Ambassador Delawie’s Interview with Koha Ditore

Ambassador Delawie’s Interview with Koha Ditore, September 27, 2018

Koha Ditore: Ambassador, we now have a new government, and what is the expectation from the new government and to what extent is it realistically possible for the Government to fulfill these expectations, both yours and from the society, taking into account the very slim parliamentary majority they have?

Ambassador Delawie: I have been meeting with many of the new ministers of the new government and my expectation and my hope is that all of them will work to advance the interest of Kosovo and Kosovo’s citizens, both domestically and in the world. The priorities I have been talking about are rule of law, economic development, and regional security. Of course, there are domestic priorities that the government should have in mind as well.

On the numbers issue that you raised, 61 out of 120 is about as close as you can get and still have a majority. But, you also have to look back to the last government. The last Assembly had a vast majority and the Assembly couldn’t really achieve much. I’m hopeful that the new Assembly, even if they are only a 61, 1 seat majority basically, can achieve things.

Koha Ditore: But you would expect the opposition to be more constructive in order to help the government to achieve at least some of the things?

Ambassador Delawie: There are some things that are not particularly politically controversial and I would certainly hope the opposition will help get those things done. I think Kosovo needs to move ahead. I think everybody recognizes that. Clearly there are some divisive issues, but then there are other issues that probably aren’t so divisive.

Koha Ditore: Among the divisive issues, probably we can count demarcation issue since it was one of those that caused a lot of trouble in the past two or three years. Does US endorse/support-because we need to clarify because it has been a thing of some misunderstanding from the government and the media. Does the US endorse/support the steps that new government has undertaken to address the issue of demarcation agreement with Montenegro? Does US support re-opening the issue in order to achieve different deal with Podgorica?

Ambassador Delawie: I think our position on this has been pretty clear for the last couple of years. We believe that the agreement that was reached in 2015 accurately reflects the border that has existed between Kosovo and Montenegro since at least 1974. Of course, the border between two countries is a bilateral issue. It is between Kosovo and Montenegro. My main plea here is that no one do anything that would disrupt the really good relations between these two countries. Good relations with Montenegro are extremely important for Kosovo. I think on the other side, good relations with Kosovo are important for Montenegro. Montenegro supported Kosovo a lot in the world. It continues to do so, it is a brand new NATO member, and I want to make sure, however this border demarcation issue works out, relations between Kosovo and Montenegro are maintained in the same steady state they are in today.

Koha Ditore: Another of those “hot” topics is the dialogue. There’s renewed calls to change the format and the content of the Brussels dialogue. What is the US position regarding that, the change of the format? Do you think having the President lead the dialogue could produce better results, or maybe that would make the rift between the government and opposition even deeper?

Ambassador Delawie: I think it is important to recognize the Dialogue has already delivered important, positive things for Kosovo and its citizens: customs collections in the north, the telephone code that is going to go into effect in a few months, things like that. The integration of the Kosovo Police in the north and the rest of the Kosovo Police, for example. It is important to recognize the Dialogue has brought substantial benefits to Kosovo. Exactly how the Dialogue is organized? The Dialogue belongs to Kosovo and to Serbia and the EU is facilitating it and the U.S. is supporting it, strongly, and we have done a lot to help over the years. If the two governments want to change exactly how they manage the Dialogue that is not a problem for me as long as they agree. The Dialogue is all about the two countries agreeing. I think that is fine. I think it is positive that both countries are looking at ways to reinvigorate or refresh the Dialogue, which had some rough months.

Koha Ditore: But as a supporter as you said, what do you see as the best way forward in the path of trying to reach consensus within Kosovo regarding the Dialogue? Which institution do you think could do this?

Ambassador Delawie: I don’t want to take a position on exactly how the Kosovo government should organize itself to deal with this issue because it is not up to me, it is up to the Kosovo government. I think it is important that everybody recognize there are real gains to be made from the Dialogue with Serbia. Improvement of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is essential for both countries to advance their progress towards European Union membership. I think it is reasonable to try to incorporate the points of views of as many political actors in Kosovo as possible.

Koha Ditore: Part of the Dialogue is the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities, which has also been a point of a lot of discuss. The issue is unresolved and the matter has rested after the Constitutional Court made public its findings. What do you expect this government to do now, since the previous one simply didn’t address the issue?

