Interview of Prime Minister Kurti in the Croatian newspaper “Večernji List”
Interviewed by: Hassan Haidar Diab
In an exclusive interview for “Večernji List”, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, spoke about the general situation in Kosovo and expressed concern why Serbia currently spends more on the army than the other five Western Balkan countries together. He accused Aleksandar Vučić of wanting to Bosnianize Kosovo in the form of an autonomous serbian entity in order to make Kosovo a dysfunctional state. Among other things, he said that Serbia is behaving in the Western Balkans like the Russian Federation, where he is trying to make the Republic of Srpska in Bosnia as Belarus, while the Montenegro as Ukraine.
How do you assess the visit of the Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković to Kosovo and which were the main topics of the meetings?
The visit of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia and my friend Andrej Plenković is of a special importance. The visit confirmed the closeness and traditionally good relations between the two nations and the two republics.
We discussed about the opportunities and potentials of the two governments for bilateral cooperation, which will enable a faster recovery from the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the increased investment, economy and trade.
We have discussed about creating better bridges for our two nations, as well as with our diaspora in Croatia and Croatian citizens in Kosovo.
The main topic was the concrete steps towards advancing the implementation of the twelve previously reached agreements between the two countries, on education, science, culture and economy, as well as for seven other agreements, the finalization of which is expected soon.
How important is Croatia’s support to Kosovo?
Our two countries are not only geographically close, but we understand each other and the region better than ever, because we also sare a common past.
Croatia recognized Kosovo one month after the declaration of its independence, exactly on 19 March 2008.
We are deeply grateful to the Republic of Croatia for the excellent cooperation and continuous support to the Republic of Kosovo in all stages of statehood building.
One of our goals is to create a favorable environment for attracting companies and potential investors, in order to create a sustainable economy.
Our population is young and has a great potential. Our trade relations are good, but we can develop them even more.
Prime Minister Plenković came to visit alomg with heads of powerful corporations in Croatia that lead in the field of energy, telecommunications, but also from the Chamber of Commerce.
Therefore, we are convinced that we can work together in the economic area, discover areas of cooperation, such as business forums, then we can exchange experiences in the area of consumer protection, anti-dumping and other market instruments.
Kosovo’s goal is clear. We are committed to joining NATO and the European Union and Croatia is a great example and an excellent model for us.
We strongly believe that much can be learned from the Croatian experience and our institutions are in constant and close contact on this issue.
We welcome the increase of the number of Croatian Armed Forces in the NATO mission in Kosovo, KFOR. Such a commitment to peace and stability in the region is very welcome, especially when it comes from a country with which we have excellent relations.
We greatly appreciate the support that Kosovo has received from Croatia, in terms of membership in international defense organizations.
As Kosovo now leads in the Western Balkans with the highest average number of vaccinated citizens, with 64 per cent, who have received at least one dose and over 56 per cent with two doses, we will not forget the support of the Croatian state at a time when we lacked vaccines. Therefore, I express my sincere gratitude for the donation of vaccines by the Republic of Croatia.
The determination of the Prime Minister and the institutions of your country to offer all the necessary care to our compatriots after the tragic accident, near the town of Slavonski Brod, has shown the highest values of the Croatian people.
Solidarity with our tragedy, the help and the medical care provided to our injured compatriots shall remain unforgettable in our memory.
Government of the Republic of Kosovo will continue to maintain the friendship and excellent relations with the amicable state of Croatia.
Have you opened with the Prime Minister Plenković the topic of continuous increase of tensions by Serbia towards Kosovo?
Yes. We have discussed about the development of the situation in the region. Both Croatia and Kosovo are committed to lasting peace, long-term stability and regional security. We assessed that the increase in tensions by Serbia is a consequence of the lack of democracy and non-confrontation with the past. These two its internal defects are exported to the region as the destabilizing effects.
You recently had local elections. Your party has lost big cities like Prishtina and Prizren. How satisfied are you with the election results?
We expected to have a better result, so the results are not satisfactory. We’re doing an internal analysis on the structural and organization flaws, which obviously were the cause behind the unsatisfactory result.
On the other hand, there is the fact that there was a kind of union, great coordination of all the others against Vetëvendosje Movement. I believe that these two factors determined a bad result for us. However wherever we are in opposition, we will build a good and strong opposition, while where we are in power, we will create a good and efficient government.
