Ambassador Delawie’s Interview with Koha Ditore

Ambassador Delawie’s Interview with Koha Ditore, September 24, 2018

AB: I thought first, of actually asking you, you’re at the end of your mandate, and what would be the best thing that you will take out of here and go back home, or wherever you are going next.

AMB: Well, I think I will take out the satisfaction that we’ve accomplished a lot here over the last several years, and, I think of things like real improvements in the rule of law, we’ve got, for example, judicial decisions are now being published a lot more regularly, thousands as opposed to just dozens when I got here.   We’ve got the courts, the Supreme Court adopting sentencing guidelines, which is more than just a technical issue, that makes it a lot harder for people who have friends in high places to get low sentences when they‘re convicted of crimes.  With guidelines, the judges have to, if they deviate from the guidelines then they need to explain why, which I think is positive.  We helped save the Special Court, which is very important to the United States, so, that’s kind of the rule of law area.

AB: How difficult was it to do all these things that you are proud of, I mean especially the Special Court, we know that there was quite a fuss about it last December and January, how difficult was it to push for this to be, not disentangled.

AMB: It was hard, there was a lot of difficult conversations with a variety of people, there was a lot of public messaging, which is still available on our website, I’m sure. But, you know, that’s, that’s why I’m here, I am not here to do easy stuff, other people can do easy stuff.

AB: OK, and what do you see the challenges that are remaining for your, for the next Ambassador, what would be the two or three things that you would tell him to take a better look at because they are going to be there.

AMB: Well, I still think rule of law is how Kosovo succeeds or fails, and although we’ve, I think we’ve made progress, we’ve made a tangible difference, there’s a ways to go, and I think it’s….that is going to be crucial—continued progress in rule of law.  You know, I haven’t found the magic wand, if I had it, I’d wave it, I’d solve the problem. And unfortunately what you need is hard work, and engagement, and calling out problems, working behind the scenes and working publically on improvements in rule of law.  And, that solves a lot of problems, because there are substantial economic challenges, of course, with the high unemployment rate. But it’s hard to generate more jobs when corruption is a problem. The way to generate jobs is for private sector businesses, mostly, to invest and even a lot of Kosovo citizens are unwilling to invest, Kosovo citizens that have money, are unwilling to invest it here because of corruption challenges.  I’ve heard so many anecdotes.

AB: Which ones stick with you?

AMB: Oh, about paying thousands of euros…bribes for a building permit for a house. The petty….ten thousand may not be petty corruption….but you know, there’s corruption I think, and you know better than I do, at all levels, it really annoys people. Every public opinion poll where Kosovo citizens are asked what are your biggest concerns about your country, and corruption is always number one, and nepotism is number two, and then unemployment is typically number three. Of course those are related.  So, economics is a big issue, dealing with unemployment is a big issue, it won’t come easily, we’re doing a lot, but, it’s not a short term problem.  And then, the regional stability question, what’s Kosovo’s relationship with Serbia.  How do we get beyond the kind of block where we are now, and spend less time on the Dialogue with Serbia issue, because it’s been resolved, there’s a way forward.

AB: But exactly this has been part of the very tense debate in the last couple of weeks, even months. The notion that Presidents Thaci and Vucic have some deal in mind, which involves exchange of territories.  And, of course, we’ve heard what U.S. had to say so far, it has clarified to a certain extent, the position but it seems to be at odds with what we have expected so far, or what Germany would say. So what is exactly the position? I know that you have been asked this a lot, but I think now before going, how clearly do you see the way forward, from the perspective of U.S. when we talk about this deal and the change of borders and swap of territories?

AMB: Well, our position is, I think, pretty straightforward.  It is…continues to be, that we are looking for a solution to arise organically from the two countries, that we are not going to tell the two countries what the solution should be.  It needs to emerge from them.  The solution needs to be durable, it needs to be embraceable by the citizens of both countries.  It needs to contribute to stability in the region rather than detract from stability in the region, and those are the main things.

AB: What would you say the red lines are then?

AMB: I’m not talking about solutions. The solutions have to come from Kosovo and Serbia.

AB: But certainly not everything that would come from two Presidents would…could be acceptable. I mean they could come up with any given thing.

AMB: Well, we have not said we’ll accept just anything. We have said we will look at a proposed solution and we will express our concerns if we have.

AB: Have you talked with allies about this because there seems to be difference of opinions about this issue between different states of QUINT group, for example.

AMB: We’re in constant discussion with allies and, I leave it to you to figure out if there are nuances and difference in position from one country to the next.

AB: The Dialogue has also caused a lot of tense situations within Kosovo and the fact that we have institutional blockage, so to say, they are not able to come up with a unified position on this. We have the Parliament which has not been able to take a stand, take a position, in relation to this. Although, most of the Parliamentary parties are against this notion of change of borders. And then the President continues to push for direction despite he lacks the backing of the parties even within the government. What do you think the future holds? I mean not from the perspective or position of the U.S., but from the perspective of somebody who has seen the last three years how political confrontation within institutions can block the whole of the country. What would you see coming next, and how would you see a way out from this? Or what would you expect them to do?