Ambassador Delawie: The Association of Serb Majority Municipalities is a leftover promise from the Ahtisaari Plan, so it has been around for a while. I think the Constitutional Court ruling in maybe December of 2015, whenever it was, was important. I certainly think the Association should comply with the Kosovo Constitution. I was happy to see the EUSR Apostolova’s statement the other day that that was the vision of the European Union as well. I think it is important what the Association does is it makes it easier for the Serb majority municipalities to work together on common issues like healthcare and education where language is really important. I’m convinced that Kosovo has nothing to fear, that citizens of Kosovo, of whatever ethnic group, have nothing to fear from the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities. I think that once it happens and people see what it is like then their anxiety level will go down. To me, the Association is about strengthening Kosovo’s sovereignty over the entirety of its territory, elimination of parallel structures that are run by a foreign state and putting all the aspects of municipal governance firmly within the realm of Kosovo’s Constitutional provisions.

Koha Ditore: You say this Association poses no threat whatsoever to Kosovo’s order, in terms of as it was said, it might lead to some sort of partition or Bosnia-like situation?

Ambassador Delawie: We have the experience of watching Bosnia over the years. We know about Republika Srpska. That is absolutely not what at least my government is intending to help create. We are looking for a solution that enhances Kosovo’s sovereignty rather than reduces Kosovo’s sovereignty.

Koha Ditore: When we talk about sovereignty, another issue which has been debated this year has been the transformation of the security force into an armed force. There has been a difference of opinions between the President’s view, the government’s, your’s, and then the NATO view, whether this should be done through simple law or should be done through Constitutional means. There is again this plan on the part of government and the presidency to move with the law formation of the KSF instead of Constitution, which would require the thirds. Do you see this as a problem?

Ambassador Delawie: First, I want to point out that there is no foreign country that has supported the Kosovo Security Force more than the United States. We are very happy with the development of the KSF over the years and our ability to make important contributions to their training, to their doctrine, to their equipment and things like that. I support a gradual, professional, transparent transformation of the KSF into a future Kosovo Armed Forces. The future Kosovo Armed Forces should be a multi-ethnic force that reflects all of Kosovo’s communities. To get from here to there, I certainly support amendment of the Kosovo Constitution to deal with that issue. Of course that means winning the support of the minority communities in Kosovo. I think this is achievable. I am willing to help myself, with my team as well as myself.

What I would really like to see more of is sustained political outreach to all of Kosovo’s communities, including the majority community who I don’t think understands very well exactly what this would be all about and what it would mean in practical terms, but certainly the minority communities to explain: this is what we have in mind, there is a plan and it is public on the internet, anybody can read it; and that it is not directed against any group, any one, and things of that nature. I would really like to see more political outreach by government officials to explain what this is all about, which I believe would help win the support that is needed for a Constitutional amendment.

Koha Ditore: You wouldn’t want them to put simply a proposition of the law now, instead you would expect them to talk to the society and the minority to go for amending the Constitution?

Ambassador Delawie: That is certainly my preference. Now, as I’ve said before, we don’t think anyone should have a veto over the transformation of the Kosovo Security Forces. I do want to see political outreach to especially the minority communities but to everybody, as I mentioned, that would be my strong preference.

Koha Ditore: Talking about minorities. We just recently had in the first week of the government, we had this incident in which members of the public accused one of the Serb Ministers for wrongdoing during the war. What do you think would be the proper way of dealing with these kind of allegations and accusations, not only of Minister Rikalo’s case, but I would assume that there could be other cases in which persons in positions of power are accused of wrongdoings during the war. How do you think the state, the institutions, the government and everybody else should deal with these issues?

Ambassador Delawie: The first principle in any democracy is innocent until proven guilty. I think that should apply definitely in this case. I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Minister Rikalo so I don’t know anything about this that is not public information, but I do know that the war was a very sensitive period for everybody in Kosovo. I would hope that accusations against anybody would be well-grounded and not just inflammatory. These inflammatory accusations were a standard communist tactic in the old days and I certainly hope no one wants to go back to that here. My understanding from the press is that Kosovo authorities are working to look into these allegations and I think that should be done, that should be completed and then if the conclusions need to be drawn, that is the time to draw them.

Koha Ditore: So you think that any possible case like this should be dealt with in the same manner?

