“The truth should be told and acknowledged; there must be a critical confrontation with the past in order that such events will neither be repeated nor misused for the purposes of daily politics later. All those who caused these great pains to the people of Kosovo should receive the deserved response. There can be no reconciliation with Belgrade unless the issue of the missing in the war is resolved,” has said Kosovo’s Head of Mission to Tirana Ukshini
By Genc Mlloja
Senior Diplomatic Editor
“Kosovo sees Albania as the most natural strategic partner due to their common history, culture and aspirations. In this context, our relations with Albania remain incomparable with any other state,” has said Sylë Ukshini, the Head of Mission of the Republic of Kosovo in Tirana.
Mr. Ukshini, a career diplomat with a rich experience in diplomacy and diplomatic studies, made that comment in an interview with Albanian Daily News during which he underlined that the Kosovo-Albania partnership takes place within the framework of regional and European processes, having as shared vision the non-return path to EU membership. He was pleased with the economic cooperation of Kosovo with Albania, but, according to him, there are untapped potentials.
In the meantime, Kosovo’s top envoy to Tirana dwelt at length on the question of the stalled dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, saying thatBelgrade wants to avoid dialogue and maintain a frozen conflict with Kosovo. Speaking of visa liberalization, he expected that it will take place by the end of this year.
Mr. Ukshini elaborated on the frightful proportions of the Serb genocide against Albanians in Kosovo having their extermination as the target. In this frame, according to him, the truth should be told and acknowledged; there must be a critical confrontation with the past in order that such events will neither be repeated nor misused for the purposes of daily politics later. “All those who caused these great pains to the people of Kosovo should receive the deserved response. There can be no reconciliation with Belgrade unless the issue of the missing in the war is resolved,” said Kosovo’s Head of Mission in Tirana Sylë Ukshini in the following interview:
– In the first place, I thank you for this interview, and the first thing which is of great interest is to learn from you on the current political situation in Kosovo, especially in the light of the stalled dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade?
– As it is already known, the Government of the Republic of Kosovo has imposed a tariff on goods coming from the neighboring state of Serbia, a country that attacks daily the state of Kosovo either through instrumentalization and pressure on the Serbian minority, or through blocking goods. Also it obstructs the travel of Kosovo sports teams and artists, attacks buses and cars with travelers from Kosovo, and in the meantime Belgrade continues its aggressive campaign against recognition of Kosovo. Belgrade’s aggressive behavior also contradicts point 14 of the April 2013 Agreement under which Kosovo and Belgrade agreed that they would not block European integration. Viewed from this angle, Belgrade is in constant violation of the agreement. It tries to obstruct the presence of the state of Kosovo wherever it can and even makes efforts to prevent visits of Kosovo state officials to various parts of the world. In a nutshell, the Serbian political elite have remained hostage to the old policies and have not yet confronted the past in a critical manner. As a result, countries in the region, which have been affected by the aggression of the Milosevic regime, see Belgrade as a problematic and threatening neighbor of regional peace and stability. Even though being an aggressor, which was punished militarily by the democratic world, Belgrade conditions the start of dialogue with the abolition of this tax. But this is only an alibi. Belgrade wants to avoid dialogue and maintain a frozen conflict with Kosovo. Furthermore, Belgrade continues its territorial claims towards the state of Kosovo. We think that Serbia should find peace and happiness within its own boundaries, in its state, rather than make use of medieval instruments and ambitions. The region has suffered from wars and massive deportations that took place during the period of Serbian aggression. Now we need peace, agreement and constructive neighborliness. Kosovo has shown will and readiness for such an internationally binding agreement.
– In the meantime how would you assess the pledge of French President Emmanuel Macron to re-launch talks to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo made during an official visit to Belgrade on July 15 this year?
– In the first place, we appreciate the French state’s commitment to contributing to Kosovo’s freedom since the times of the Serbian occupation. In this context, we appreciate France’s commitment and support for reaching an interstate agreement between Kosovo and Belgrade. Moreover, France has made a special contribution to the recognition and integration of Kosovo into regional, European and international organizations. Kosovo is forever grateful to the French people and government for their contribution so far and welcomes any contribution to the achievement of an interstate agreement between Kosovo and Belgrade. The Elysee Agreement between France and Germany could serve as a model for reaching an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. That agreement enabled the Franco-German friendship and can be used as an example of good neighborly relations in the Balkan region, but also in the European space. Based on this experience, we believe that the French engagement besides that of Germany, Britain and US is very important in the next phase of the dialogue on normalization of Pristina-Belgrade relations, because France and Germany are two key countries for the integration of the Western Balkans in the EU.
