and that chapter refers to Serbia’s good neighborliness with Kosovo.

Večernji List: You mean those 11 points of the agreement, can you explain something to me? You sign an agreement with the president of Serbia, but he does not support what you sign! How is that agreement not signed but binding?

Prime Minister Kurti: The easy approval of international facilitators, primarily Brussels but also Washington, that it is not obligatory for Vučić to sign that basic agreement and that he can discuss with which priorities and borders he will participate in the implementation of that agreement, has brought us to this situation. This is the responsibility of the EU, which has said that as far as we are concerned this is an agreement, and that this agreement between Kosovo and Serbia is binding in the sense of the Vienna Convention. From Brussels’ perspective, we have an agreement and they would be the ones who should guarantee that this agreement will not be violated and that it will be implemented.

Večernji List: Are those 11 points acceptable to you?

Prime Minister Kurti: Of course they are. I want the implementation of all those points, unconditionally, fully and as soon as possible.

Večernji List: But the formation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities is also mentioned there? Is this acceptable to you?

Prime Minister Kurti: Article 7 talks about the self-governance of the Serbian community, which is linked to Article 10, which states that all previous agreements, which are valid and binding, must be fully implemented. We have 39 such agreements. Two of them refer to the association of municipalities with a Serbian majority from 2013 and 2015. I have said as I see it, I am ready for the Serbian community in Kosovo to be better organized to receive as many quality public services as possible and to respect all their rights, which are quite extensive according to Ahtisaari’s plan, but all this must be within the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo, within its Constitutional Court decision and also in accordance with Federica Mogherini’s letter, which was sent to the former Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mustafa, in which it is written that this association cannot have executive power or represent the third level of governance. At the same time, we also have the stance of the American government, which is published in a text stating that the association should be a coordination of existing competencies of the municipalities. For us, territorial ethno-nationalism is absolutely unacceptable. This type of nationalism needs chauvinism and apartheid, it is in opposition not only to civil society, but even to national-liberation nationalism.

We have provided a draft vision for the Serbian community in Kosovo, which is inspired by the Croatian model of self-governance through the Serbian National Council.  Vučić didn’t want to hear about it or read it. He wants the union of municipalities with a Serbian majority against our state, as was done in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1991. In Kosovo, 4% of the population are Serbs. But they have 10 out of 38 municipalities, they have 10 reserved seats out of 120 in the Parliament and they have 17 per cent of the municipal assembly members in our municipalities. Likewise, the Serbian language is the official language throughout Kosovo at all levels of administration. It means, there is positive discrimination in Kosovo, but Belgrade wants Republika Srpska within Kosovo. This, of course, is not possible. Not only is it not desirable, but it is not even possible. At the same time, Belgrade does not want to open the issue of reciprocity, because there are more national minorities in Serbia than in Kosovo. It means, if you want something for Serbs elsewhere, you should also think about the minorities in your country. In the hospital of Vranje, which covers Presheva and Bujanoc, in the Pčinja district, there is no Albanian doctor, while at least one third of the patients are Albanians. In the Presheva Valley, in Bujanoc, Medvegja and Presheva, a cold, silent administrative ethnic cleansing is taking place by canceling the addresses of Albanian residents. If the police knock on your door and you’re not there, they delete you from the register. They want to say that no one lives here. In a way, to register there as a resident, you have to be at home all the time.

Večernji List: What does the president of Serbia really want?

Prime Minister Kurti: Historical revisionism. On December 5, 2019, he denied the Serbian forces massacre in Reçak on January 15, 1999, calling it a “fabricated event”. The same denial was repeated by this other Alexander, Vulin, on December 10, 2021. But first I must say that this is not a matter of the intentions of the president of Serbia, but of the character of their state as such. They want the homogenization of Serbs for Serbia’s hegemony.

They cannot even imagine, let alone define, Serbia without hegemony. They belong to what some call illiberal democracy, which neither believes in human rights nor tolerates political pluralism. In this sense, the main political party in Serbia is the Serbian Orthodox Church. That’s why Vučić and Dodik seem like advisers to the patriarch. For three decades they have been talking around the world about Islamic fundamentalism in the Balkans in order to spread their orthodox fundamentalism more easily. They want one state, church, leader and political party.

They imagine that only the homogenization of the nation enables the territorial hegemony of the state. We, as the oppressed and exploited peoples by Serbia for more than a century, stand against this, where it has committed genocide several times in its quest for our land without us. The third factor is the international community, which, in my opinion, either does not understand or turns a blind eye to a fact that we, the Balkan people, know, and that is that President Vučić loves and fears Kremlin more than Brussels or Washington. Zoran Đinđić, who fought against organized crime in Serbia and was intellectually much deeper and oriented towards the West, would probably recognize Kosovo’s independence. He was killed. Now Aleksandar Vučić neither fights against organized crime nor wants to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

I got out of Serbian prisons more than two decades ago, but Vučić has not moved on from the time when I was in prison. Maybe the prison is not the only one with bars.

