Ambassador Delawie’s Interview with RTV 21

RTV 21: Dear RTV21 audience, we are pleased to welcome U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie. Mr. Ambassador, welcome to RTV21.

Ambassador Delawie: Thank you very much Besiana. It is great to be here.

RTV 21: Let us start this conversation with the latest developments in the country. The most outspoken issue in the country lately and also things that U.S. Vice President mentioned while visiting Kosovo. What do you think were the main messages of the Vice President during the visit to Kosovo?

Ambassador Delawie: Vice President Biden said that Kosovo has no greater friend than the United States. He said we are committed to Kosovo’s development as a prosperous, peaceful, multi-ethnic democracy on the way to Euro-Atlantic integration. Vice President Biden also has some tough words about corruption and nepotism and about how these difficult problems hold Kosovo’s people back from realizing the future that they envision. He also made important points about Kosovo’s relationships with its neighbors. He said that the border agreement that you mentioned between Kosovo and Montenegro should be ratified. He talked about the importance of continuing Kosovo’s work with Serbia in the dialogue agreements that are bringing both countries closer to full integration into Europe. And, his final message was to condemn the violence and the intimidation that we have seen in Kosovo recently. He said that those were incompatible with modern democracy.

RTV 21: The Kosovo Assembly, however, has set September 1 as the day when the border agreement with Montenegro is supposed to be ratified. In the meantime, tensions between the parties have been significantly increased. What are your expectations? Should this agreement pass at the Assembly session on September 1 and what would happen in case the agreement is not ratified?

Ambassador Delawie: I think it is in Kosovo’s interest for it to pass. And I hope it does! The United States’ position on this is pretty clear. The Border Demarcation Commission identified the same border that is in the Ahtisaari plan; it is the same border that Kosovo submitted to the Euro-Geography Institute in 2007 as it prepared for independence; it is the same border that Kosovo declared independence against in 2008; and it is the same border that appears on hundreds of thousands of flags throughout Kosovo.

I attended the border demarcation roundtable at the Assembly a couple of weeks ago, and I listened to all the arguments. I think that it was clear that those opposed to the agreement had no valid arguments against the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. I’ve read some remarkable interpretations of what Vice President Biden had to say about this. So, I brought along the text of what he said, just so I would get it exactly right. This is also on our web site, of course. Vice President Biden said this agreement, “it is a fair agreement.” Those were his exact words. Lest there be any misunderstanding of that, he said it twice more: “It is a fair agreement, it is a fair agreement.”

Now, there is a great expression in my country about: “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has ever put on its boots.” I think the misrepresentations we’ve heard about this border demarcation agreement really proved that to be true. I also have to say that the Government of Kosovo did a poor job of explaining what this agreement is all about, what it meant when it was first negotiated a year or more ago. But, lack of explanation doesn’t mean the agreement is wrong.

Many of those opposing the agreement really could care less about the facts – they are only interested in using xenophobia and nationalism to create trouble and to achieve political power. They already have the ability to travel in the EU because they have foreign passports or they have Schengen visas, and they know the consequences of their actions will be borne only by average Kosovo citizens and not by themselves. Just as important as the outcome in the Assembly and the vote on September 1 will be the way the vote is conducted and the way the debate is conducted. Additional political violence like teargas, hand grenades, threats against MPs, will only set Kosovo further and further back on its road to integration into European institutions.

RTV 21: Mr. Ambassador, you believe that this agreement will be adopted in the September 1 session but what if it that doesn’t happen, doesn’t get the necessary number of votes?

Ambassador Delawie: The first thing they teach you in diplomat school is not to answer hypothetical questions. The other thing that is important to know about diplomats is that you shouldn’t go in to the diplomacy business if you’re not an optimist. So, I’m going to be an optimist and I’m going to say I think it’s going to pass.

RTV 21: How do you respond to voices who say these days that foreign ambassadors in Kosovo should not interfere in demarcation and other processes?

