|H.E. Bekim Sejdiu|
Ambassador and Consul General, Permanent Mission of Kosovo to the UN
|Intergovernmental Relations among Balkan Nations and the European Union||02/ 26/ 2014|
Dear Mr. Kilic;
Members of Peace Island Institute,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me first express my pleasure to be here today and to thank the Institute, particularly Mr. Kilic, for the invitation.
The Peace Island Institute deserves particular credit for organizing this debate on the Balkans, here in New York. As I experience very often and I’ am sure a lot of you share this experience, Balkans has gradually slipped from the international political agenda and it is becoming more and more a regional, namely an EU issue. This is mostly for good, as it demonstrates that our region has come a long way, from the time of terrible wars, genocides and ethnic cleansing, to a point where the major issue in the political agenda is meeting the standards for the EU membership process.
The impression is that “Balkanization,” a term used to depict bloody political fragmentation along ethnic lines, has left the space to the “Europeanization,” or a process of integration through meeting advanced political standards of democracy and market economy.
During the last fifteen years, the progress reports that the EU Commission issued every year have become a point of reference for measuring the successful political and socio-economic transformation of the Balkan societies. The challenges are huge and the points of departure, I would say, are not the same. We all have undergone or are passing through a transition, but not an equivalent one – I refer here to the countries of the Balkans once living under Communism.
The common ground of the transformation of all countries is the transition from a monist political system to a pluralist democracy and from state-controlled to a marked-based economy. Beyond this, some of the countries which were created at the ashes of the Communist Yugoslavia, had to pass through two additional layers of transitions, namely from conflict to post-conflict societies, and from pre-independent to independent political status.
The Republic of Kosovo belongs to this group of countries, which had to pass through a three-fold transition: 1. From communist to a democratic/capitalist system; 2. From war-torn to a post-war society; 3. From pre-independence to independent political status.
The Republic of Kosovo is the youngest, among the seven independent countries that were born out of the dissolution of Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Kosovo as a state has been created as a result of a dissolution, not a secession. In a way, we were constitutive part of a multi-national country that does not exist anymore, namely Communist Yugoslavia. Our journey of freedom and independence was difficult and painful.
Where do we stand today? Kosovo celebrated the six anniversary of its independence last week. During the last six years as independent state, Kosovo has demonstrated vision, capacity and commitment to embrace and enhance the standards of democracy, multi-ethnicity, human rights and marked economy. With our policy of good neighborly relations, and strong Euro-Atlantic tilt, the Republic of Kosovo has demonstrated that it is an indispensable pillar of stability and progress in our region. With 106 UN members recognizing Kosovo’s independence, and others expected to recognize, Kosovo is irreversibly taking its full place in the family of sovereign nations.
Where do we want to go? As the saying goes, people cannot work for the future they cannot imagine. In line with the title of this panel, I will try to briefly encapsulate our vision and approach to the process of Europeanization.
The Euro-Atlantic integration for Kosovo is a national aspiration and hence a paramount political objective. In our perspective, this entails primarily integration into the EU and NATO. So, although EU and NATO are two independent organizations, we see them as a two pillars of a single Euro-Atlantic umbrella. But, in order to stick to the Panel’s purpose, I will speak briefly only about our approach to the EU.
I shall emphasize at the outset that Kosovo is in the initial formal stage of a long EU membership process. In October 2013 we have started negotiations for the Stabilization and Association Agreement and we expect to complete the negations on the SAA within the first half of this year. This marks the commencement of contractual relations between the Republic of Kosovo and the EU. We have launched a visa liberalization process with the EU and hope to complete it without a delay and also we have a structured dialogue on the rule of law with the EU. In 2008, EU has launched a huge rule of law mission in Kosovo – EULEX, following an invitation from our side for the EU to launch such a mission.
Why Balkans needs Euro-Atlantic vision? I will mention four general reasons why I think the process of integration in the EU and Euro-Atlantic structures of Kosovo and our region is indispensable.
First, geographically and socio-culturally we belong to Europe – despite non-linear geopolitical and hence socio-cultural trajectory of our history (as compared to the Central and Western Europe). The European Union is the common political and socio-economic house of the European nations and as a member of this family we should not be left outside.