Večernji List: Were you afraid at one point that there would be war, because of all these tensions, and when Vučić sent the army to the border?

Prime Minister Kurti: Whether there will be a war or not depends on Belgrade. In this sense, the situation is not much different from three decades ago. We are here to be cautious and strong, but never afraid. States that have a superiority complex, when they shrink or weaken, become dangerous. Again, Serbia is like Russia in this sense. But their danger to us does not turn into fear of them, but into additional efforts for development and democracy. Kosovo is a democratic Republic, which according to all international organizations is the first among the six countries in the Western Balkans in terms of rule of law and media freedom, human rights and the fight against corruption. At the same time, we accompanied democratic progress with economic development. We have had an average economic growth of 7.35% of the Gross Domestic Product in these two years, exports and foreign investments have doubled at the same time, we have added more than one billion euros per year to our economy, while we needed three years to reach one billion, the state budget is 17% larger than the previous one. So, Kosovo is a story of double success, economy and democracy, and on the other hand, we are a success story of NATO’s intervention 24 years ago to stop the genocide of the Milosevic regime. In order to have a solution with Serbia, the Brussels agreement must be implemented. While in terms of reconciliation, Serbia must distance itself from Milosevic and Putin, and official Belgrade should blame both of them for the situation we find ourselves in.

Večernji List: A few days ago, you took a photo next to the spy drone, namely the Bajraktar drone. Have you reached an agreement with the international community and Washington regarding this?

Prime Minister Kurti: We have our own army. It has been a long time since we started the initiative to equip our army with Bajraktar drones and we finally bought them. We reached a successful agreement and contract with Turkey and paid for the drones. When we got them, I broke the news to our citizens, I didn’t want to do it until all the drones we bought arrived in Kosovo. So, there has been a lot of talk about the acquisition of drones from Kosovo, but I did not publish it until the last drone for which we signed a contract arrived in Kosovo.

Večernji List: Can we expect the purchase of tanks and bombers in the future so that Kosovo can become independent in its defense?

Prime Minister Kurti: We have doubled the annual budget for the defense of Kosovo and increased the number of soldiers by 80 per cent. This is not to attack someone, but to successfully defend oneself. You know, along our border with Serbia there are Serbian army and military police attack bases, a total of 48, and we need to be cautious and responsible. Therefore, we need a well-equipped army that will successfully defend Kosovo against possible Serbian aggression.

Večernji List: Despite the help of the international community?

Prime Minister Kurti: We always count on the help of the international community, but at the same time we must have our own forces. We aspire to join NATO, for our benefit, but also for our contribution.

Večernji List: Regarding the Hague Court, you still have some individuals in prison, Thaçi, Veseli, and some other generals, what is the government of the Republic of Kosovo doing in this regard and do you believe in their innocence?

Prime Minister Kurti: The KLA war was a fair, clean, liberating and anti-colonial war. I believe in the innocence of those who are there. We support their protection and so far we have paid more than 16 million euros as a state for their protection. The international community must understand that they have not finished their work in terms of justice in the territories of former Yugoslavia, because in the nineties, 150,000 non-Serbs were killed by Serbian forces. It means that, if one person has killed up to 10 of them, there are 15 thousand serial killers in Serbia who walk freely. Of this number, not even 1% of them have ended up behind bars. Here too we have a pronounced asymmetry that contradicts the reconciliation of our people in the Western Balkans.

Večernji List: Why doesn’t Aleksandar Vučić want to sign?

Prime Minister Kurti: Because he knows that the agreement he accepted represents the de facto recognition of Kosovo. He has accepted the agreement without signing it and then violated the agreement, as he did in the Council of Europe when they voted against Kosovo on April 24 of this year. Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe is needed by Kosovo Serbs, but not by official Belgrade. We made an agreement on May 2 of this year in which we said that the archives of the last war should be opened in order to know as much as possible about the forcibly disappeared persons. Andin Hoti, who is the chairman of our government’s commission for missing persons and is the son of the missing Ukshin Hoti, sent a letter to the president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, and requested, relying on this agreement, to open the archives of the 37th Motorized Brigade of the Yugoslav Army, primarily responsible for many massacres in the Drenica region and for the fate of many missing persons, but he has not received any response to this. We have 1617 missing from the last war.

Večernji List: Is it possible to meet Aleksandar Vučić soon?

Prime Minister Kurti: The last time we were in Brussels, on June 22, he didn’t want to meet me. We had two bilateral meetings, me on one side, Vučić on the other, with Borrell and Lajcak. Vučić is neither constructive nor interested in talks that would lead to the implementation of our agreements.


Last modified: July 27, 2023

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