– After the Poznan Summit on the Western Balkans held at the beginning of July this year which are the expectations of Kosovo from the participation in such international fora taking into consideration the fact that Pristina has already taken Kosovo’s Chairmanship over SEECP?
– It is positive news for regional cooperation that the Republic of Kosovo holds the SEECP rotating presidency, one of the most important regional organizations for the first time. This fact proves that Kosovo is becoming an important regional actor that promotes and contributes to peace and long-term stability in the Balkans. Even when leading this initiative, it will adhere to the SEECP’s objectives and priorities as well as its strategic foreign policy orientations, focusing on regional integration as a precondition for the region’s EU membership. In this context, the foreign ministry has begun work on organizing the September meeting of the SEECP member states to be held in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. We hope that the participation will be at the level of the foreign ministers of the neighboring countries, who will meet under the auspices of the Foreign Minister of Kosovo this time and this will be a good opportunity to witness the role and weight of the state of Kosovo in the region.
– How would you assess the level of the relations between Kosovo and Albania? Which are some of the fields where much more can be done for revitalizing the ties between the two countries? Secondly, are you satisfied with the level of the cooperation in the diplomatic field between Pristina and Tirana?
– Kosovo sees Albania as the most natural strategic partner due to their common history, culture and aspirations. In this context, our relations with Albania remain incomparable with any other state. Of course, this partnership takes place within the framework of regional and European processes, having as shared vision the non-return path to EU membership. But Kosovo’s declaration of independence is also a contribution of the Albanian state and Kosovo Albanians are grateful to every citizen of Albania for this contribution. We also appreciate the engagement of all Albanian governments for the consolidation of Kosovo’s statehood and its integration into the international system.
It has been repeatedly said that Albania and Kosovo are natural strategic partners and this partnership consists in strengthening the position and role of our countries in the region. We are convinced that this cooperation aims at being a model for the region. Over the past two decades, Albania and Kosovo have signed a series of bilateral agreements, but a new chapter of co-operation between our two countries was marked in Pristina in January 2014, where the first joint meeting of the governments of Kosovo and Albania was held, and the Declaration on Strategic Partnership was signed. This document presents a mutual vision and commitment for transforming interstate relations into a new model of cooperation with common strategic objectives as well as with the similar Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Kosovo and Albania.
But our two countries need to do more in economic terms, although the trends are very positive having a steadily cooperation growth from year to year. Even this year there has been an increase in trade exchanges. In 2018 the amount of exchanges between the two countries was at 271 million euros with Albania exporting 205 million and Kosovo exporting 66 million euros to Albania. It is encouraging that Kosovo is one of the few countries, if not the only one, with which Albania is pursuing positive growth in trade exchanges. According to INSTAT data, it turns out that Albania exported to Kosovo about 3.2 billion ALL (over 26 million euros) of goods more than in the first six months of 2018. Out of the ALL 11.1 billion (about EUR 91 million) exported by Albania to Kosovo in January-June 2018, in January-June 2019 Albania exported ALL 14.3 billion (about EUR 117 million) of goods. If we make a detailed analysis, it turns out that Albania exported to Kosovo about 400 million ALL (3.2 million euros) more food, beverages and tobacco. It also exported ALL 1.4 billion (EUR 11.4 million) more minerals, fuels and electricity as well as more than ALL 300 million in chemical and plastic products. Exports of construction materials and metals have also increased significantly by ALL 700 million (5.7 million euros).
– Mr. Ukshini, do you think that Kosovo’s decision last November to impose 100 per cent tariffs on Serbian goods is the only reason, as claimed by Serb officials, for the deadlock of Pristina-Belgrade dialogue, and secondly are the previous achieved accords being applied between Kosovo and Serbia?
– I believe part of my answer is above. But let me underline that Belgrade has never been seriously interested in progress of this dialogue and has often tried to misuse it for purposes of daily politics, claiming that in Brussels it is not being talked about normalizing interstate relations, but rather on the status of Kosovo. At the same time, the leadership of Belgrade, namely the Serbian president, stated openly after a recent visit to the Vatican: “I go to the Pope at the Vatican to beg him not to recognize Kosovo.” This mindset is old, conflicting and poisonous for the relationship between the two neighboring states. And this aggressive mindset was punished militarily once on March 24, 1999 by NATO’s democratic member states.
– As a follow up, Sir, are Kosovo’s political authorities trying to reach a common stance on some issues, particularly on what has broadly been discussed, that is the ‘border correction’ between Kosovo and Serbia?
