Ceku: not to forget, but to forgive


2007. 10. 04. 07:00

Sooner or later all countries will accept the independence of Kosovo, says Agim Ceku, the prime minister of the province heading towards statehood. In an exclusive interview with FigyelőNet, he says he is convinced that independent Kosovo will be a viable state, offering investors plenty of opportunities.

If I remember correctly, Mr. Prime Minister, you were quoted recently as saying that you are not interested in party politics, but only in the stability and security of Kosovo.

I’m not interested in party politics because I have my military background and career and was invited to take up this position. When I accepted this position, my mission was state-building, not shaping power. Because the status question is not yet decided and we will have elections, I don’t think that I should run. After status I will make a decision on what kind of role I will play in politics. But I will not distance myself from politics. I’ll be involved in politics – not in government, but in politics.

Independent statehood implies not only democratically elected organs, which are in place already, but also a number of functions regarding diplomacy and security matters. To what extent is the leadership of Kosovo, including yourself, ready to ensure the fulfilment of those functions?

I know that Kosovo is ready to be independent. We are ready to face all the challenges of independence, to take all the responsibilities of independence. Of course independence is a possibility, because it would not work without stability in the region as well, and it would not work if there is no rule of law in Kosovo, no security institutions, or guarantees of peace and stability in Kosovo. We are already planning this together with the international community; that is, to develop our security structures, our professional diplomatic service. In government we have already passed a draft law on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the diplomatic service. We are working closely with NATO to develop the legal basis and structure of our security forces, which will be very transparent and NATO-compatible. I think we have enough expertise, enough capacity to develop this new structure fully in line with international principles and international standards.

What will be the priorities of the new state regarding the economy and social services?

Look, the economy is our biggest challenge of course. I think Kosovo has potential for economic growth, and there is no question that Kosovo will be a self-sustainable country. We have a lot of resources. The main resource is our young and dynamic population; this is our biggest asset. Second are the natural resources. Kosovo is very rich in lignite mines and minerals. Agriculture also has potential. Kosovo has to better use its geographic position, and to invest in infrastructure. We are at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. I think there is no doubt that there is a lot of potential. We have done a lot of things. We have now built a good economic, legal and financial framework. Right now we have a very open market economy. We have signed a lot of free trade agreements, and we have signed the CEFTA agreement as well. Kosovo is a small but dynamic market, open to the world, and a good place to invest. But status is a problem. All investors need clarity, as clarity represents the security of investments. There is a lot of interest – every day I’m receiving potential investors asking for opportunities – but they are waiting.

And the social services?

We are in transition, going from a command economy to a market-based economy. During this transition we are facing various problems, because we have to transform the mindset of the people. This is no longer a socialist system; the government is not obliged to take care of people. They have to take care of themselves, and the government has to give them the opportunity to do that. We have a lot of problems with pensions, with health insurance, the formulas of the old system. But we’re very much focused on delivering the best possible services to the people – most of all, to offer them job opportunities so they can later look after themselves.

Agim Ceku (Photo by Angyal Ágnes)

What would be your main arguments to attract more foreign investment in Kosovo, including from small and medium-sized enterprises?

First of all, there is a very friendly, Western-type legal framework here for investment. Second, there is a very good financial and management process. Then there is a good banking system, and there are already some very important banks here. But most importantly, there is the very cheap labour force. We have natural resources, investment in mines, minerals, energy and infrastructure, but we need to build new roads, and create touristic resources. We have very good, beautiful places in the mountains, but we have no hotels, for example.

What would be the diplomatic priorities of the new state, regarding bilateral relations both with other states and with international organizations?

The first priority would be to put Kosovo on the map. This means joining various organizations, starting with the UN, to make them accept Kosovo as a full member, so this also means the OSCE, and especially the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the EBRD. We need to have our own telephone dialling code, to build Kosovo’s identity. The second priority is to build good neighbourly relations in the region. And the long-term priority is to integrate Kosovo into the European Union and NATO. But first of all, it’s to put Kosovo on the map.