Ambassador Delawie: Kosovo is a free country with free speech. I intend to use my own right of free speech to represent my government’s views and to express my concerns about what’s going on in Kosovo. I should clarify that when I express my views about Kosovo’s internal messages or internal issues, I always make it very clear what my goals are:  an independent, democratic, multi-ethnic, prosperous, peaceful country just like any other country in Europe.  Every single thing that my Embassy does is targeted at achieving those goals.

I think it is important to make this point because there are loud voices in this country who oppose these goals.  They don’t explain their goals in words because they know the reception that those words will receive. Their actions make their intentions very clear. Those conducting tear gas attacks, Molotov cocktails attacks, using grenades or RPGs, or threatening to murder political opponents are working to take Kosovo back to the 1990s, to a time of isolation, violence, and poverty.

I am astounded after all the suffering that we have seen in the Balkans these last 25 years, that some politicians in Kosovo still believe that political violence is a valid way to achieve political ends. I don’t want that for Kosovo. My country does not want that for Kosovo, and I don’t think the vast majority of Kosovo’s citizens want their futures to be determined by political violence either.

RTV 21: At the beginning of the interview, you pointed out that one of Vice President Biden’s key messages was the fight against corruption. He said that Kosovo cannot move ahead without seriously fighting corruption. Is this level of corruption really killing Kosovo? And, how is it possible to have such a level of corruption considering all the assistance Kosovo received continuously from the international community in the area of Rule of Law?

Ambassador Delawie: Every country has corruption, unfortunately. My country has corruption. I wish it did not. Vice President Biden said that corruption is a cancer, and I know that people here are frustrated with the lack of transparency, with the lack of economic growth, and they know that one of the key reasons for these failures is corruption.

That is why I speak constantly about the importance of dealing with the corruption problem in Kosovo. This is why my Embassy has multiple programs working with different branches of the rule of law institutions here in Kosovo to fight corruption and improve the rule of law. We are also trying to support things like the closure of loopholes in the criminal code that allowed convicted criminals to wander in and out of prison without any good reason.

I wish I had a magic wand that I could use to get rid of corruption in Kosovo. But I don’t and I can’t. There has to be a commitment by the people of Kosovo to hold their elected and appointed officials to a high standard. It requires these officials to put the interests of their country and their citizens first before the interests of themselves or their political party. The Stent Case has been a very positive sign. It must be pursued aggressively wherever the evidence leads. And then additional cases like it need to be pursued in the future as well. But I think it is important to point out positive movements on the corruption front when they happen.

RTV 21: Lately, some intercepted conversations have been published which prove PDK senior officials are controlling state institutions and process of employment from within? How do you see all this?

Ambassador Delawie: I’ve been following the Pronto 2 case closely. I understand why people are angry and frustrated by these conversations that we have all heard on the internet. I certainly would not want senior officials from my government to say things like that. We support the Kosovo institutions that are reviewing these wiretaps and we expect that they will be allowed to do their work independently and independent from any pressure from outside interests. Frankly, the only way to move forward on issues like this is for the people to see that they are being dealt with properly, professionally, by professional prosecutors, who are completely immune from political interference.

RTV 21: From the intercepted conversations one could tell that criteria for employment within institutions and boards is not professionalism but only based on political affiliation. Lately, the UK has initiated a project for employment based on professional criteria. What are your expectations?

Ambassador Delawie:  I want to say immediately that I support wholeheartedly the UK Embassy’s project, I am very happy to see that. This year has shown many examples of what the people of Kosovo are capable of when they compete on the basis of merit alone. Examples like Majlinda Kelmendi winning the gold medal at the Olympics in Rio, examples like the “Shok” film beating a hundred or more other strong competitors to become a finalist at the Oscars. For these types of competitions political influence gets you nowhere. It is merit alone.

This principle of merit needs to apply for senior appointments for government boards and civil service jobs as well. The Government of Kosovo really needs to commit to allowing those with the best skills, the most objective skills and the most objective merits, to rise to the top and prohibit the practice of nepotism or use of party affiliation to fulfill non-political civil service-type jobs.

