– PART ONE –
Association in line with the Constitution
Ambassador Greg Delawie says that according to the verdict of the Court, the Association of Serb majority municipalities is in compliance with the Constitution of Kosovo. In an exclusive interview for Zeri, America’s Number One in Kosovo says that the Court has given specific guidelines to the Government on how to draft the Statute for this Association, so that is in line with the Constitution.
Arbana Xharra: Ambassador Delawie explains that the Court has given specific guidelines to the Government on how could it draft the Statute of the Association, so that the same is in compliance with the Constitution. “I hear people saying that the Court has said that this idea is not in line with Constitution. But, I think that if you carefully read, you’ll see that the Court says: a) such body can be created; b) this is the way how should you do it, so that it is in line with the Constitution of Kosovo”. These are the comments the American Ambassador made in an exclusive interview for “Zeri” paper which will be published in two editions, where among others he also spoke about the coming elections in the country, which according to hum are envisaged to be held in 2018.
During the interview he also spoke about the arrests of the Opposition MPs and insists that each state official that is charged of corruption has to step back from the position, at least until the end of the judicial process. In the second part of the interview which is going to be published following the New Year edition, American Ambassador talks about the Special Court and who could get arrested by this Court; the dialogue with Serbia and the large number of Kosovars who have joined ISIL.
Zeri: We have a political block. We have the opposition saying we are not going to accept this agreement, and on the other hand, we have government. What is a solution you might have?
Ambassador Delawie: Well, I think we have to start off from the standpoint of the current Parliament we have today resulted from elections in 2014 that were widely regarded as free and fair by the OSCE, by the American government and by international observers. So to me that says that the Parliament has democratic legitimacy. I think Secretary Kerry, when he was here 3 weeks or so ago, made it very clear our view that Parliaments need to be places of dialogue, places of debate, places of disagreement, but not places of violence. So I think it is very important that those who are impeding the work of Parliament using violence should rethink their attitude and try to figure out what is really in the long-term interests of Kosovo. In my view, it is important for Kosovo to have a functioning Assembly, that can take care of some of the problems that I think we all recognize that Kosovo faces today. Many of them can be resolved or at least made better by using legislation that the Parliament could pass. So, I know that the President has attempted to mediate a discussion between the government and the opposition. I know the government, the coalition, has offered discussions with the opposition and so far, though, those offers have been rejected, which is a shame. I think that the real problems of Kosovo really only be solved by debate, by dialogue in the Parliament.
Zeri: The opposition these days they were mentioning having elections. They don’t want to hear about the Dialogue. They do not want to sit with the coalition parties and discuss. And right now, we have the answer of the Kosovo Constitutional Court. So according to them, to some extent the agreement for the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority municipalities is not fully comply with the constitution.
Ambassador Delawie: I know that that’s what the opposition has said. I also know that in a parliamentary democracy, the members of Parliament who hold a majority get to decide on what policies the government will have. So, the government represented by the majority in Parliament, has decided to enter into this agreement with Serbia regarding the Association of Serbian-majority Municipalities and that is their right. They’ve got a majority in Parliament and they get to decide on the policies of the country. If people aren’t happy with the policies of the Government, they are free to campaign against them in the elections. The last I’ve heard, the next elections in Kosovo are scheduled for 2018, so there is plenty of time to prepare.
Regarding the Court’s decision, we read the Court’s decision carefully. It’s long and legal and the things that I picked out from the Court’s decision were that that having Association of Serb-majority municipalities in consistent with the Kosovo Constitution. The court gave the government specific directions on how the statute for this association could be drafted so that it would be consistent with the Kosovo Constitution, and it is also said it wanted to see the statute again when it is done. So I hear that people are saying that the Court said this idea was inconsistent with the Constitution, but I think if you read carefully you see the Court that (a) such a body could be created, and (b) this is how you create it so that it is consistent with the Kosovo Constitution.
Zeri: There is a call for a big protest on 9th of January. What are your expectations? The opposition is obviously standing by their requests. We see what they are capable of. They don’t want to accept this agreement. Is the solution really arresting the opposition deputies, having in mind they are ready to call people to the streets?
