The path to independence
PRISTINA, Kosovo Six years after NATO went to war to stop widespread human rights abuses in Kosovo, an interim United Nations mission still administers the province alongside its democratically elected government, while troops from more than 30 countries provide security. Both the international community, stretched as it is by crises around the globe, and we who live here are anxious for Kosovo to complete its passage from chaos to stability. And despite continuing difficulties, success is in sight.
Elections last October resulted in the creation of a government led by Ramush Haradinaj that accomplished more in 100 days than other governments had in the previous three years. This government and its successor have focused all their efforts on what are known here as the Standards, an intermeshed set of reforms necessary for Kosovo to become a stable, functional member of the European family.
Later this year, the UN Security Council will assess whether Kosovo has come far enough to begin the process that will lead to the resolution of its final status. I read recently in the American press of the idea of appointing a U.S. envoy to catalyze this process and would warmly welcome such a contribution.
But regardless of the diplomatic architecture, we know that the Security Council's judgment will hinge foremost on whether Kosovo's minority communities, particularly Kosovo Serbs, can live in conditions of security and dignity. We are determined to show that this country is big enough to embrace all people - irrespective of ethnicity. Our governing coalition has already made very positive moves in this direction.
Slavisha Petkovic, a Kosovo Serb who was an "internally displaced person" before returning to Kosovo, was made head of the Ministry for Returns and Communities. The government allocated his ministry €14 million, or $18 million - the third-biggest budget of any ministry. Patriarch Pavle, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, recently agreed to accept €4.2 million that the government budgeted last year to repair damage that rioters did to Orthodox churches in March 2004.
The government also helped to create a positive climate for the return of displaced people. In February, Haradinaj penned an open letter in which he made tolerance the cornerstone of a new Kosovo. He wrote: "All Kosovo citizens have a moral and civic obligation to understand the importance of the processes which we are passing through as a country and society ... by fostering the sense of tolerance, understanding and respecting each other. Most Albanians have a special obligation to members of the Serb community."
Only weeks later, Kosovars learned that the international tribunal in The Hague had indicted their prime minister. In keeping with his commitment to international standards, Haradinaj flew to The Hague the next day and turned himself in to the tribunal. Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo, was among those who praised Haradinaj's response as both dignified and courageous.
Last month, Kosovo's new Assembly voted by a large majority for a new government, a continuation of the previous coalition between the Democratic League of Kosovo and the Alliance for Kosovo's Future, with Bajram Kosumi as prime minister. Kosumi is no stranger to the problems of his country. He has spent his adult life in the cause of liberation and was jailed for almost 10 years for his role in peaceful protests in the early 1980s. He was also part of the Rambouillet negotiations that set the stage for NATO's intervention. Most important of all, as Kosovo moves toward settlement of its final status and integration with Europe, is the fact that his government expects to have achieved by June from 90 percent to 95 percent of the 61 priority standards goals set by the international community.
In 1991, the vast majority of Kosovars who are Albanian voted for independence. As everyone who knows Kosovo is aware, independence has been the unwavering ambition of Kosovo's Albanian majority ever since. It will remain so until that goal has been realized. But we know that to make Kosovo a respected member of the European family and the kind of place we would wish to leave to our children, we must focus our full energies on ensuring that all its citizens can prosper in a common home. As Kosovo's president, I pledge to use all my moral authority to help accomplish this noble aim for the good of all of Kosovo's people.
(Ibrahim Rugova is the president of Kosovo.)