Kosovo: UNESCO rejection due to Serbia’s ‘appalling behaviour’

Kosovo has just missed out on admission to UNESCO. In an interview by EURACTIV Germany, Deputy Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi was asked how he evaluated Belgrade’s role in the decision.

Hashim Thaçi is the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo, who between 2008 and 2014 served as first Prime Minister after independence from Serbia was declared. He is the chairman of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and was the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a paramilitary organisation which was active during the Kosovo War.

euractiv.de: Kosovo has just missed out on membership of the UN cultural organisation UNESCO on Monday (9 November). How serious a setback is this?

Hashim Thaçi: It is a regretful decision on the part of UNESCO, but it does not minimise the achievements of Kosovo as a state. As a nation, we have done all our homework and we were praised for the work that we have done. Yet, two-thirds of the votes proved to be an impasse for Kosovo this time.

This will not discourage us from continuing to work intensively to consolidate the state of Kosovo internally and externally. We have just signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. This is a recognition of Kosovo’s achievements in reforms at all levels of society as measured by a very strict and technical process, not influenced by politics.

This should be a signal for the rest of the world, to recognise Kosovo’s achievements and to recognise the Kosovar state as a new and positive reality.

Is lobbying on the part of Serbia to blame?

Kosovo and, I believe, the EU, as well as the whole world, are appalled at the behaviour of Serbia. It was not only anti-lobbying but it was an anti-European campaign that goes contrary to all the achievements in the region in the last years. It was against the spirit of the dialogue and cooperation that we are promoting in Brussels through the dialogue process; it was against the spirit of normalisation of relations and building peace and stability.

The language used by Serbia, unfortunately not only the politicians in Serbia, was one of war-mongering and at times bordering on racism. This is definitely a huge blow to all the efforts of the entire Western Balkans, the representatives of which are putting in enormous efforts to strengthen peace and stability. Nevertheless, when we look at the votes cast yesterday, we can easily say that Kosovo won more than Serbia.

Kosovo secured the support of 92 UNESCO members with the right to vote, among them many countries that have not yet bilaterally-recognised Kosovo as a state. More importantly, the countries that led the support for Kosovo in UNESCO are the family of liberal democracies where Kosovo belongs and wants as its home. On the other hand, all Serbia achieved was denying all communities in Kosovo, including the Serb community, the right to benefit from membership in UNESCO, to be part of a project of building reconciliation and peace through collaboration in education, in science, in culture.

One other thing that can be observed from the voting yesterday: we are living in a world that is increasingly divided along ideological lines. The voting yesterday was not against Kosovo. It was a vote against what Kosovo represents, a vote against the idea of human rights and freedoms prevailing over all other paradigms and ideologies.

Are the EU’s high representative Frederica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn doing enough to act against Belgrade’s blockade policy in regional and international organisations towards Pristina?

Everyone believed that Serbia had turned over a new leaf and had disconnected with the policies of Milosevic, but the behaviour of Serbia in the last weeks in relations with Kosovo and the region have not gone unnoticed. On the other hand, Kosovo’s aspiration for UNESCO membership received widespread support, of all those who worked with Kosovo in whatever capacity.

We were very encouraged with the outpouring of support and we are very thankful and grateful to all the friends and supporters among the international community who have openly and strongly supported our case. On the other hand, I am sure that we will have an opportunity to discuss with our partners about what does Serbia’s behaviour means for our joint efforts to build peace, stability, reconciliation and cooperation in the region.

Does the UNESCO rejection overshadow the conclusion of the EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement and the successful steps towards visa liberalisation?

The SAA and the positive evaluation of our efforts for visa liberalisation are achievements that cannot be overshadowed. We are grateful that the EU has found a way to enable the signing of the SAA with Kosovo, thus recognising the achievements of the nation in building democracy, rule of law and transforming the economy. Both processes, the signing of the SAA and positive evaluation of our efforts for visa liberalisation, are very technical and not influenced by politics.

This is why these recognitions of our achievements are so important for us. They are highly appreciated also by the citizens of Kosovo, and we are sure that will only encourage us all, as a society, to continue along the path towards our only true home, the EU.

The EU Commission presented its progress reports on the candidate countries this Tuesday (10 November). There is strong criticism about the intensification of struggles of the Association of Serbian Municipalities in the Kosovar parliament. How can Kosovo’s government and opposition parties end these damaging conflicts?

We welcome the Progress Report, since it not only gives an evaluation of our work, but also serves as a roadmap for our work towards EU membership. We share the concern of the European Commission as well as our other international friends and supporters of Kosovo about the recent violence exercised by the opposition parties in the Kosovo Assembly. Not all political means have been exhausted to deliberate about all the issues that the opposition has raised.

Therefore, we continue to call on the opposition parties to use the political means at their disposal to discuss any concerns they have. We have seen some changes of heart among the opposition parties and we believe that this is a sign that we can continue our political life unimpeded.

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