Ambassador Delawie: I think so. If you are going to make accusations against someone for crimes, then that person, whether he is a politician or the guy selling apples down the street should be dealt with the same way. There should be investigations and appropriate conclusions drawn based on real evidence.

Koha Ditore: We just had a few minor clashes with the new government as media, not ourselves as a newspaper but I think in the media community as well. I think there is a feeling of pressure toward journalists that journalists feel. Recently, there are cases of threats and even attacks. What’s your message to government, opposition, institutions, politicians, and all other public entities, when it comes to the freedom of media?

Ambassador Delawie: I think that freedom of media is one of the absolutely most important elements of any democratic society. One of our early presidents, Thomas Jefferson, once said, “If I were given a choice between a government with no media and a media with no government, I would choose the media with no government.” That has been our policy for two hundred and some years, is in support of free media. I recognize that sometimes media tells you stuff you don’t want to hear, sometimes they say things that are not true. But it is a fundamental principle of democracy that the media be able to exercise its role in society. It helps keep the government accountable, it helps keep citizens informed as to what is going on, for good or for bad, in the country. I would certainly caution any government officials about doing anything that would threaten the independence of free media in Kosovo, which is one of the strong elements I think of this country.

Koha Ditore: The United States is continuing to support Kosovo politically and financially as well. Recently, Kosovo was awarded $49 million through the MCC fund, which could have been much higher if we would not have had these problems with corruption issues that were addressed less than expected.  Do you feel the US assistance to Kosovo is delivering the expected results, because it has been almost 20 years that it has been sustained financial and other support?

Ambassador Delawie: First of all I think it is important to focus on the positive. Under this agreement with MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation), which is a U.S. assistance agency, we will be working on about $49 million of projects, primarily in the energy efficiency sector and the rule of law sector. Both of these are high priorities for the US in Kosovo of course, I talk about rule of law all the time and energy efficiency is important to us all. Let’s focus on the positive. This is $49 million in new money over several years that will be targeted toward specific programs to increase transparency in the rule of law, to help improve energy efficiency in a couple of cities. We hope that both of these projects will set the stage for expansions in these areas, they are kind of pilot projects.

Getting to your specific question, the United States has provided around $900 million in economic assistance to Kosovo over the last 18 years or so. I see the results of that all the time. Whether I’m talking about raspberries, wooden furniture, shoes, government statistics, the foundations of Kosovo’s governing structures- all of these things we have played a contributory role in over the years and I see it all the time. Yes, I think it is being used in a good way. Are there one or two projects over the years that didn’t go as well as we thought? Probably, that’s life, that probably happens for the media too. But absolutely we are pleased with the results and we are going to keep working on things like that.

Koha Ditore: Before we conclude I wanted to ask you one last question about the recent decision of the Supreme Court, which actually reversed the previous decision of the Election Commission to decertify several candidates because of their court records. You expressed regret about this decision, what was the regret concretely about? Because we understand that among those who were initially decertified there was a case of a person who is a Member of Parliament and to the public it is a little bit odd that one should be able to run for Parliament but then be disqualified for the local level.

Ambassador Delawie: I think it is important to understand exactly what happened. Through the Parliamentary elections in June, candidates would self-certify that they had not been convicted of a crime that would make it illegal for them to run. Starting with the municipal elections just a month ago, the courts reviewed the candidate lists and compared it with the database of people who had convictions. In the past people were self-certifying that they had not been convicted. For the municipal elections, the courts reviewed the names and flagged the names where convictions happened. That is the difference- whether you self-certify or whether someone else approves you.

We are unhappy with the outcome of the decision because we feel that Kosovo voters are looking for candidates for municipal assemblies, for mayors’ races, that don’t have criminal pasts. With this decision, these 86, or whatever the number, people that have been disqualified will be able to run.

Koha Ditore: But it is a decision of the Supreme Court so it all comes down to the Supreme Court has decided in this case wrongly?

Ambassador Delawie: I try to avoid talking about decisions by judges because judicial independence is such an important issue. But, that is why I talked about the outcome. The outcome is that these people who have criminal pasts will be able to run. We know from public opinion polls that Kosovo citizens are tired of politicians acting with impunity in the face of justice. This outcome just feeds that perception.

And it is up to Kosovo’s voters, I hope, to take that into account as they make their decision at the voting booth next month.

Koha Ditore: Ambassador, thank you.

Ambassador Delawie: Thank you very much.