– In any case, Pristina and Belgrade must mutually recognize the borders and delineate the external borders in the interstate agreement on the normalization of relations. This issue is also an international obligation and the neighboring states cannot become part of the EU without recognizing each other’s borders. Therefore, sooner or later, Belgrade will accommodate itself within its borders and will give up the aggressive rhetoric and along with it put an end to the territorial claims towards the state of Kosovo. Through such a step Belgrade would also be relieved by a burden that is preventing the Serbian leadership from looking forward.
– European Parliament has once again confirmed positively its position towards the Kosovo visa liberalization issue with a majority of votes of the EP Members. According to you, which are the expectations for such a process to conclude so that Kosovars can start traveling to the Schengen area visa-free as soon as possible?
– It is acknowledged at European and international level that Kosovo has fulfilled all the criteria set by the European Commission for visa liberalization. As it is well known, Brussels’ last criterion for visa liberalization was the ratification of the demarcation agreement with Montenegro. But even after fulfilling this condition, the European Commission has postponed its decision on visa liberalization. Currently about 2 million Kosovars are the only residents of Europe who are unable to move without a visa. What does this number mean for Europe? Nearly two million Albanians do not represent any aggravating demographic factor and have no political, economic or social burden. Moreover, Kosovo Albanians are European people and feel the same about culture, history and orientation. The return to Europe is a long-standing vocation of Albanians. So if we use the language of our renaissance figures the sun rises in the West for Kosovo. However, we hope that visa liberalization will take place by the end of this year and after that Kosovo’s youth can feel equal to the youth of the countries of the region and Europe.
– Mr. Ukshini, there is much pain in Kosovo, particularly among people who have been affected by the Serb genocide during the time of Milosevic. Many are dissatisfied with Kosovo institutions for failing to bring justice for the war crimes committed by Serbian military. According to you, what is being done to bring peace to the hearts and minds of the people affected by the bloody massacres of Milosevic’s military machine?
– I belong to that generation having experienced the brutal aggression and repression of the Milosevic regime and I understand what the lack of freedom, lack of right to education, lack of right to work, lack of right to information, lack of right to health service. We faced collective extermination, especially during 1998-1999, when the deportation of Albanians took biblical proportions. Trains with expelled Albanians heading to the border with Macedonia were reminiscent of the scenes of the movie “Schindler’s List”, a film about how Jews were treated and persecuted by Hitler’s regime. In the minds of Serbian cultural and political elites in Belgrade, there have always been the intention and plans for forcibly changing the demographic composition of Kosovo. As a matter of fact Serbian crimes against Albanians were planned by the state and they date back to 1877, when the expulsion of Albanians from Toplica and other Albanian settlements began for the first time. Many Albanian families in Kosovo bear the surnames of the settlements from where they came. The deportations and mass killings occurred during the Balkan wars of 1912-1913, when about 20,000 people were killed and tens of thousands were expelled.
An even more violent repression and violence occurred during the period between the two world wars, when the culmination was the Turkish-Yugoslav agreement on the displacement of Albanians into the deserts of Turkey. This agreement was preceded by the elaborate blueprint of Cubrilovic (1937), which was based on the model followed by the Serbian state for the persecution of Albanians in the Sandzak of Nis. These schemes and projects were also reactivated in the first 20 years after World War II and continued with the repression in 1981-1989 that was also articulated in the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences in 1986. This campaign of cleansing and punishment continued at a worrying rate even after the complete suppression of Kosovo’s autonomy when over 500,000 Albanians fled to Western countries in 1990-1997. Whereas, the latest undertaking was the expulsion of over 1 million Albanians during 19198-1999, when Belgrade sought to implement the plan codified “Horseshoe”, which sought to make the final Serbization of Kosovo. During this campaign, which was stopped only by NATO military intervention, the Serbian state apparatus used the methods and brutality which exceeded the ones exerted in this region since World War II.
But Serbian criminals have not yet been punished for these crimes. Kosovo President Hashim Thaci has previously said that no Serb was convicted for the 400 massacres in Kosovo, adding that failure to shed light on Serbian crimes is an injustice and insult to the integrity and dignity of the victims and the people of Kosovo themselves.
In the meantime, I feel good that neither Kosovo Albanians nor Albania itself have had any state program or aggressive official orientation towards any neighboring country. Our struggle has always been a constant attempt for survival and national liberation. Despite the wounds of war and suffering of generations after generation, Kosovo Albanians have been generous and willing to achieve normalization of relations with the neighboring state, to continue dialogue and normalize neighborly relations. But the truth should be told and acknowledged; there must be a critical confrontation with the past in order that such events will neither be repeated nor misused for the purposes of daily politics later. All those who caused these great pains to the people of Kosovo should receive the deserved response. There can be no reconciliation with Belgrade unless the issue of the missing in the war is resolved./ADN