Initially, you imposed customs duties on the import of goods from Serbia, and then your government issued a new decree regarding the registration of vehicles entering Kosovo from Serbia, which caused protests and new roadblocks in northern Kosovo, and in addition, the dialogue with Serbia was suspended again. EU foreign policy representative Josep Borrell has criticized the actions of Kosovo Police special forces aimed at preventing crime in northern Kosovo. How do you see these criticisms?
The police action in northern Kosovo was not directed against any nationality or community living in Kosovo. It was aimed against criminals who had been identified as smugglers of illegal goods in the territory of the Republic of Kosovo. Criminals are not divided into ethnic groups, they are divided according to criminal offenses. Ethnicity makes them neither targets nor immune. Nothing can serve as a shield against crime and no one can be above the law. Establishing law and order is in the best interest of the citizens of Kosovo, without distinction. During the eight months in power, we have managed to fight crime and corruption like no other government. We have conducted 446 police actions, we have carried out 793 raids and destroyed 40 criminal groups.
Were you afraid of the outbreak of war between Kosovo and Serbia after the police action, when Aleksandar Vučić and the serbian minister of defense came to the border with Kosovo, together with the Russian ambassador to Serbia and the defense attaché of the Russian Federation in Belgrade, while in at the same time a MIG-29 was flying over Kosovo as well as helicopters and armored vehicles?
When the Minister of Defense of Serbia together with the Russian Ambassador in Belgrade appeared at the border crossing in Jarinje, they inspected a gathering of Serbian military forces where there were also armored vehicles while a MiG-29 military aircraft flew over them which they had received from the Russian Federation, of course tensions have risen a lot, but not because of us. They wanted to intimidate us, to threaten us but we did not give up and in the end everything ended in Brussels and today I am happy that we have a measure of reciprocity in the license plates. So, we consider ourselves independent, Serbia does not recognize us, but it can not request from us not to recognize ourselves. We want no barriers at all, but as long as Serbia insists on them, we must respond according to the law.
You have said several times that you are sure that the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, wants to provoke an international conflict. Why do you think so and what are your arguments? Do you see it as a destabilizing factor in the Balkans?
Kosovo is an independent and sovereign state, with territorial integrity and with many problems. But Kosovo is not a problem, Kosovo has a problem and Kosovo’s problem is also Serbia. There is no pluralism in Serbia. There is only one party. That party is also the state. And that state is the church. That church is a party too. There is no pluralism there, they pretend to be democracy with elections. Recently, Serbia has greatly increased its military expenses. Serbia currently spends much more on the military than the other five Western Balkan countries together. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Northern Macedonia together do not spend as much as Serbia alone. It does not do this because of Hungary and Romania and this militarization of Serbia is very disturbing to us, my impression is that Serbia increasingly resembles to Germany between the two world wars after the end of the Weimar Republic. In the first decade of this century, in Serbia we had a Serbian version of the Weimar Republic, which began with the assassination of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjić, ended with former President Boris Tadić, and since then we have a period where Serbia resembles Germany. between the two world wars, but after the end of the Weimar Republic, in which case militarization was the main state and institutional stimulus.
How true it is that people at barricades in Kosovo, who are blocking roads and border crossings, are paid by Serbia on the orders of Aleksandar Vučić?
From the information given to us by our security institutions, some of them even have records of criminal activities in the past, they have extreme views on politics and the world. Some of them even took part in a coup attempt in Montenegro five years ago.
Do you believe that, after all, Kosovo and Serbia can soon reach an agreement on the normalization of relations between the two countries? What role should the EU and the US play in this?
I cannot predict when it will happen, but if we bear in mind that the term of US President Biden, and of the Vice President of the European Commission Borrell, as well as mine, will approximately last the same, it is expectable that we can conclude an inclusive agreement with Serbia. So, we do have the will and the interest, but it depends on whether Serbia is ready. Normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is such that it depends much more on Serbia’s readiness to change its approach and itself.
We are holding discussions for the next dialogue with Serbia, for the next chapter of the dialogue. Progress is lacking and this has not started with us, it has been lacking much earlier, however we have shown that a large part of its lack is due to wrong approaches. Harmful agreements were signed for Kosovo, which even the Constitutional Court, as thez were, could not swallow. In this sense, we need a new chapter, we need a new approach and for us this should be principled, where citizens are winners with mutual recognition at the center. Recently there has been a tectonic shift for good, while in the last decade it has been considered that Kosovo makes concessions because it would eventually receive recognition from Serbia.
