SPEECH BY PRESIDENT OF KOSOVO FATMIR SEJDIU AT UN SECURITY COUNCIL, NEW YORK, 22 SEPTEMBER 2006

Your Excellency, President of the Council Your Excellencies, Members of the Council I am grateful for this opportunity to present to you the views of Kosovo on its final status process. This is the second time that an elected representative of Kosovo has been permitted to address members of the Security Council, even though Kosovo has been discussed regularly in the Security Council since before the war of 1999. I speak to you as the President of Kosovo and head of the multi-party delegation on final status, which we have dubbed the Unity Team, involving both the ruling coalition and the main opposition parties. Kosovo has been in a limbo for a long time.

More than seven years have elapsed since the war ended in 1999, after NATO stepped in to bring an end to the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign against the Kosovar Albanians. The uncertainty – or the ambiguity of status, if you will – has not helped Kosovo.

A lot has been achieved in the post-war Kosovo, in its reconstruction and institution building in the first place. However, a fully-fledged economic development has not been viable.
Lack of its recognition as an independent nation has cost Kosovo a lot economically, proving to be the main obstacle to its economic drive. Kosovo has not been able to offer the guarantees a sovereign government can provide to potential foreign investors. Kosovo has not had the legal status to have access to international lending institutions. Our unemployment rate is very high to this day.
 

In many respects, though, progress towards EU integration has been achieved, using also the current low profile, but significant, Stabilization and Association Tracking Mechanism that Kosovo has with the European Union. The newly emerging Kosovo economic legislation is in full compliance with EU standards. Kosovo is among a few non-EU entities – the newly independent Montenegro is amongst them too – to have the Euro as the official currency.
The time has come to finish this job of clarifying the status, i.e. of enshrining Kosovo’s independence within the international system.
 
Under the leadership of President Ahtisaari, UN’s Special Envoy for the status of Kosovo, a whole series of talks on technical issues, mainly pertinent to the Serbian minority’s position, have been held in Vienna, Austria. A summit meeting between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia was held on July 24th 2006.

There is no more important process for our people than the final status process itself. We have been committed to an open, transparent and above all peaceful process. We have been working closely with the UN Special Envoy, President Ahtisaari, and his team. We have devoted a great deal of effort to producing detailed position papers on the technical issues at stake, which are agreed among all the members of the Kosovo delegation. We have been flexible in the negotiations to date, on the crucial so-called “technical” issues of decentralisation, community rights, cultural heritage, and the economy. We have come up with generous offers in the talks on issues that pertain to minority rights, the Serb community in the first place. On the economy, we have subscribed to a set of criteria for succession that have been applied with other former Yugoslav entities that have emerged as independent nations in the wake of the break-up of the former federation. Therefore, we are ready to assume all the reasonable obligations that arise out of a normal process of succession as well as the full protection of property rights for all our citizens.

We are determined to find best possible solutions to all status-related issues. Nevertheless, I must re-emphasise to you what I said in my July 13th address before this respected international body: the expectation in Kosovo, and the region, is that the process must finish by the end of this year. Kosovo has endured seven years of uncertainty since the terrible events of 1999. That uncertainty has hindered economic development and fed political tension. It would serve no one, in Kosovo or in the wider southeast Europe region, if that uncertainty continued any longer. This process must at last decide Kosovo’s status, for good. We need permanence, not another temporality. Another temporality would breed suspense and uncertainty.
The overwhelming desire of Kosovo’s people for an independent Kosovo is well-known.

This has been the will of the large majority of Kosovo’s people for a long time, predating the repression and genocide of the Milosevic years, which saw a dozen thousand Kosovar Albanians killed and over 800.000 deported by the Serbian military and paramilitary police in the spring of 1999.
Despite this history, it is the overwhelming wish of Kosovo’s people to build a multi-ethnic society with a representative government. The desire to establish institutions, laws and norms which build, protect and maintain a multi-ethnic society is the heart of the government’s work to make progress on the so-called Standards for Kosovo: its work to improve the rule of law, minority protection, representation for minorities in Kosovo’s institutions, effective local government and a functioning economy. We have made remarkable progress in these areas.


