To be or not to be?
Ezzat Ibrahim interviews Iskandar Husseini, foreign minister of Kosovo in New York
The International Court of Justice recently ruled that the Kosovo declaration of independence, recognised by 69 countries since 2008, is legal and does not violate international law. The verdict has opened a new chapter in the relationship between this former province of Serbia and the Serbian government, which was expelled from the territory after a successful bombing campaign by NATO in 1999. Since that time, the territory is administered by NATO and the European Union while Serbia rejects independence for the territory.
Serbia recently submitted a draft resolution to the General Assembly of the United Nations to reject all forms of one-side declaration of independence that would push dozens of separatist movements to follow the Kosovo model. Many nations want to avoid a precedent that could threaten nation states that have suffered from secessionist tendencies in many parts of the world.
In the midst of a diplomatic manoeuvring game between Pristina and Belgrade in the United Nations, Foreign Minister of Kosovo Iskandar Husseini, spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly about the coming confrontation with Serbia, the opportunity for bilateral dialogue and future international recognition of Kosovo in the aftermath of the landmark ruling of International Court of Justice.
How do you evaluate Serbia's reaction to recent International Court of Justice's (ICJ) decision that gave legality for Kosovo's declaration of independence and what is the nature of consultations with various parties?
The historical ruling of the ICJ is that Kosovo did not violate international law in declaring independence from Serbia and we have the right to move forward with our own state. This is encouraging us to pursue our plan to get a two-thirds majority of member states in the General Assembly of the United Nations to become a state recognised by the international community. Serbs rejected the international resolution of the judicial organ of the United Nations. In recent days, consultations were held with representatives and ambassadors of many countries and I can say that the majority of member states want the state of Kosovo. We need 135 votes to seek international recognition of our independence. We welcome the recent statement of the Organisation of Islamic Conference. It is encouraging, and I expect that other Arab and Islamic countries will come to support the independence of Kosovo soon.
Serbia's government says that the declaration of independence is threatening the coexistence between the Albanian majority and the Serbian minority in Kosovo and says that Kosovo's Serbs will never accept an independent Kosovo.
What the Serbian president and his government repeated recently is not consistent with the facts and realities in the region. We have applied the system of decentralisation in the country for years and the process is moving ahead with great success where there is a real mandate from the central government to the municipal level. I confirm that the majority of Kosovo's Serbs, five per cent of the population, have welcomed these steps. We held elections last week in one of the municipalities where there is a majority from the Serbian community in Kosovo, and 65 per cent of the Serbs voted in the elections. This is an aspect that Serbia does not want to look at.
What is the case for coexistence between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo's government?
Kosovo's government consists of 15 ministers, including two ministers from the Serb minority. There is considerable support from Kosovo's Serbs for their representatives in the government. Also, the parliament is composed of 120 deputies and there are 15 members of Serbian descent, which is 14 per cent of lawmakers while the proportion of Serbs in the population is only five per cent.
What are the steps that Kosovo is planning to take in the face of diplomatic pressure by Serbia in the United Nations?
Everyone should be aware that Serbia was an occupying state and killed 15,000 Albanians before NATO intervened to stop ethnic cleansing against us in 1999. The World Court ruling is in conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on the situation in the region. We will prepare appropriate responses to the Serbian draft resolution being promoted among member states of the United Nations. We do not have the votes at the United Nations, but we have the support of many countries that want to help the independent Kosovo. The text of the draft resolution in the General Assembly is "disastrous" because it means ensuring the support of Serbia in its endeavours. I have met representatives of the European countries who reject the Serbian political stance and who expected Belgrade to comply with the court's decision not vice versa. We have succumbed to the Serbian occupation since 1912 and such occupation will never happen again.
There are five European countries which refuse your declaration of independence despite the European support you have?
In the time before the ICJ decision, the five countries were unwilling to recognise Kosovo but today the situation has changed and I expect such states to support the majority position in the European Union. The European countries are aware that the allegations of Serbia are not real. Kosovo was one of the regions in the Federal Yugoslavia Council, which ruled the former Yugoslavia and our country used to have the authority to reject decisions by virtue of this representation, and then came the state of Serbia and stripped Kosovo of this right, which marked the beginning of the end of the Federal Union. We all know that Serbia wanted to rule the different races inside the former state and that led to the outbreak of four wars and in the end Serbia accepted the independence of different states.
Despite what you are saying, the majority of countries in the world are concerned about the fact that Kosovo will set a precedent in the case of self- proclaimed independence.
The World Court has said explicitly that Kosovo is not a precedent because it is no longer affiliated with an entity which does not exist, the former Yugoslavia and the Kosovo ethnicity is quite different from Serbs. Even those who share the language and religion with Serbs, i.e., the people of Montenegro, opted for independence. We accept and tolerate Serbs, but we will not forget what happened. Serbia is not a victim. The international community negotiated with the Serbs to stop the genocide for several years. What can the international community say to the people of Kosovo today? Do you tell them: Go back to your occupiers? I do not think there is a country that can push the people of Kosovo to accept that.
On what conditions will you negotiate again with Serbia?
We welcome the cooperation but we refuse to negotiate with Serbia over our land or our independence. For us, Serbia is a colonial state and we will not join that colonial state again. Therefore the principle of negotiation and dialogue in this regard is unacceptable. There are many common interests between the two countries that can build bridges. They want to negotiate because they want to regain part of Kosovo. That could happen to the Albanians in Macedonia and so on. It would be hard to create a new chaos achieving stability in Western Balkans areas.
We say to the friends of Serbia to do them a favour and convince them to accept our independence and cooperate with us to live in peace.
What about Russia's position in favour of Serbia?
Russia is a large and important international player and I think that the Russians will come up at the end with a rational diplomatic move to deal with the current situation. And Serbia will fail again if it continues to defy the international court.