Dialogue and recognition are placed in a diachronic relationship, they are placed at a time when recognition would come at the end and Serbia has pushed this end indefinitely. Now we have the transition from temporal contextualization, say, to a spatial contextualization, where recognition mutual is the essence of the agreement, and this is said by all the friends and partners of the Republic of Kosovo, our independent state. The agreement will not be just mutual recognition, because there is no agreement without mutual recognition at the center. So, not in the end, in terms of time, but in the center, in the space that the agreement should cover. One topic that we are ready to engage in immediately to resolve as soon as possible is that of the missing persons, as there is the concern of families whether they will find their loved ones, which is greater than grief.
It is often said that the only solution for Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo is the exchange of territories between the two countries. Few years ago I talked to the then President Hashim Thaçi, and he had admitted that he was talking to President Vučić, through the mediation of the then High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. Would you accept the exchange of territories?
Certainly not. I want to have the dialogue about the rights and needs of the citizens, not about the territorial exchange. It is in the nature of autocrats to think that they can exchange territories as if they were their own property. We are not in the time of the Middle Ages, with monarchs who consider the territory of the state as the land of the father or the monarch, and the people as the family of the one who rules. We are a democratic republic and such solutions will not be on the table. This is also the reason why I won the elections, because the people of Kosovo do not want something like that. I do not think that Serbs want this either. This is what only the president of Serbia wants. Now that I am in power, he no longer mentions the demarcation with Albanians and territorial solutions, but wants the bosnianization of Kosovo in the form of an autonomous Serbian entity within our Republic, to make us a dysfunctional state, but he has not succeeded. This will not happen.
An important point in the dispute between Prishtina and Belgrade is the so-called Association of Serb Minority Municipalities. The EU calls on Pristina to approve this Association in accordance with the agreement of 2013 . What do you think about this and why does the Government of Kosovo oppose the establishment of the Association of Serb Minority Municipalities? Could this be an introduction to the creation of a new Republika Srpska in Kosovo?
What Serbia is trying to impose on Kosovo’s statehood and our constitutional order is not the desire or the will of Kosovo Serbs, but it is an expression of Serbia’s hegemonic aspirations. No Serb in Kosovo has protested that the Association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo has not been implemented. Belgrade has always been angry. On 26 April 1991, 14 Serb-majority municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina joined their Association. On 9 January 1992, they declared independence. On 28 February 1992 they had a constitution and finally on 14 December 1995 in Dayton, Ohio thez received the international recognition. They want to repeat Bosnia in Kosovo. Look, in Bosnia and Herzegovina we have a state that is not a Republic, and inside there is a Republic that is not a state. So, Belgrade in a similar way wants to have a state in Kosovo that will not be called a Republic but an Association which within Kosovo would be called a Republic.
I will not allow such a thing, neither from the opposition nor from the government. That is why the people voted me – to prevent the bosnianization of Kosovo.
So we have learned lessons from the past and we have rightly studied and analyzed Belgrade, in addition to knowing it well from our experience.
I believe that with our program we will help Serbs as much as Albanians. If you ask Serbs in Kosovo what their main complaints or demands are, they will say employment and justice. But Belgrade is the one that wants to have a state within a state. State of Serbia within an independent Kosovo.
Discussions between Kosovo and Serbia, the dialogue between our two countries is not a dialogue on the status of Kosovo, nor on the internal issues of Kosovo, but on the status of our relations.
The dialogue is not done to question Kosovo itself, but to normalize relations with Serbia. And for the normalization of relations, I think that Serbia needs to change much more. It must be democratized, there must be a rule of law, it must face the past and we must have a kind of symmetry of the reciprocity of the minority rights.
You categorically reject the concept of “Open Balkans”, which is defended by Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia. Why?
When they say Open Balkans, what kind of opening is that? How can we have an open Balkans when Serbia is closed to Kosovo. It does not accept Kosovo passports, identification documents, diplomas, certificates or stamps. We can have an open Balkans after Serbia opens to Kosovo. The “Open Balkans” is more like a Balkans which is open to influences from the east, especially from the Russian Federation and China, as well as open to autocracy, corruption, war criminals, contrary to European values of democracy and the rule of law. We should be with the European Union, but not open to the Russian Federation and China. In a way, when it is said openly, from Serbia’s point of view, it is thought that just as Serbia is open to the Russian Federation and China, so should the others be in the Western Balkans. Therefore, we oppose such a tendency and in the end I have to tell you that personally in terms of political orientation and cultural sensitivity I am not one of those leaders who believe in the self-sufficiency of the Balkans. I repeat that Europe is our continent, while the European Union is our destiny.