In the final status process itself, every position we have presented to Special Envoy Ahtisaari is premised on our determination to see an independent, sovereign and democratic Kosovo at the end of the process for the determination of the status. This steadfast determination emanates from the overall political will of the people of Kosovo.

Therefore, as I said here on July 13th, independence is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of our position. Independence is our lifeline.
It is the desideratum of our sustainable existence as a nation.

In a multi-ethnic society, government must fairly represent all communities. In the Parliament and Government of Kosovo, seats will be guaranteed for Kosovo’s non-Albanian communities. Serbs will have ten guaranteed seats, and the other minorities ten seats in the Parliament of independent Kosova. They may win more, but not less than this number of seats in the new legislature. Thus, they will be over-represented, as has been the case so far, too. On top of this, we have come up with a plan that would give the minorities crucial say over matters that are by definition of vital interest to them. A double majority will be instituted for such ‘vital interest’ pieces of legislation, which means in practice that they cannot be approved unless the majority of minority members of Parliament attending votes for them.

To our great regret, most of the Serb representatives have not yet taken their place and are refusing to participate in our shared task of government. (Part of them has, fortunately). This is often not their own choice, but the result of pressure from Belgrade, which wishes to de-legitimise the Kosovo government.

We have prepared comprehensive and detailed plans for new Serb majority municipalities and devolved government in Kosovo, so that government is at the level where local people can make decisions for themselves. We have presented these plans to President Ahtisaari and his teams, and to the Belgrade side. But, let us stress what the Contact Group has already decided: there can be no creation of separate ethnic entities in Kosovo. We cannot accept solutions that would effectively separate the Serbs and insulate them within an independent Kosova, let alone allow such structures establish vertical links with the government in Belgrade. This would mean ethno-territorial separation along Serb government’s demands. Kosovo must remain a single united territory, with one government for all, albeit with decision-making devolved to local level for many issues, including local services, healthcare, and education.


A great deal of progress has been made in discussing how we should best protect the cultural heritage of Kosovo’s communities, including churches, monasteries and other sites of religious and cultural significance. On the Kosovo side, our commitment is clear: we will protect and preserve Kosovo’s entire cultural heritage, paying particular attention to the patrimony of Kosovo’s non-Albanian, and thus minority, communities. This is the common heritage of all of Kosovo’s people, and it is our duty, to all of our citizens, to protect and preserve that heritage. In particular, the rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church, its representatives and members, will be fully preserved, and its monasteries and churches protected, in accordance with all relevant international norms, including the Universal Declaration, and many other UN and Council of Europe instruments. Moreover, we have accepted to create protective zones around the most important Serbian religious sites in Kosovo.


Going back to the status, I want to stress that Kosovo has already paid heavily for the uncertainty of its status since 1999. There is high unemployment in Kosovo and considerable economic distress – incomes are among the lowest in Europe. This situation is undoubtedly the result of Kosovo’s indeterminate status which has hindered investment both internally and externally.

Your Excellencies,

It is my firm belief that now is the time to wrap up the process of final status of Kosovo. The Vienna process cannot succeed as long as Serbia remains fixated on the past, and ignores the evident realities of the present and thus misses the opportunity of the future. Serbia may be interested to foot-drag on this. We are not, for we cannot afford to do this, for we cannot afford to fail. Clarity of status in the form of an unqualified independence for Kosovo is key to further progress and the opening of new prospects for peace, stability and economic prosperity for the people of Kosovo and the wider region.

Serbia must recognise unarguable realities: that Kosovo has never been part of Serbia by virtue of its will; that since the horror and misery of 1999, Kosovo has been governed separately from Serbia. The clock of history cannot be turned back. It is the clear and overwhelming wish of the large majority of Kosovo’s people for Kosovo, at last, to be recognised as a sovereign and independent state. That wish cannot be ignored, or negotiated away. There is only one route to the stability we all so fervently desire: a clear and firm decision to make Kosovo at last independent.

The future state of Kosovo will have the fullest range of protections, both constitutional and practical, to ensure the rule of law and protection of rights of all its citizens, the majority Albanian population, as well as the Serb, Turkish, Roma, Ashkali, and Bosniak communities.