Ambassador Delawie: In any democratic country, protests are an important part of the political dialogue. We certainly have them in the United States. Other European countries have them too. I think the important thing about protests is that they be peaceful. Signs, chants, banners, things like that, those are fine. I would certainly discourage protestors from using Molotov cocktails or other forms of violence that are certainly negative for Kosovo’s democracy. Regarding opposition people being arrested, to be honest what upsets me is people feeling that because they are members of Parliament, they are above the law and they don’t have to follow the same rules as any other citizen of Kosovo. If you violate the law, no matter who you are, you should be subject to the same rule of law, the same justice as any other person.
Zeri: Opposition mentioned a lot of corrupted people within the Parliament not being arrested. Every day there are scandals in the media. We personally have reported on a lot of them and they are still in politics. You have mentioned it. Secretary Kerry mentioned corruption, that we have to fight corruption. I’m in journalism since 2001 and have written thousands of articles with facts and arguments and we still have these people in politics. I am not saying only the government. We have them also in the opposition parties. How do you fight corruption when you have political influence in the justice system? You have people who are millionaires, when officially have a monthly salary of at most € 1,000. Who should fight and how to fight corruption when we have in major positions corrupted people?
Delawie Ambassador: That’s a gigantic problem. I’ve said since I got here about four months ago, rule of law and helping Kosovo improve the rule of law is my number one of three main priorities for my time here. So we are approaching it in several ways, and I’ll try to touch on all the things you said there. Remind me if I miss something. Dealing with corruption has to be done at the institutional level. So, we are working with the police, with the prosecutors, with the judges and have developed programs over the last couple of years to work with all of them. In 2015 we spent, mostly through USAID, about 15 million dollars on programs to help improve the rule of law sector in Kosovo. There are a couple of ways we get at this. There is the way where you try to prevent corruption in the first place, and the way you deal with people who commit crimes of corruption. To deal with the first issue, one of the biggest projects we have is helping municipalities implement electronic procurement. This means that if a municipality needs to buy a service or good, it would post online the tender for goods or services and there would be transparency which firms have bid for the tender, this is the price they offered, and things like that. So, it would make it more obvious whether anything has gone wrong during the procurement. So, we doing that with municipalities and we are working very closely with the World Bank, who is implementing the same system at the national level, with the national government. So, electronic procurement makes it a lot harder for officials to skim money off of a procurement because it allows transparency, everyone knows what is going on, everyone knows what has been bid and who has won the contract at the end of the day. Some of the other things we are working on in that area, are we are contributing to help mitigate the backlog of court cases in various ways. And then there is the issue of what you do with corrupt officials once they have been accused. We are trying to strengthen the ability of the prosecutors to work on those cases, to assemble evidence that is appropriate for use in court. We’ve got seminars and educational projects for the judges as well. We feel that any public official who has been indicted for corruption should be, temporarily at least, removed from that office, until the judicial process is concluded. And we have made clear. There’s no easy way of dealing with this, and setting your sites on having a society free of corruption, it would be wonderful, but we are not going to get there any time soon. The United States is certainly not that type of society. In one of our biggest states, four out of the last seven governors have been jailed for corruption-related offenses. The most important thing for society is what do you do to prevent corruption, what do you do to deal with corruption when it happens because you know it is going to happen.
Zeri: For Kosovars, it is not easy to admit the success of Vucic arresting 79 people in Serbia a few days ago related to the government and cases of corruption. So people were asking, have we heard of something similar happening here in Kosovo since after the war? And the answer is no. Actually we know millions were invested in Kosovo, donations to fight corruption, but the field we did not have anything like what happened in Serbia recently with high officials being arrested. So the issue is,are we seeing results on the ground even though you were saying all the time, and all internationals here as well, saying that corruption is the main issue that we have to deal with. Also, in all international reports, we see where Kosovo is in those lists, so obviously there is corruption, there is a big problem, are we seeing the results on the ground like Serbia has?
Ambassador Delawie: Well, I have only been here four months so it is too soon for me to really answer that question. I can tell you that of course the United States has supported Kosovo for a long time and this is one of our major issues, but I am emphasizing the issue during my time here. I can tell you that we have already redirected some of the programs just in the few months that I have been here from other areas so that we can spend more time and effort on corruption because corruption holds back democracy, holds back economics … If you look at the public opinion surveys (and probably know better than I do because of your profession), among of the main issues that is of concern to citizens of Kosovo, corruption is one of the top three. Unemployment and the economic situation are one and two, I think. So how make progress on unemployment? You have to create jobs. How do you create jobs? You have to get investments. How do you get investment? Two major obstacles to investment right now are the backlog in the courts that we are helping deal with that, and then corruption. The future of Kosovo depends to a considerable extent on dealing with that issue. And believe me, if I had a magic wand, I would take it right out and solve that problem, but I don’t have one. What we can help to do as Kosovo’s friend, and I hope as Kosovo’s best friend, it is to help put institutional measures in place that can make progress and get results in the field, as you said. Institutional arrangements, e-procurement and such are great, but if you really want to change the culture, then it is probably important that some people arrested.