When do you expect Kosovo to become a member of the UN?
Kosovo is not yet a member of the UN and is therefore unable to take advantage of the many opportunities that other UN members have. From a development perspective, however, we face systemic obstacles stemming from a lack of proper policy planning and institutional delays, which sometimes makes it difficult to fully benefit from funding and projects implemented by UN agencies.
Our aim is to overcome these obstacles and move forward. For this reason, we have an open dialogue and discussion with our partners so that we can harmonize our priorities and goals with the integration of the national development agenda, the sustainable development agenda and the European integration agenda. It is necessary for Kosovo to become a member of the UN and organizations such as WHO, UNESCO, INTERPOL and other international organizations, as this is our way forward and we are working to achieve these goals.
How do you assess the general situation in the region? Do you fear from a possible escalation of the conflict in Montenegro and Macedonia?
Situation in the Western Balkans is a miniature situation of the Russian Federation circumstances. It is increasingly being shown that Serbia in the Western Balkans is behaving like the Russian Federation, in which Republika Srpska in Bosnia is trying to make it as Belarus, while Montenegro as Ukraine. So, the essence is that Serbia does not accept as real states the countries that are not in the European Union, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, and even North Macedonia, because Serbia considers those as temporary states and engages with all its capacity to weaken and destroy them.
Many analysts claim that Kosovo is under the influence of Turkey, how accurate this is?
Kosovo is a sovereign state and its policy is sovereign. Turkey has recognized Kosovo’s independence since the first hours of the declaration of independence. We have very good bilateral relations with Turkey as a friend and ally of Kosovo, and someone who is committed to strengthening our sovereignty. As a NATO member, Turkey is a partner in strengthening the transatlantic alliance.
You have two citizenships – Kosovar and Albanian. You said that you would vote for the unification of Kosovo with Albania, if there was a referendum in Kosovo, which according to the Constitution can not be organized?
I understand the curiosity of journalists to create controversy and produce headlines, but there is nothing new in this regard. Kosovo’s independence was liberation from Serbia, not from Albania.
I am working to strengthen Kosovo’s statehood, by strengthening it from within through economic growth and by strengthening democracy. Citizens want a strong economy with social equality and a sustainable democracy with functioning institutions and we work day and night for this.
It is often said in Belgrade that in fact you are a person who wants to unite all Albanians in one state and create a Greater Albania, how do you comment on this?
There is a lot of talk in Belgrade about me and Kosovo, but nothing about Serbia’s responsibility for provoking the three wars in the Balkans, for admitting guilt for the genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo, and for continuation of attacks. We have not started any war in the Balkans in the name of “Greater Albania”, on the contrary we have been occupied and oppressed only because we are Albanians. It is good for Serbia to see itself in the mirror, and not its neighbors through army binoculars.
Is the project of Greater Albania real or can the project of Greater Serbia be realized faster?
These are questions with fun expressions to stimulate the populist imagination to produce news that does not suit the interests of our citizens or our agenda. Our future and the future of the region is within the European Union and NATO.
Do you think US troops, most of whom are part of KFOR, will be withdrawn?
I do not think they will withdraw. Kosovo needs to be included in the Partnership for Peace. Imagine, since 2006 it is Serbia that gets weapons from Russia, Belarus and China, not Kosovo. US President Joe Biden has reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the region and at the NATO summit in Brussels in June stressed the vital role that NATO plays in the transatlantic alliance. Presence of US troops in Kosovo is a manifestation of the United States’ commitment to Kosovo and its sovereignty, but also to peace in the region and Europe, as well as in combating and preventing the spread of malicious third-party factors.
Will you visit Croatia and when?
Unfortunately the last time I was in Croatia it was after the tragic accident of our compatriots in Slavonski Brod. The selfless dedication of the institutions of your country to provide all the necessary care for our compatriots has deeply touched our hearts. We will never forget this act of humanism and solidarity with our tragedy. I hope to visit Croatia in better circumstances, during the next year.