Ambassador Delawie’s Interview to Koha Ditore, 30 September 2015

Koha Ditore: Thanks for having us. I would actually want to start with the issue of democracy that we are somehow confronting these days with developments in the Parliament of the last week and the current stalemate so to say there because of the eggs being thrown and the resistance of the opposition. What does this tell us, in your view, about political relations in Kosovo between the parties, and the state of democracy actually?

Ambassador Delawie: That’s a good question, a good place to start, I think. Let’s keep in mind though first that the Government and Parliament resulted from elections in 2014 that were widely regarded – including by my Government – as free and fair, and they also included people from entire territory of Kosovo. I think that’s significant. The parties then worked among themselves within Kosovo’s constitutional framework to form the Government. Despite repeated commentaries to the contrary, I can tell you the U.S. Government did not favor one political party over another in this process. So, the United States supports democratic processes and institutions. The people of Kosovo elect their government. We work with the government that they elect. Now, I have a tough time seeing how throwing eggs, or throwing anything other than words, on the floor of the Assembly, strengthens Kosovo’s democracy or contributes to its broader goals. And, I think it’s important to keep in mind those broader goals and how people’s actions contribute to them. For example, the United States wants to see Kosovo take its rightful place on the world stage, become a member of all the key European institutions, and these goals influence everything that we do – not just me but my whole team here at the Embassy. As President Obama said this week in New York, and I have to read this: “I understand democracy is frustrating.” Democracy in the United States is certainly imperfect. At times, it can even be dysfunctional.  But, he noted that democracy is what has allowed the United States to build a dynamic economy and flourish as a multi-ethnic state.

Koha Ditore: Yes, Ambassador, and certainly we all would agree with that but the point is what are the root causes of such a tense situation that we are facing, and many in the society, not only the opposition, consider that the lack of debating issues previously has led the confrontation to this boiling point? Meaning that, since the position, the Government has not bothered enough, so to say, to discuss issues before they actually agreed to them in Brussels, and we are talking about the agreements, now the opposition might feel that there are no words left to throw any more.

Ambassador Delawie: Well, let me start by saying that the Parliament is an important institution, it’s important that it functions for the good of the country. This takes hard work and compromise, which is not always easy. Currently, I know that there are 23 laws awaiting the first or second reading in the Assembly. Important laws, such as one that would create a Credit Guarantee Fund that we supported, that once passed will have a significant positive effect on Kosovo and on its economy. And, I don’t really accept the premise of your question. Over the summer there was plenty of debate in the Assembly. I understand that the opposition did not achieve its legislative goals, but that doesn’t mean there was no meaningful debate. In a democracy, the party or the parties that form a majority coalition determine the policy. In general, those who don’t like the ruling coalition parties’ policy should work to explain their positions to the electorate and get the most votes in the next elections in 2018. They would be in a position to determine the agenda themselves at that point. 

Koha Ditore: So, you are saying that there is nothing that opposition can do if the Government has the votes to pass just about any agreement or law?

Ambassador Delawie: The opposition has many outlets in which to make its voice heard. It is the responsibility of an opposition to engage in meaningful debate and use the outlets provided in a democracy to get their voice heard. And, it’s been pretty hard to ignore the opposition’s voice over the last several weeks. I’ve been in Kosovo for only six weeks, and during this time the Parliament has attempted to hold session twice, I think. These sessions would have provided ample opportunity to discuss contentious issues and pass necessary legislation. Now, I understand you have a saying in Albanian that essentially means that just because you are losing, you should not spoil the game. This is especially true in politics where everyone wants what is best for their country even if they don’t agree on what that best is.

Koha Ditore: We are in this moment of time experiencing this, basically or primarily, because of the agreements reached in Brussels. And among them primarily maybe, or mostly, because of the agreement on the Association for Municipalities with the Serb Majority. The point seems to be whether this is a positive or not-so-positive development for the country. And, I mean, as the representative of U.S., which has endorsed, I think, the agreements, what do you see are the true benefits of these agreements, and especially the agreement on the Association of Serb Municipalities?

Ambassador Delawie: First of all, I know your paper has taken an editorial stance against the dialogue and we are just going to have to disagree about that. The fundamental U.S. policy in the region is to promote a Europe whole, free, and at peace. We are not going to achieve that goal without improving relations between Kosovo and Serbia. And the EU-led dialogue is the only way that I see of getting there. The United States has supported the dialogue strongly since its inception and has strongly applauded both Kosovo and Serbia for the agreements reached in April 2013 and those since, including the four that were signed last month in August. I think the progress achieved through the dialogue has been undeniable, but that’s my opinion. Former Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, used to say “we are all entitled to our own opinion but we are not entitled to our own facts.” So let’s talk about facts for a few minutes. In 2011, people erected barricades in the north when Kosovo tried to collect customs fees. Dialogue paved the way for the customs collections to start in December 2013 with no violence. The last municipal elections held included – for the first time ever – the entire territory of Kosovo. Thanks to those elections, you have a portion of the country that is now fully operating under Kosovo’s law, meeting with Kosovo Government officials and serving its citizens. This paved the way for 2014 parliamentary elections that elected Kosovo Serbs from the North, who took an oath to defend the Constitution of Kosovo and they participate in the Kosovo Assembly. And that’s not even to speak of the more tangible benefits like the international dialing code that resulted from the summer’s agreements. But, even more broadly, and getting back to my point about the importance of Kosovo and Serbia improving their relationship. Continued discussions between these two countries will help to bring stability and promote international investment in the region. The dialogue is facilitated by the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini.  She has a lot of important stuff to do, but she still spends time on this. I don’t see how Kosovo can make progress towards integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions in the absence of the dialogue.