And how would diplomatic relations take shape in future with states that at present do not support the independence of Kosovo?

There are very few countries that do not support the independence of Kosovo. I think very soon after independence they will realize that Kosovo is a force for good in the region, a contributor to peace and stability, and a functioning country. And I think they will recognize this as a reality. We would like to see a unanimous decision of the EU to recognize Kosovo as a fully independent state, but this is very much up to them. These countries will be the target of our diplomatic service, to convince them that we deserve recognition.

How do you envisage the future of relations with Serbia?

In the coming days we are going to talk to them again. We are very determined to develop a professional working climate and good neighbour-to-neighbour relationship with Serbia. This will be our offer. It’s going to be difficult, and it’s a big challenge. It’s very difficult for Serbian leaders to treat Kosovo as a normal country, but we are very determined to move towards that. There has been a terrible war here, a very difficult history. But we want the past to be filed away and to look to the future. We are convinced this is in both our and Serbia’s best interests. Even if we don’t agree on fundamental things, we should cooperate on issues of national interest. People of both countries are waiting to see problems resolved, such as missing persons first of all, the return of internally displaced persons, communications, energy, security, and the fight against organized crime. All issues are very important and we need to talk, even when we disagree on fundamental things. It shouldn’t prevent us from having good relationships and being good neighbours with Serbia. This is what we’re going to offer, and we’re very serious about this offer. We have to start a long and difficult process of reconciliation. This all starts with communication, with talks. There is no European future for any of us if we don’t cooperate, if we don’t support each other, if we don’t build partnerships towards Europe, NATO, etc. This starts with discussions, with cooperation. One day I think we will be part of the European Union, like your country, and we will regret what has happened in the past.

According to the Ahtisaari plan, Serbians living in Kosovo would enjoy a great degree of autonomy in future. Could you elaborate a little bit on this issue for the sake of our Hungarian readers worldwide?

During the Ahtisaari process we have offered very strong guarantees for the well-being of minorities here. First of all, decentralization: We have agreed to asymmetric decentralization. Wherever the Serb population represents a majority, we will create a new municipality, with many more competencies than other municipalities. For example, the municipality of North Mitrovica will have a Serbian-language university. They will have a hospital, and the possibility to select local police commanders and local judges, which other municipalities will not have. We are also guaranteeing the protection of the cultural heritage, and have introduced protection zones around cultural heritage sites. We will ensure them representation, much higher representation in the government and in Parliament than their proportion of the population. So these are our very concrete measures. Kosovo is today a multi-ethnic country, with 10 percent minorities. We have agreed that Kosovo is a multi-ethnic country. Everything here is in two or three languages – for example, the names of localities everywhere are displayed in the Serbian language as well. In the village where I come from, there are no Serbs, and they have never lived there, but we have everything in the Serbian language as well. I think that this character of multi-ethnicity guarantees that their identity will be protected, that their representation will be fair (or more than fair), and that their cultural heritage will be protected. Nothing will change from as it was before, except that Kosovo will not be ruled from Belgrade. Everything that is Serb will remain in Kosovo.

We learned from the news that the Kosovo Unity Negotiating Team recently submitted the draft of an agreement with Serbia. Can you please confirm this?

Yes. On the 19th of September we submitted to the troika the draft of a treaty on friendship, cooperation and mutual respect between Kosovo and Serbia. We are proposing that this document be signed by Serbia and Kosovo, by both governments. This draft document foresees the establishment of various bodies, even permanent cooperation councils: presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers would meet every sixth months to oversee how cooperation is working. In our view, it is a very good document. We took as examples previous agreements between the Benelux countries, and the Franco-German treaty of 1963. So there are some documents, good examples in the world, showing that countries that have fought in the past can accept to live together in future, and have signed documents of reconciliation. Even if we have been victims in the past, we are now offering this.

Are you ready to forgive?

Yes, of course. Not to forget, but to forgive, yes. We have to do this.

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