Kosovo at the crossroads

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Kosovo already uses the euro, but the question of whether to forge closer ties with the EU is a prickly one. [Photo RNW.org/Flickr]

Kosovo has made great progress since gaining independence in 2008, but it still has a long way to go to secure a European future and avoid being consumed by its past, writes Hashim Thaçi.

Hashim Thaçi is Kosovo’s President-elect.

Europe’s youngest country – Kosovo – celebrated the eighth anniversary of its independence earlier this month.

The independence of Kosovo was our dream, our fight, and our sacrifice.

But we were not alone. We had our friends and international allies who have now become part of our history.

By anyone’s standards, Kosovo has come a long way in those eight short years.

We have built up our institutions. 111 countries have recognised our independence. In October, we signed our first formal political and trade agreement with Europe.

Yet our politics has appeared in the international media for the wrong reasons in recent weeks. A series of parliamentary sessions in our capital, Pristina, had to be suspended following a series of tear gas attacks in the chamber by a group of opposition MPs.

The protests have been led by people who oppose the government’s attempts to improve relations with our neighbour Serbia.

Slobodan Milosevic’s brutal war against Kosovo in the late 1990s is still a fresh and painful memory for Kosovars.

A million Kosovars were expelled from their homeland, many thousands were murdered, and their bodies often buried in secret.

That is why some opposition MPs voted against changes to Kosovo’s constitution to establish a Special Court in The Hague that will investigate and indict individuals suspected of crimes against Serbs during the Kosovo-Serbia war.

The genocide committed by the Milosevic regime against Kosovo should not be equated with these crimes of vengeance. But justice cannot be selective. Criminal acts committed by Kosovars have to be condemned and prosecuted.

We have worked hard to normalise relations with Serbia, we have signed a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro, and we are the only Balkan republic that has peacefully demarcated 75% of its borders with three out of four neighbours.

But reconciliation is not easy, and it cannot be a one way exercise.

At a conference of foreign ministers in December, I urged our Serbian neighbours to agree to disagree about Kosovo’s path to independence, without aggressively lobbying against Kosovo’s equal access to the tools of economic development and the international community.

Last Friday, MPs in our national assembly elected me to serve as the new President of Kosovo, to develop Kosovo’s standing on the international stage.

We have much to work on.

Alongside the challenge of growing our economy and creating new jobs and opportunities for our citizens, the migration crisis, coupled with combating violent religious extremism and nationalist rhetoric, now dominate the political landscape in Kosovo and the Western Balkans.

None of these challenges is unique to our region – they are common to Europe as a whole – but our countries have become the key battleground

The Western Balkan route has become the main thoroughfare for refugees fleeing civil war in Syria and Iraq.

As governments, we must combat these problems by improving border security and promoting neighbourly relations.

Kosovo has managed to stem the number of asylum-seekers leaving the country by more than 90% this year.

We have also prepared an emergency reception plan for 500 to 3,000 Syrian migrants, though we are aware that our country is not on the most popular route for refugees from Greece to Northern Europe.

Meanwhile, our government has been recognised for its stance in the fight against violent extremism and contribution to the global coalition against IS.

We must not allow our progress to be derailed by nationalism which invokes old conflicts.

The question now is whether or not Kosovo is to become a full and active member of the international community and continue on its path of European integration, or whether it is reclaimed by its past.

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