Ambassador Delawie’s Interview with Radio Free Europe (RFE)

Ambassador Delawie’s Interview with Radio Free Europe (RFE), Juna 26, 2016

Radio Free Europe (RFE):  Ambassador Delawie, thank you very much for sharing your time with Radio Free Europe today.

Ambassador Delawie:  You are very welcome. It is my pleasure to be here.

RFE:  Thank you. When you got here, you found a turbulent Kosovo and it still continues to be, almost a year since your arrival. Is it getting any better?

Ambassador Delawie:  Well, let’s look at the balance. We have several very positive things that have happened: Kosovo has qualified for the Millennium Challenge Corporation Assistance Program from the U.S. Government, it has signed up to the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union – those are both extremely significant positives. Looking at another couple of positives, Kosovo got into UEFA, it got into FIFA and Kosovo athletes will be traveling to Rio de Janeiro in a month or two to compete in the Olympic Games, for the first time, under the flag of Kosovo. So, those are all very significant events and we shouldn’t forget that positive things do happen here. On the other side, there are things that everybody knows about: there was political violence in the fall and winter in the Assembly that cost Kosovo economically. It made it impossible for Kosovo to join UNESCO and participate fully in international institutions. And, there are continuing problems of unemployment, of corruption and things like that. So, there have been ups and downs, absolutely. But,  I have only been here ten months or so, and I have met so many young Kosovars who are dedicated, who are committed, who have ideals, and I am convinced that Kosovo is going to continue to succeed. I am an optimist and I am certainly going to be optimistic about Kosovo.

RFE:  Demarcation of the border with Montenegro has shaken the political scene in Kosovo. Is it too difficult to re-evaluate this issue, for the sake of the political stability?

Ambassador Delawie:  I have to say, I just think this is a fake issue and the manufactured controversy over it is what is creating political instability. Let’s look at the facts: the border that was defined by the Government Commission is identical to the border that existed between Kosovo and Montenegro in 1974, it is the border against which Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. The State Department reviewed this in December and found out it is the same as the 2008 border. The International Commission evaluated it in February and March and announced in March it was the same border and the decision was correct. I should point out that the Commission’s findings are identical to the border depicted on millions of Kosovo flags, throughout the country and around the world. So, I am disappointed that people are taking advantage of this – they are trying to pick a fight with Montenegro which is a friendly and supportive country for Kosovo, for domestic political gain. This is going to continue to hold Kosovo back on its integration into Europe.

RFE:  Association of the Municipalities with Serb Majority is part of the negotiated agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, in Brussels dialogue. Some have claimed the Association leads toward ethnic divisions and threatens Kosovo’s territorial integrity. Should this Association be created even though it may create divisions, in Kosovo?

Ambassador Delawie:  Well, I disagree with that point of view, I have to say that anyone who doesn’t think there are already ethnic tensions in Kosovo is deluding himself. The purpose of creating the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities is to give a little bit stronger voice to the Serbian minority community for things that are particularly important and relevant to that language group – this is education, healthcare, and things like that, but within Kosovo’s law, within Kosovo’s Constitution. So, of course, the broader idea behind the Association is that it could help promote the elimination of the parallel structures that exist today in the majority municipalities, so that everybody, all of Kosovo’s communities, will work better together within Kosovo’s constitutional structures and it becomes more and more of a unified state.

RFE:  The agreement, Ambassador, on normalizing the relations between Kosovo and Serbia was reached more than three years ago. Today, though, not much has been done to implement it – all agreements that have been reached in dialogue. Is there a sense of continuing this dialogue, [without] at least Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo’s statehood?

Ambassador Delawie:  First of all, I have to disagree – I think things have surely been achieved under the dialogue. Here I think about things like customs collections along Kosovo’s northern border, the integration of the Police, the dissolution of Civil Protection Units, elections across the entire state of Kosovo. So, you know, these are all real positives that have spun out of the dialogue over the last couple of years. Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there is a certain amount of dialogue fatigue and that we haven’t made a whole lot of progress in implementing the agreements that were reached last August. But, you know, for Kosovo to achieve its goal, my goal for it certainly, of full integration in the European institutions, a better relationship between Kosovo and Serbia is an essential element of that. So, I intend to keep working on these issues, and you know, we’ll just have to keep working harder with Kosovo and Serbia to realize some of these agreements made, and figure out what else we can do that would really help improve the lives of people on the ground.

RFE:  While we speak about the European integration we have seen in these last days new developments within the European Union, with Britain, the United Kingdom, somehow deciding to leave it, while Kosovo and the region are keen to be integrated to the European Union. Will Brexit, let’s call it that, slow down the integration process for the Balkan region and for Kosovo, too?

Ambassador Delawie:  I think realistically nobody knows today exactly what Brexit is going to lead to or when that’s going to happen. But, I do have a couple of comments on the general issue. First of all, the deep relationships and friendships between the United States and Britain and the rest of the European Union are going to continue. Our goal is to continue to work with all of Europe to spread peace, prosperity and stability throughout Europe, throughout the world. And, we intend to keep working on that and I’m sure European partners will as well. Some of the commentary I’ve seen in the press about political-economic instability in Europe being good for the United States is just ridiculous. People who say that don’t understand our policy and don’t understand how the world really works. All that said, I think there’s a lesson here for Kosovo, in this whole Brexit experience. Just reading from the press it was clear to me that there were a lot of people voting “go” who felt disconnected from the officials in Brussels who were making decisions that affect their lives. As government officials, I think this is something we need to pay attention to and Kosovo’s leaders as well need to make sure that they are doing everything possible to ensure that the citizens of Kosovo all across the country who are their employers feel that the politicians here in Pristina are really working for them. That’s I think the relevant lesson for Kosovo from the Brexit experience.