Let me re-emphasize that we have no claim or desire for the territory of others, any more than we would tolerate any claim on our own territory. We fully accept the Contact Group’s conditions for the final status process, that just as there can be no separation of Kosovo, there can be no change to its existing borders or territory. As an independent nation, we would be in a position to cooperate fully and openly in all areas with our neighbours and the region. Full regional cooperation is only possible once Kosovo – the last piece of the Balkans puzzle – is, at last, resolved.

We want an independent Kosovo with a light civilian presence for a reasonable period of time. We want also to see the continuation of a NATO-led military presence until we have established a security architecture of our own, which should include the formation of a limited defence force.
On behalf of the people of Kosovo, as President of Kosovo and head of the Unity Team of negotiators, I have officially called for, and invited, such a presence. (To this effect, last month I sent, through President Ahtisaari, a letter of invitation to the main international stakeholders in the Kosovo issue).

We aspire to the democratic values and legal norms embodied in the European Union. This ambition is shared by all our neighbours, including Serbia, although the latter’s aspiration has been less than enthusiastic. Meanwhile, we share a common wish to cooperate with, and eventually become members of, NATO, so that our security is guaranteed within that institution.

This is the opportunity for the future of Kosovo, and of our region. This opportunity can only become real if the final status process results in an independent state of Kosovo. This decision, which you in the Security Council can make, is the only way to close the door on the past, and is the necessary condition to open the door to a new, peaceful and prosperous future for south east Europe.

We desperately need closure on the status issue now. The wars instigated and waged by Belgrade against non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia are hopefully over. The Serb-dominated Yugoslavia has ceased to exist. New political nations have emerged from the ashes of this doomed federation. They all look towards the West for anchorage.

Now that the international community is willing at long last to wrap up the process of determining the final status of Kosovo, one should recall that pitted against each other are Kosovo’s legal and legitimate bid to independence and sovereignty, on the one hand, and Serbia’s illegal and illegitimate bid to re-claim rights to dominate and/or control the destiny of Kosovo, which had been under Serbian occupation till 1999, on the other.
The world should pursue a solution to the Kosovo issue as a unique case, one that is based on the full respect for the democratic will of the overwhelming majority of the people of Kosovo, while enshrining the highest human rights standards for all the communities living in this land.

It is no denying that there are still difficulties faced by the minorities in Kosovo, but also the majority Albanian population, largely as a result of the long legacy of Serbian/Yugoslav occupation and the bloody war of the 1990s. The wounds of the war take time to heal. It takes time for local Kosovar Serbs, nurtured for decades by their political and Church elites to think of themselves as members of a dominant majority, to disown their culture of dominance. This does not to turn out to be a small psychological problem for them. The Belgrade elites have continued to mislead the Kosovar Serb minority into thinking Belgrade has the right to, and may eventually restore some sort of control over Kosovo.

For the people of Kosovo, I want to express my gratitude to you in the Security Council, and to the United Nations, for your work to help my country. We are particularly grateful for the work of UNMIK. There is more work for us to do in Kosovo’s government to build our institutions so that they provide security, freedom of movement and economic opportunity for all our citizens, from whichever community. This work, which is embodied in the standards process, will remain our highest domestic priority.

We are deeply appreciative of what the international community has done -- what NATO and the UN, what the United States of America and the EU, as well as many individual countries and organizations have done for Kosovo. But the time has come for Kosovo to stand on its own feet, and become a fully-fledged member of the international community. A democratic Kosovo with a representative government, where the rights of all its citizens, including the minorities, are guaranteed to the highest internationally-set standards has been the longstanding dream and goal of the people of Kosovo. We hope this will have become soon a dream come true – a mission achieved.

Integration into the EU and NATO, as well permanent friendship, that is special relationship, with the United States of America, is the prevailing aspiration of all Kosovars.

With Kosovo’s independence, Prishtina and Belgrade, wilfully relinquishing part of their respective sovereignties to Brussels, would be on a par as capitals of equal members of the European Union family, as well as members of the North Atlantic Alliance. Good neighbourly relations, economic, cultural and other relationships, between the two nations would be able to flourish then.

We look forward to that day!

Thank you for your attention!