Koha Ditore: Let me just underline that in the case of our own editorial policy, it’s not that we are against the dialogue as a tool to reach agreements and normalization between Kosovo and Serbia as two independent states. We have always been critical of how that dialogue was sold, so to speak, to our population and how the dialogue was conducted.

But anyway, what I’m asking is not of particular other agreements, but about a particular agreement on the Association of Serb municipalities. There have been voices claiming, even out of Kosovo – I think even Dan Serwer from the U.S., alarmed that there is a risk that this sort of agreement, this sort of arrangement, might lead to an ethnic division between Serbs and Albanians, particularly in those areas where the Association will function. So, what are the guarantees, who is to say that this cannot happen, how can we prevent this from becoming a sort of solution that might lead us into more divisions between the minority Serb and majority Albanian population here?

Ambassador Delawie: Look, I understand that this is difficult, and I understand that it all is going to take some more time. I know people are concerned. I read the papers, yours and others. But, just related to the agreement on the Association of Serb municipalities: I encourage anyone who has concerns about that to read the document. It’s on the EU website. It’s four or five pages long. The language is straightforward. You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand it. It’s clear to us that this deal fully complies with Kosovo laws and with the Kosovo constitution. Read the deal. There is no indication in the agreement that it will create a third layer of government or executive powers, or that it violates the Kosovo constitution. You asked about guarantees. One of our founding fathers said that there are no guarantees in life except death and taxes. But I want to be clear: the United States fully supports the Association Agreements and the U.S. is Kosovo’s strongest friend, greatest defender – the U.S. supports a sovereign Kosovo. And if you don’t believe me, drive a kilometer down the road and you will see the construction site of our new Embassy – it’s going to be beautiful, by the way. We’re investing a lot in that embassy. We would not support an Agreement that interfered with the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Kosovo. Now, the U.S. government in conjunction with our friends in Brussels, remains actively engaged in our support for dialogue implementation and integration efforts. We are going to continue to watch this process closely, and we look forward to the Kosovo government to continue making progress. And we’re aware of what happened in the region. We participated in resolving the other conflicts in the Balkans and you know, we’ve learned from that experience.

Koha Ditore: You mentioned death and taxes, which leads me to another issue that I wanted to discuss. Paying taxes is usually considered as some form of accountability towards the state. There are some issues that people are asking related to the current political developments and accountability about them. One of the ways how the need or the necessity to create a Special Court for Kosovo was explained was by saying in the Parliament debate that because we failed to provide justice and to address serious accusations of war crimes and crimes of different natures immediately after the war, the necessity arose to have a Special Court do that. Which means that we have some problems or issues with the rule of law that we have here and the question is we haven’t seen any sort of accountability in that department from the politicians who are running now the government or previous governments over the last fifteen years. So, how do you see the accountability issue and the question is: Is anybody ever going to answer for the possible misuse or not using the mandate properly, which he has taken from the voters in this country?

Ambassador Delawie: I’ve said publicly many times, working with the government to strengthen the rule of law is one of my top priorities during my time in Kosovo. There’s much to be done, and we will continue to make a contribution. The United States doesn’t keep spending money on things we don’t believe will work, so we believe we’re making an important investment and that reform can happen. I have visited rule of law sector projects in places like Gjilan and Ferizaj, and I do see progress being made. I know public perception of the judiciary is low. I think we – the international community and Kosovo’s citizens and their leaders, recognize that Kosovo’s rule of law sector has faced and continues to face numerous challenges. The issue of accountability is a work in progress. Let’s not forget that in Kosovo’s case, it had to start from scratch and build new systems while simultaneously stabilizing and rebuilding a war-torn country. It takes a lot of time and effort to build a strong and efficient judicial system that can earn the respect of a country’s citizens. So, while we should all recognize and work to improve deficiencies, we should not forget that Kosovo has come a long way. Our Embassy has supported a number of initiatives to support and strengthen the rule of law and judiciary in Kosovo. Last year we spent about $15 million in pursuit of these goals. A couple of examples: our Department of Justice programs are entirely dedicated to supporting and strengthening Kosovo’s rule of law and justice sector. We send justices to Wake Forest University in the United States to an education and training program to help increase their skills. On September 21, I attended the inauguration of the new Basic Prosecution Office in Gjilan, where USAID had supported the renovation of the Basic Court building in that city a few years ago. In Ferizaj, I heard the chief judge describe how the Basic Court has used USAID-provided infrastructure, computers, and training to reduce the case backlog and to make case status more transparent to the public. I understand people’s impatience for change now. I’m impatient, too. I’m glad people are impatient; it helps spur those of us in government to work harder, to fulfill our goals.