RTV 21: Is this a fact that fighting corruption has to begin against the highest state officials, first? How does this process work in the United States?

Ambassador Delawie: I think that fighting corruption has to take place at every level of government. And you have things from citizens paying for personal documents, people applying for government benefits that they didn’t really earn or senior officials taking bribes for contracts. Those are all examples of corruption and they are all things that the institutions of Kosovo need to work on to counteract and to stop. People will only begin to have more faith in the judiciary and prosecution here in Kosovo when they see arrests and convictions for crimes they see every day and they know full well are going on.

I visited the Customs Service today, and I was very happy to see the leadership of the Customs Service use things like leadership tools, technology, and a commitment to public service to fight corruption, both within the service and with people outside trying to take advantage of the Customs Service’s benefits. Most people probably know that the Customs Service generates the vast majority of the revenues that the state of Kosovo uses for roads or police or health or whatever. The Customs Service is doing what I talk about all the time, it is a two-step process. You make it hard to be corrupt and you punish it when it happens. To make it hard to be corrupt they use technology, they use randomization techniques, they move people around constantly and they make it very hard to be corrupt. For punishment, they have a strong program to identify and punish people that are abusing the laws or that are abusing the rules of the Customs Service. These types of things have to be applied throughout the Kosovo governing system, at the national level and at the city level.

To get back to your question on the United States, we had a speaker here from our Department of Justice, the Public Integrity Section. He was here at a Dokufest just a couple of weeks ago. I saw him, he is a prosecutor. He was great, maybe his talk is up on the Internet, I hope it is. He talked for a while and took a lot of questions from the audience and it was a fascinating conversation. My biggest take away from him, the most important thing to know, is that professional prosecutors have to be able to operate and do their job in the absence of outside interference from politicians, from the public, from whatever. They have to be able to work independently and it is incumbent on the government of Kosovo and the people of Kosovo to insure that the prosecutors have the ability to do that.

RTV 21: Do you believe that Kosovo prosecutors have power and independence to initiate processes against high state officials?

Ambassador Delawie: The short answer to your question is yes, legally they have the power and the independence to prosecute high state officials. But having the power on paper does not mean that there are not external pressures that can influence the process and that of course would be a bad thing. This is one of the reasons why corruption is so hard to deal with in every country– outside pressure is not always visible to you and to me. And independent prosecutors aren’t enough if witnesses are intimidated or if a deciding judge is in the pocket of a defendant. Kosovo needs a legal system that is professional, that is capable, and is willing to expose corruption and to strengthen the rule of law, and make sure that the laws are enforced equally and fairly.

When Vice President Biden was in Kosovo last week, he read a quote from his son Beau Biden who had worked in Kosovo 15 years ago as a lawyer. And Beau Biden said, “We should pursue a system where everyone is subject to the same laws at the same time and where there are consequences for breaking those laws without exception. No one is above the law, no one is below it.” That’s what we strive for in the United States and we are not perfect in that of course, but I think that is what every state that strives to be a democracy should look for regarding corruption. Everyone needs to be equal before the law.

RTV 21: This is the last question Mr. Ambassador. What is your message for the citizens of Kosovo in this time of tensions and latest developments?

Ambassador Delawie: Vice President Biden said when he was here a week ago that Kosovo’s democracy and independence are a force for stability in the region. Of course I have to agree with my boss and I would elaborate a bit at this point though and say that Kosovo can definitely be an example for the entire region. But exactly the type of example depends on what Kosovo citizens do in the coming months. If they follow the path of democracy, they continue the path toward European integration and all European institutions. However, if the political violence increases, I think that risks taking Kosovo to the precipice, which of course would be bad for Kosovo’s citizens and for the other nations in the region. I think the citizens and the leaders of Kosovo have a responsibility to ensure that Kosovo’s considerable achievements so far are not undermined for short-term political gains. I would caution one more time: political violence only leads towards the depths, it does not lead toward the European future that the vast majority of Kosovo’s citizens want.

Thank you very much.