AMB: That’s a good question. I have tried to make clear for the last several months that the Dialogue process requires democratic legitimacy that it currently lacks. I think that it’s up to the Assembly to provide democratic legitimacy. The Assembly has not been able to get sixty-one votes for anything related to the Dialogue, unfortunately. I still will keep arguing for that. My colleagues will keep arguing for that. Any solution that emerges from the Dialogue that comes without some kind of democratic legitimacy is going to be hard to sell here (AB: Or implement) or implement.

So, I understand the political parties are all jockeying for their domestic political position which….that’s kind of their job to a certain extent, but I think people also need to think what’s best for the country. I’m not sure you can just say what’s best for the country is my party’s elected next time and then you’re done with it. I think if you’re in politics you owe it to your constituents who elected you to work for the good of the country. And I would love to see the Assembly coalesce around some outline of the strategy—what does Kosovo want out of this Dialogue?  What are Kosovo’s goals? What is Kosovo for?  It is fine to be against things, but people should be for things as well.

AB: Do you have faith they can do that?

AMB: Oh, I know they can.

AB: But they won’t. At least at the moment.

AMB: It has not happened yet. And you should not be a diplomat if you’re not an optimist and I’m just going to be an optimist and say I think they can do it, they should do it, and they should provide some direction.

AB: Let’s move to the other issue which has resurfaced, so to say, in the recent days in the public debate, and that is transformation of Kosovo Security Force, which has been announced. Actually, the government took a decision to move forward with transformation through law, not constitution. In the past, U.S. and NATO and most of the west has considered that it has to be done through constitution, has the view changed, or you still think this is not a good idea, to do it through it law.

AMB: First of all I’ve got to say that no one has supported the Kosovo Security Force more than the United States. And I think the timing of the announcement last week was not terrific. And I think what’s important now is for Kosovo’s leaders to continue to engage with the public, all the communities. Kind of explain what this is all about. I think they need to reassure the minority communities especially, the KSF would be about protecting everybody, including the minority communities. I really think it’s important for the government to redouble its efforts on working with NATO allies on this issue. I think it’s clear to me, as a NATO guy from a long time, that Kosovo’s security depends a lot on NATO. And I wish there had been more consultation with NATO countries on this issue before a decision was made.

AB: What was wrong with timing, you said timing was not good? What else is hit by this timing now?

AMB: Well, I mean for me….so the Kosovo delegation went to Brussels on Monday last week, or two weeks ago and announced its decision on Wednesday. So we have always wanted a consultation. Explaining on Monday you’re doing something and then doing it on Wednesday…..

AB: ….it’s because of the Dialogue, you think that it was miscalculated, or…

AMB: …well you said Dialogue, I mean Dialogue is clearly important. The Dialogue is important and of course we don’t want things to mess up discussions in the Dialogue. I mentioned earlier how important it was for Kosovo and Serbia to make some kind of final normalization deal. But the timing… right now….my concern was the consultation with NATO, and it would have been better had there been more effort to bring along NATO allies.

AB: The argument on this side was always, though, the Serbs are blocking it, and they say they will never vote it, it’s not about the community as a whole, it’s about these members of the parliament who say they’re not going to vote for this. And Serbia says, no way. And then how can you find a way around the Serb veto if you don’t do it like this? What would be the alternative?  The constitution cannot be done because of the Serbs and law doesn’t function because it’s not liked by the allies? How do you do it?

AMB: Well our position’s always been, no vetoes…on this. And I think looking ahead, the important thing is to proceed deliberately, to bring the communities along on the ride to the extent that it’s possible, and to up the engagement with NATO countries.

AB: Let’s move to the third, actually very tense debate as well. I mean, you see we are having three parallel tense debates, that’s the one about the veterans’ issue…the so-called veterans, false veterans, which is dominating again because of the indictment which was brought, even though some people claim the indictment itself was being meddled with. Maybe content was added to compromise the whole process. You have been vocal for this issue. Why do you consider it so important? We’ve talked about the rule of law and how some progress has been made, but it will….it is still yet to be seen whether it will actually be a successful story at the end. How important is this particular case?

AMB: Well, it’s important for a lot of reasons. One is the budgetary impact on the Kosovo government. I know, only from the press, that the pensions to the 20,000, allegedly illegal pensions is like 40 million euros a year. That’s not my number, I just read that in the press. So that’s important. It’s important because we know from around the world, if you look everywhere, that corruption only really begins to be tackled when the people demand it be tackled. This seems to have struck a chord among the Kosovo public, including among real veterans. So this is a tremendous chance for the judicial institutions of Kosovo to demonstrate who they’re working for. Are they working for the people? Or someone else? So that’s why it’s important.

The conversation is shifting a bit, and I feel in an unhelpful way. This is a case of institutional fraud. This is a case of whether this commission approved pensions for people that were not eligible. This is not about who was in the KLA or who wasn’t. This is not about whether your pictures in uniforms are not evidence. The applications are the evidence. So I was really pleased to see the indictment filed on Friday, and it’s up to the prosecutorial service to make a case. It’s up the judicial service to judge the case. But I think, there’s clearly something fishy going on here. The numbers…the list is bad, the numbers don’t add up.