Second, Euro-Atlantic umbrella is the strongest guarantor of peace and stability of our region. Perhaps we have defeated the demons of the past in our region, but I think too much triumphalism would be premature. Evils of the pas have not disappeared entirely from our region. We can still notice the presence of political tendencies and inclinations thriving on ethnic exclusion and xenophobia. Territory-centric approaches to ethnic issues, as opposed to citizen-based policies, are still present in some parts of our region. I am referring to political mindset based on creating artificially and controlling ethnically-homogenous political pockets, as opposed to the policies which put at the center the position and wellbeing of the ordinary people.
We see these tendencies in the northern Kosovo and in some parts of Bosnia. This retrograde mindsets are in total contradiction to the European values of inclusiveness and tolerance and our region has paid a tremendous price to these policies, introduced by Milosevic in the 1990s.
At this point, it is important to underline that the vision of the Republic of Kosovo is based on inclusiveness, interethnic coexistence and harmony – which are the core European parameters to manage socio-cultural heterogeneity. We have adopted the incomparably advanced standards for the protection of ethnic minorities, particularly for the Serb community in Kosovo. We are happy to see that this has progressively led to the steady integration of the Kosovar-Serbs in the public life of the Republic of Kosovo. The holding of a local elections in November 2013, in the entire territory of Kosovo and based on Kosovo legislation, including in the four northern municipalities, was a remarkable success of our vision of integration of minorities and ethnic inclusion.
On the other hand, in 2011 we have started a dialogue with Serbia, with the facilitation of the EU, for the normalization of neighborly relations between the two countries. We cannot change the history. The people of Kosovo have suffered a lot under occupation and severe oppression for many years and decades. Yet, we cannot change geography too. Kosovo and Serbia are neighboring countries and it is to the benefit of both to normalize relations as two neighbors. European political framework is indispensable and Kosovo has demonstrated a sincere commitment and determination to this process. We hope the other side will move along the same path.
Having said this, I want to underline my argument that the Euro-Atlantic umbrella is indispensable, not only for socio-economic prosperity, as it is commonly assumed, but also for peace and stability in our region. It is the strongest receipt against the evils of the past.
I do not want to depict a pessimistic picture, as that would be inaccurate. The political situation in our region is better than any other time in many decades.
Ole Waiver once famously said that “the other” for Europe is its past. Once we firmly reach that point in our region, when “the other” would not be the neighbor but the dark pages of our history, we would be more comforted.
Third, meeting the EU standards for the aspirant countries requires significant political and economic reforms, which improve the governance, strengthen democratic standards and advance the economic wellbeing. By making the necessary reforms for the EU membership, the countries of our region basically create conditions for the advancement of the quality of life of their citizens and this is what the aim of politics should be, always and everywhere.
Fourth, deepening of integration and increasing interdependence at multi-dimensional scale is the defining feature of the globalized world we live in. As small countries, with limited demographic and economic capacities, integration into a bigger markets and socio-political structures is a sine qua non for the countries of our region. EU represents a global economic actor, which is also assuming progressively an increasingly active political role in the global arena. Hence, EU represents for us a strong platform for catching up successfully with the global trends, be they economical, technological or other.
How successful the EU enlargement towards Western Balkans will be is different story. This will ultimately depend from the political will and socio-economic capacities of our countries and from the political and economic dynamics within the EU. We have to do our homework, which are not easy. And the list of homework starts with the good neighborhood policy. Governments in our region should take the lead in this endeavor, as they are doing, I think, successfully. The Former Stability Pact, now called the Regional Cooperation Council, to which Kosovo became member last year, is one of the important instruments through which EU and the Balkan countries work together to foster good neighborly relation in our region and hence boost the Euro-Atlantic agenda of our countries. The Stability Pact has been launched with the initiative of the EU in June 1999 and this month marked the ending of the war in Kosovo. In 2008, in the year when Kosovo became independent, the Stability Pact was transformed in the regionally-owned Regional Cooperation Council. A part from the RCC, there are many other important regional initiatives, such as the South East Economic Cooperation Process, which create the framework for regional cooperation and integration. The good neighborly relations and regional cooperation are the backbones of the political and economic Europeanization of our region. We will go to EU by making our region truly European. This is our one-way ticket.
I thank you very much for your attention.