Tirana, 14 December: Serbia must get used to the idea that there is no return to the old situation in Kosovo and that the result of this will be independence; and the whole of Kosovo society must understand that independence is not achieved in one day, but is a process to which a number of conditions will be attached. This has been stated by Albanian Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj.
In an interview with the BETA agency, Mustafaj detailed the conditions for independence as the inviolability of borders, the indivisibility of Kosovo, an international civilian and military presence, a strong legal state, and guarantees for the rights of all minorities in accordance with international standards.
Comparing the stance of his own government on the status of Kosovo and that of the previous cabinet of Prime Minister Fatos Nano, whose general position was "respect for the free will of the people of Kosovo", Mustafaj said that the current government, unlike Nano's, "who spoke rather from a distance", tried to be close to events, to watch them closely and to encourage them " [ellipses as received throughout]
The Albanian foreign minister made it clear that the current government agreed with the previous one on respect for the will of the people of Kosovo, but that it was the view of the present cabinet that a range of other factors had to be taken into account when defining the status of Kosovo: the population of Kosovo, "Albanians and others who live in Kosovo", the international factor, and "of course Serbia, which is part of the negotiations on the future of Kosovo".
"The mass of these facts and their placement on the negotiating table makes the idea of compromise necessary, which means that we must all give a little," said Mustafaj, stressing that an independent Kosovo made sense only as a democratic society.
Asked how long he thought a Kosovo with conditional independence (with an international presence), as favoured by Tirana, would last, Mustafaj said that this could not be forecast in Tirana or Belgrade, but only in Pristina. "This means that the main negotiators and those are the political and institutional factors of Kosovo together with the international community will define how long there needs to be an international presence, which will have the task there of helping to strengthen Kosovo and its institutions At the juncture when Kosovo, with its institutions, political class and public administration, really is finally prepared to manage its own independence, then that international presence will no longer be necessary," said Mustafaj.
Asked whether he believed that Kosovo would be stable and that the minorities would be protected in this period, bearing in mind that there were still ethnic tensions, the Albanian foreign minister expressed the view that ethnic tensions were on the decrease, "which means that they will be eliminated, and independence will be viable since it serves all sides. It will serve both the Albanians as well as the Serbs and other minorities."
"It is much better to have a common democratic reality in an independent Kosovo, than a Kosovo that will not be independent," said Mustafaj.
Asked to comment on the assessment delivered by officials from Serbia-Montenegro at the United Nations General Assembly in October to the effect that Tirana's stance on conditional independence before negotiations on Kosovo's status started was prejudging its status, Mustafaj said that he did not believe that "they consider this to be prejudging things: by saying this they are really trying to hide their own conviction that this is what will happen."
"As a politician of what is viable, and by analysing all the options that can be discussed in Kosovo, I have come to the conclusion that the most viable and realistic option is conditional independence, which could also be called limited, associated, guaranteed or some other adjectives to which you might attach to it," said Mustafaj.
"As soon as it saw that a viable formula had been identified, Belgrade came out against it, since it feels more secure in a process that starts with maximalist formulations that are utopian and unacceptable to one side or the other, but between those sides I especially bear in mind the international community and the Albanian factors in Kosovo," he said.
"I advocate a realistic policy, and realistic policies usually do not please people or evoke a reaction on the part of those who do not want problems to be resolved," Mustafaj added.
Relations between Albania, SCG
Speaking about the relations between Tirana and Belgrade in the context of disagreements over Kosovo's status, the Albanian foreign minister answered that he was convinced that these relations should be a priority for both countries, since they were in the interests of both, as well as in the interests of the whole region. He said that Albania was determined not to make relations with Belgrade conditional on its stance towards Kosovo, but he demanded that Belgrade do the same.
The Albanian foreign minister expressed satisfaction with the "evolution" of the stance of his "colleague and friend" Vuk Draskovic towards such a concept, noting that when they met in Strasbourg recently Draskovic also voiced the opinion that Tirana and Belgrade should extend their relations in all fields regardless of the stance that Tirana and Belgrade would adopt individually with regard to the negotiations on Kosovo.
Asked whether fears of the creation of a so-called Greater Albania were justified, Mustafaj replied that these were "phantom ideas" that did not merit attention and had not been created "in Albanian fortresses".
"The concept of a Greater Albania is product of the media, although definitely not the Albanian media, a concept that is not an integral part of the current political or historical Albanian vocabulary. When we make it clear in advance that we stand for conditional independence, then we are acknowledging in advance that there can be no change in borders nor in Kosovo's relation with Albania, just as there should be no change in Kosovo's relation with Serbia-Montenegro," he said.
Asked whether Tirana was satisfied with the position of the Albanians in the municipalities in southern Serbia in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja and with Belgrade's efforts to involve them in Serbia's political life, Mustafaj said that he would not wish to give a final opinion on the matter.
"I think that the dissatisfaction that is evident among the Albanians in the municipalities in the Presevo Valley is a reflection of a reality with which they do not sufficiently agree. In other words, if there were a genuine wish on the part of Belgrade for them to be integrated into political life and for the development of these municipalities, then this should be noticed first by their inhabitants, and by the representatives of those citizens," said Mustafaj.
He added that intensive work should be carried out to foster this integration, both by Belgrade and by the international community, and that Tirana was prepared to encourage and influence the Albanians from the Presevo Valley "to be serious in their activities so that they take their fate into their own hands, within the framework of the constitutional norms and international standards".
Asked whether as a minister and man of letters he got on well with his colleague, minister and man of letters Vuk Draskovic, Mustafaj said that their relations were "very proper, not to say friendly."
He said that at all their meetings he and Draskovic exchanged views calmly and without tension, without any particular emotions of the type of "the early period when the ministers of Albania and Serbia used to hold talks".
"This is a very important basis for our work to have positive results. I try to respond in the same way, in a friendly spirit, so that we can further promote our communication," said the Albanian foreign minister, Besnik Mustafaj, in his BETA interview.
Source: Beta news agency, Belgrade, in Serbian 1158 gmt 14 Dec 05