RFE:  As we move on, let me say, to the domestic issues in Kosovo, there have been some voices raised about instability within Kosovo especially in the coming period. The Special Court on War Crimes is one of these issues that can shake the stability in Kosovo. It will deal with former KLA members and as such it does have the potential to deteriorate the situation. Do you agree with that?

Ambassador Delawie:  To be honest, I do not know what the Special Court is going to do, and I am 99% sure that no one else in Kosovo knows either. But I do know this, the United States believes that every victim deserves justice. Secretary Kerry talked about the Special Court when he was here in December and he noted that it was important for Kosovo to put to bed these lingering allegations from the war period. I also believe this is an important issue that Kosovo will have to deal with as it works for its integration into European institutions.

RFE:  During almost one year in Kosovo you have addressed several times the issue of organized crime and corruption. Kosovo is again among the most corrupt countries in the world. Where does the fight against this phenomenon stall?

Ambassador Delawie:  Corruption is a difficult issue for every country in the world and it is my single most important goal during my time as Ambassador here to fight against corruption in Kosovo. Just this year we are spending about $12 million on what we call the Justice Sector Strengthening Project, which is an effort to improve transparency and efficiency in the justice sector. Transparency, you probably know, is one of the key elements in fighting corruption. If I had a magic wand to work on this believe me I would use it on corruption in Kosovo, which is a problem that has persisted for a long time. There are some glimmers of positive news on this. Just a month or two ago EULEX, working closely with Kosovo institutions, arrested about 50 people in an alleged organized criminal group and accused them of stealing public property and selling it to others. I think that this type of successful operation so far is one of the reasons that I have been speaking so often about the importance of EULEX remaining in Kosovo for another period. A second example is local institutions, police and prosecutors in Kosovo, indicted dozens of people just a few weeks ago on a case of alleged corruption in the Health Ministry. This seemed to be a very complicated case, and it is terrific that the prosecutors and police of Kosovo were able to put all this together. We’ll have to see how the evidence leads, and we’ll have to see what the justice sector does with both of these cases, but I think it is important to acknowledge progress where progress happens.

RFE:  Is there any connection between politics and the organized crime and corruption in Kosovo?

Ambassador Delawie:  The accountability of elected officials is vitally important in the conduct of government and certainly I think citizens should take their evaluations of whether the politicians they are considering voting for are making progress against corruption or are involved in corruption when they are making their voting decisions. I think any government official of any kind, whether a politician or a civil servant, who has been indicted for corruption should be at least suspended from his or her public responsibilities until the case is ultimately resolved. I think it is also important to recognize that corruption is not solely an issue of senior government officials and politicians. It is something that a lot of people face in their daily live such as paying under the table for medical treatment to be included in insurance or paying for grades in school. Or signing up for veterans benefits that one didn’t really earn. These are all examples of corruption that damage Kosovo’s population and damage Kosovo’s future.

RFE:  Ambassador there have been serious concerns about the movement of violent extremism within Kosovo. How much is Kosovo today under the threat of these movements?

Ambassador Delawie:  Well, we’re all under the threat of these movements, I have to say and my heart goes out to my friends in Turkey and the families of the victims in the horrible attack in Istanbul Airport. So it is something we’ve all got to work hard on. Kosovo has taken a lot of the right steps, especially in the last two years. The law on foreign terrorist fighters. Senior government officials have gone to summits in the United States and Tirana dealing with countering violent extremism. Those are very important steps. I should also mention I guess just a few weeks ago, there were seven individuals who were sentenced to some 40 years in prison all told for either going to fight and die in other people’s wars or encouraging others to do so. So these are positive steps. I’d love to say that we’ve solved the problem, but honestly, I don’t think anyone has cracked the code on dealing with this. All of our countries are in kind of experimentation mode. What works? What doesn’t work? What can we learn from each other? But we have terrific partners in Kosovo working on these issues and I am very happy about that.

RFE:  Let me ask you: this interview is realized few days before the celebrations for 240th Anniversary of U.S. Independence Day. Kosovo is the most pro-American country in the world today. What do you think is the meaning of the U.S. Independence Day for Kosovo? 

Ambassador Delawie:  I think it is important for people in Kosovo to recognize that when the United States started out, it was a small country. It faced many challenges. It was a multiethnic, multi-faith, multi-lingual country when all of those things were new. We had challenges. We had tough disagreements with a former enemy. We had border disputes. And we had our own citizens trying to figure out, what kind of government should we really have? We tried one thing and it didn’t work. And so we had to try another thing a few years later. But we succeeded. And over 200 years later, you know, the United States is a vibrant, strong democracy today. And it fulfills the vision of the many people who had the highest hopes for our country. That’s my same hope for Kosovo. In dozens and hundreds of years, Kosovo will still be a vibrant and strong democracy that will help its citizens achieve really what they want. That’s my aspiration for Kosovo, and I have to say, I am absolutely happy to be celebrating our independence day in the country outside the United States that is the most pro-American in the world.

RFE:  Thank you very much indeed.

Ambassador Delawie:  Thank you very much.