There is good reason to be optimistic about the western Balkans these
days. By popular referendum, Montenegro just regained its
independence from Serbia and is determined to accelerate its
accession to Europe. We believe that Kosovo will follow suit towards
the end of the year. With the birth of two new democratic states that
look forward to Europe, this is a hopeful epilogue for the tragic
decade that marked the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
We understand the pride that Montenegrins feel. After patiently
waiting for years to express their national aspirations through
democratic means, they restored their statehood. We wish we had been
granted the same chance. Kosovars held their democratic and peaceful
referendum on independence in 1992, with 87% of eligible voters
participating and 99% voting in favour of a sovereign state. It was
our democratic revolution against the last bastion of socialism in
Europe, a legitimate exercise of self-determination against the
Serbian state that, by revoking Kosovo's autonomy, was acting outside
its own constitution and laws. Belgrade rejected that outcome.
We resisted Serbia's occupation, peacefully at first but ultimately
by force of arms. Our volunteers in the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA)
had little more than courage and a shared will to be free, until
Towards Nato member states we feel deep gratitude; for our fighters
we feel pride. We will never forget them. Nor we will forget the
thousands of civilians that were killed just because they were
Albanians. There was no single Srebrenica in our war, only hundreds
of small massacres that devastated the lives of entire communities.
Like other nations that have fought and won their survival and
independence, we treasure our past. But our national pride means only
that we love our language, our culture and our land. We do not want
to impose anything on others.
We have a chance now, for the first time since the collapse of the
Ottoman Empire and the age of the modern European nation states, to
channel our collective aspirations into the creation of an
independent state; we are ready to do so without prejudice against
As prime minister, I am using my office as a pulpit to advocate the
respect and protection of minorities. I regularly meet citizens who
feel marginalised and threatened in order to reassure them. We know
how it feels to mourn loved ones killed because of who they were, or
to return to a burnt home, or to see no future for our children. We
do not want others to suffer as we have suffered. We want to make
sure that incidents like the riots of March 2004 against minority
communities do not happen again.
But as we engage in negotiations with Serbia to discuss shared
concerns, unfortunately we face stubborn obstruction. Serbia's
current leadership is actively opposing the dialogue the government
of Kosovo has developed with Serbs who live in Kosovo. It has driven
a wedge between local Serb residents and their political leadership.
The first, a largely poor, farming constituency, is left without
representation because the latter refuses to recognise Kosovo's
institution and to participate in the assembly and the government,
where it is allotted reserved seats by the constitutional framework.
Belgrade has asked Serbs not to accept payments from Kosovo's budget,
trying to neutralise all our honest efforts to integrate minorities.
For our part, we are being very constructive. We are ready to make
local government more efficient and bring it closer to citizens
through a substantive decentralisation, to protect and restore
Kosovo's cultural heritage and to solve once and for all the painful
issue of missing people on both sides. But these cannot be unilateral
efforts. We cannot achieve good results if we find only deaf ears to
all our openings.
Belgrade is not trying to improve the wellbeing and safety of Serbs
in Kosovo; it is holding them hostage to prove to the entire world
that Kosovo is not ready to be an inclusive society, and thus should
not be a state. This shows instead that Serbia is not an honest
partner in the negotiation on Kosovo's status, and that it should not
be rewarded for this uncompromising attitude.
What Serbia needs instead is a stronger international encouragement
to recognise its new neighbouring democracies and accept the new
reality of the western Balkans. For the people of Montenegro, it was
easy to sever their ties from Serbia. May it be as easy for the
people of Kosovo.