Koha Ditore: I don’t think that there’s anybody who’s not aware about the U.S. contribution during and after the war here, especially these years with the USAID and the kind of money that was invested to improve not only the judicial infrastructure and rule of law. But the problem seems to be that people don’t see results being equivalent to the kind of investment that was put in, not only in terms of financial investment and assistance, but also in terms of political importance of this issue. I mean, we are talking about corruption, fighting organized crime and it is still a dominant issue whenever you read a report about Kosovo. I mean, fifteen years after the war, we are at the point where Germany was probably in the beginning of 1960s, if we count the years. So, we should have had a better progress, I mean especially in fighting corruption.

Ambassador Delawie: I hear you, and I think we all know corruption remains one of the chief obstacles to Kosovo’s progress on its European path. The effects of corruption, I mean, you live here, you know, touch all levels of society. It’s not my role to pass judgment or to characterize the actions of Kosovo’s elected politicians or the opposition. That’s the job of the voters. I can tell you the costs of corruption to a society go far beyond the price of a bribe. Corruption costs Kosovo jobs — it needs to keep its young people here to help build a better country. The 2013 World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators on control of corruption placed Kosovo in the 31st percentile – that’s the bottom third in the world.  This is a big problem. That’s not a good place to be. And you know, there’s no magic wand to fix it. It’s going to take a lot of work on institutions, infrastructure, training, and culture as well as other areas to bring this problem under control. The United States and the international community continue to invest heavily in providing technical assistance to counter this problem. We have worked to promote fair treatment for bidders on public procurement projects, for example. We’ve trained police, prosecutors, judges and as I said last week at the National Anti-Corruption Council meeting, the key to fighting corruption is to have a system where agencies work together, where the police, the prosecutors, and the judiciary work together to implement justice, and where the people understand that if they see corruption, they can report it and something will be done. Now, earlier this month I signed an amendment to the bilateral Development Objective Grant Agreement that further outlined the U.S. Government’s commitment to provide $25 million to support programs on rule of law, governance, as well as to promote investment and employment in Kosovo. We can, we will help, but Kosovo’s institutions are ultimately accountable, ultimately responsible for ensuring that corrupt individuals are held accountable. We have repeatedly called for officials indicted by a prosecutor for corruption to be suspended until their cases are resolved.

Koha Ditore: What was the answer if there ever was to this call? I mean, we have still officials, who are not suspended and are not even facing trials.

Ambassador Delawie:  Well, this government has begun to do so.  It appears committed to cleansing its ranks of indicted civil servants. I don’t have the names of these people, I’ve just been here a few weeks, but this is a key factor and it is going to continue to be important to us.

Koha Ditore: You mentioned twice that people have the possibility to have their say when they vote and that’s, you know, a four-year mandate is usual here. But, how can people live between these two moments of voting if they are dissatisfied, especially when we talk about the economic situation and the disillusionment with the kind of lack of progress that they see in moving forward towards a society which is more just and more prosperous. I mean, we are facing huge economic obstacles and we don’t see any real measures being taken or at least we don’t feel any effect of that sort of thinking with the government and other institutions.

Ambassador Delawie: Promoting economic growth and private sector investment is one of the United States’ key priorities in Kosovo, and as you say, it’s key to Kosovo’s long-term economic health and the prosperity of its citizens. There’s been some progress on that front. I just read the World Bank’s Easy of Doing Business indicators for 2015, Kosovo has moved from 81 to 75 – from last year to this year, that’s… it’s good, it’s not great, but it’s good. Kosovo’s economic development is certainly one of my key priorities, and we have some programs underway. But, there are obstacles. Kosovo has to do more to improve its attractiveness as a destination for investment.  Two key steps are to reduce the perception and reality of corruption, which we have already talked about, and to enhance the capacity of the judiciary. If you’re an investor, you want to know that if you have a dispute with somebody else, you can go to the court and get this dispute arbitrated quickly and fairly. The United States has partnered with Kosovo’s institutions, with its civil society, and small businesses to make progress on this front through USAID’s Business Enabling Environment Program. Our USAID and Department of Justice colleagues have also worked with the courts to improve transparency and strengthen capabilities. I’ve recently visited a USAID-supported greenhouse project in northern Kosovo that’s contributing to agricultural productivity and contributing to employment. We are working with companies in other sectors, such as wood products and pellet stoves, a business I did not know existed, to leverage their businesses and to help encourage employment opportunities. I mentioned already the Kosovo Credit Guarantee Fund, but let me tell you a little bit more about that. This is designed and supported by USAID, although other donors are pitching in money as well. It’s a guarantee fund that can help catalyze 400 million euros in new lending to small and medium enterprises and we hope to create around 20,000 jobs over the next six years. To implement this program, it’s critical that the Assembly pass the relevant law as soon as possible in order to put all the donors’ 18 million euros to work to establish the fund this year. This is a hard problem. We are trying to help, but it’s a hard problem.

Koha Ditore: Certainly it will be a problem for the foreseeable future because these things seem to take time here. I thank you for the interview.

Ambassador Delawie: Thank you.