AB: We have seen a lot of government officials, party officials even, in the opposition, some maybe, attacking the prosecutor who was investigating this before he withdrew, but basically set the framework of this indictment. Although it might have been changed in the meantime, but as you say he pinpointed the root of the problem, the commission and everything else and provided ample evidence, obviously, for this to be brought to the court. And now he’s been attacked. Directly, furiously, with words from even prime minister and president of the parliament. And some ministers and officials and members of the parliament have been speaking a lot against him. Do you consider this to be a fair game, or is it improper influence and intervention in the judicial process?

AMB: Well that’s a legal question I probably shouldn’t answer because I’m not a lawyer. I think it’s fair to say that the ad hominem, the against-a-person attacks are distracting from the real issue, which is did the commission follow the law? That’s really the question here. It’s not, who is the prosecutor, or where is he now? Or who’s the chief state prosecutor, or what’s he doing? The question is did the commission follow the law? It’s pretty simple. The evidence appears to be straight-forward, and as I said, the applications themselves. And I don’t think the ad hominem attacks contribute to a solution to this problem.

AB: Okay, I think we are getting close to the end of this conversation. There is a lot of things we could have discussed, but I think concluding it, apart from corruption, which we actually discussed a bit in the beginning…..there’s many other issues that people feel difficult about, not to use another word. From economy and rule of law and democratic processes, which we mentioned, to education, health care, social care, and other fields. They feel there’s been not enough progress, or there’s been even regress in some of them. Although you point that there has been progress in some. But people generally don’t feel like this is enough.

And you’re going now. And leaving this country as it is, and you watched it for the last three years grow. What would you see the way forward to address these other issues, apart from the ones that we are debating currently… the issues in the shadow….the economy, the unemployment, the health care, the education, which I think U.S. has been greatly involved in helping. What would be your farewell message to the Kosovars, not to the next Ambassador.

AMB: Okay, well I would encourage politicians—and I’m not saying that there should be elections or there shouldn’t be elections—but there will be elections someday. Not my job to say when they might be, but there will be elections someday. And I would encourage politicians to paint a picture of the future, and let the voters decide what kind of future they want. A lot of discussion in the last election was about the past. Well, then you keep getting more past. If you make the political parties compete about their vision for the future, how are they going to deal with education—not just that we’re going to improve education, but how? Health care… how are we going to deal with health care? What are we going to do?  You know, make them compete about a vision for the future, and then let the voters figure out what version of the future they want to have.

But the more the discussion is about the past, the more past you’re going to get. And I really want to see a Kosovo—I think I want to see what most people in Kosovo want to see for their country. A country where there’s rule of law and everyone is treated equally before the law. Where there’s economic growth and where investors can take a risk and maybe make a business, make something successful. Where journalism and civil society is vibrant and fair. And all those things, so that’s kind of my advice…is talk about the future, sell your vision for the future, and then try—if you get elected—try to create that future. And try to keep moving ahead. And it’s not….I think it’s a waste of time to continue to litigate the past a lot.

AB: How do you overcome the mistrust that is now deep towards the political establishment, in general, but particularly toward those who have been governing so far?  I mean, them promising anything is not going to make anybody believe, at least most of the people. How do you rebuild the trust or start building it?

AMB: I think that’s a question we face around the world, not just in Kosovo. But I think having a realistic platform—this is what we want to achieve. If I’m elected, this is what I want to achieve. And not just rhetoric, but something real. And how am I going to get you, Kosovo, you citizens, into the future. It’s hard, and then it’s up to politicians to deliver. I mean, anyone who is looking ahead at the next election, whether it’s three years from now or whenever it is, is going to be judged by the public on what they’ve done. And what have they done? There are several draft laws in the Assembly right now that we have supported over the last couple of years that are anti-corruption laws. If you claim to be an anti-corruption party (AB: They have not been passed) and you don’t show up, even to provide quorum, you have got to expect the citizens to say, well, is that party, are those people really against corruption or not? Because they had an opportunity to do something about it, and they didn’t.

AB: How much do you see us, media, important to pinpoint this, to put a finger on these cases?

AMB: Oh I think it’s vital. I think it’s vital. People don’t always do the right thing. It’s up to you, as the media, to call them out. Sometimes your stories are going to make a big difference. Sometimes they’re not.  But, you know, that’s kind of my life, too.  And I think it’s important just to keep pressing ahead, to try to achieve something. Try to shed light on the worst practices.  You have got to be careful if you identify something that is bad or wrong, you better be right because otherwise next time your voice is going to be a lot softer than it would be. I mean, that’s an obligation on you as a journalist. But I think you have got to keep pushing ahead. You have got to identify wrongdoing. Everyone once in a while, it’s good to have a positive story saying someone did something good. Why not?

AB: Well you know what they say…

AMB: Good news is no news.

AB: Well, thank you, Ambassador. Thank you.