PRISTINA, Kosovo -- The prospects for a stable Balkan region, fully integrated into Europe, have never looked better. The time is ripe for the international community to recognize Kosovo's independence from Serbia the same way it just did with Montenegro. With this act, Yugoslavia's disastrous post-Tito era would finally come to conclusion and its former constitutive units would be on track for European Union and NATO membership.
There is no good reason to delay the decision on Kosovo's statehood. We have already more than legally earned our independence, as Serbia forfeited its right to exercise sovereignty over us twice in recent history. First, when it violated its own constitution and unilaterally revoked Kosovo's autonomy in 1989 without gaining the necessary consent of all eight federal units, including Kosovo's, to change the legal status of one of its republics. Second, when in 1998-1999 it engaged in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Albanian population, destroying its cultural heritage, property and thousands of human lives.
What's more, it is the will of the people of Kosovo to become independent and sovereign, as clearly expressed in a 1992 referendum. And the people would certainly confirm this will for independence again today, if only they were given the chance. If we want Kosovo to be a functional, stable and secure new member of the European family, the voice of its people should finally be recognized.
Keeping Kosovo under international control for much longer is unacceptable to Kosovars. The province has now lived for seven years under the open-ended, hybrid rule of an international protectorate with institutions of self-government. A simple modification of the status quo, such as replacing the United Nations mission with an EU equivalent, is certainly not a recipe for stability. Continuing this status of "permanent transition" can only weaken the legitimacy of the local leadership. Although international support, advice and monitoring are welcome, and NATO's presence here to provide security will remain necessary for some time to come, only full sovereignty will enable the Kosovo government to steer the country toward a better future.
Statehood is also the necessary precondition for economic development, especially in a region handicapped by decades of socialism and ravaged by war. The "mystery of capital," to use Hernando de Soto's words, is not a mystery at all to us. We know very well that without a functioning property-rights system there will be no market development. But without sovereignty, we cannot establish that system. Without sovereignty, the allocation of our resources will continue to be less than efficient. The sale of our public assets has been blocked for years due to Serbia's influence on the international agency charged with carrying out the privatization process. Privatization finally took off more recently, but its proceeds are still held in trust outside Kosovo because of the unresolved political status of our country. And seven years after the war, one of our greatest assets, the mining complex of Trepca, can still not be exploited due to an entanglement of rivaling property claims, millions of debts to foreign creditors, and the unwillingness of Serbia to let go of Kosovo.
Kosovo has a reasonably well-developed financial sector, a good tax system with low rates and simple rules, healthy finances, and a liberal trading regime. But it needs sovereignty to encourage foreign investments and create viable alternatives to the country's gray economy and wean the people from donor aid.
The skeptics who doubt that Kosovo's sovereignty would produce a stable and secure region rely on flimsy arguments. For instance, they claim that Kosovo's independence would endanger the security of the region by opening up the Pandora's box of separatism. Kosovo's independence, however, could only be a pretext, not a precedent, for other separatist movements. No other ethnic group can make an equally strong case for self-determination, as no other minority in the region needs protection from a repressive state.
And there is no need to be concerned for the groups that would become minorities in an independent Kosovo. All of the unresolved minority issues are very high on my government's agenda. We have strengthened the public transportation network in minority communities, funded minority media, promoted zero tolerance for hate crimes and allocated millions of euros to the reconstruction of private property and religious sites. The government is striving to build confidence with those minorities, primarily the Serbs, that believe they don't have any stake in an independent Kosovo.
We are determined to open up the interethnic dialogue, and we have made important progress with the Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian, Bosniak, Turkish and Gorani communities. We regret that the Serb minority continues to reject our offers and instead boycotts joint initiatives as well as the parliament, where it has a substantive representation of 21 members out of a total of 120.
Kosovo has offered Serbs great concessions, including a decentralization plan that guarantees the Serb-majority municipalities autonomous governance. However, Belgrade is not content with this offer. It is not interested in devolution. Instead, it advocates some form of cantonization to undermine Kosovo's sovereignty. To justify this position, the Serb leadership has resorted to its old scare-mongering technique, spreading misinformation about Serbs' supposedly being the victims of ethnic violence. The reality is that Kosovo's crime statistics for the first quarter of this year reveal a sharp decline in crimes with a possible ethnic motive. While Pristina is focused on solving the people's problems, Belgrade is preoccupied with territorial claims.
A sovereign Kosovo can only play a positive role in the wider Balkan region. We want cooperative relationships with other countries, within the framework of the EU and NATO. Albania, with which Kosovo shares a common history, culture and language, is a natural partner. And so could be Serbia if it chooses cooperation and integration over obstructionism and division.
Mr. Ceku is prime minister of Kosovo.