Zeri: I talked with Mr. Tom Yazdgerdi also regarding the new generation in politics. We still have the same political leaders who were voted in since after the war. There are a lot of young men and women who are returning from abroad well-educated, but there is no room for them in any political party. So, it is also about changing the mentality, changing the people in politics. Do you think it is time to think about this, leaving room in politics for the new generation?
Ambassador Delawie: I don’t think it’s important so much what I think, but it is important what the voters in Kosovo think. It is one thing to say hypothetically that more young people should enter the government, but it is up to the voters make that happen. I guess I don’t have anything else to say on that.
In second part of interview with Ambassdor Delawie amongst other you could read:
- How large will be the number of individuals that will be subject to the Special Court?
- Is the violence at the Assembly related to the Special Court?
- How does the Ambassador comment on non-visa liberalization for Kosovars?
- Should Kosovo continue dialogue with Serbia?
- Why does he say that most of what he knows about Kosovars within ISIL comes from the reports published by Zeri paper?
– PART TWO –
Zeri: One of the main issues now is the Special Court. When it was mentioned for the first time officially, there were a lot of reactions from most of the political parties. What are your expectations for the coming months? We have delays in the process obviously. So, when do you expect the start of the process?
Delawie Ambassador: That is a good question. It will be months. It will be months from now. Certainly, the United States supports the Special Court and it is important to make clear what it is and what isn’t. The Court, the idea of the court, is it would prosecute a relatively small number of specific individuals, who are accused of committing specific crimes. Crimes for which you could be punished if you or I committed them as well. So it is not about calling into question Kosovo’s struggle for independence or anything like that. It has to do with the prosecution of individuals for individual crimes. I hope that everything comes together soon. There are some legal steps that still have to happen regarding the Court. The United States has provided a chief prosecutor for the Court, which will be based in the Netherlands. There has been some speculation that I read in the press that what is behind the violence in the Parliament may not really be about the border with Montenegro or to the Association of Serb-majority municipalities, but it is really about impending the activities or the establishment of the Special Court. If you can just get all these last few legal steps done, then we can see if that is really true or not.
Zeri: You can see they are promoting it as the Special Court will be against the KLA’s fight. Is it [the court] much more about individuals and not to fight the KLA in general? Is it much more about the individuals and not the KLA’s war. So the rejection [of the Court] by the main political parties, do you see this as the fear of individuals now being convicted in this process? More than in general saying that we were fighting about our freedom.
Ambassador Delawie: Special Court is not about calling into question Kosovo’s struggle for liberation.
Zeri: But, how do you see the rejection of the political parties? Because if you haven’t committed a crime, then why should you fear the Special Court?
Ambassador Delawie: I find it hard for me to interpret that question because actually no one is talking to me personally about it. So, I have heard speculation and read it in your paper and elsewhere the press, but no one come up to me and said “I’m worried I’m going to be prosecuted.” I think if you look at the Marty report, it kind of has started this all 4 or 5 years ago, it talked about a relatively small number of individuals. And I think that is the thing to focus on this because this is a relatively small number of individuals. It’s not about the struggle for liberation.
Zeri: It depends on who these few individuals are. They might be powerful.
Delawie Ambassador: I do not know who they are. Only a handful of people know, and they are not me or anyone in my embassy in fact.
Zeri: I will go back to the main issue was the dialogue with Serbia. A lot of agreements have been signed by Kosovo and we still have a problem when it comes to the Serbs in Kosovo, this community. It has been said and being seen as a failure of the process. Should we change the focus? How should we proceed? We have seen the position of Belgrade on UNESCO, even though they have signed an agreement not to prevent Kosovo’s being a member of international organizations, we have seen their campaign and propaganda. So what is the result of having had the dialogue for so many years?
Ambassador Delawie: I know that people are a little sour on the dialogue right now, but you have to recognize it has made some real achievements. In 2013, citizens in northern Kosovo voted in country-wide elections for municipal governments and in 2014 they voted for Parliament. There has been integration of the former MUP into the Kosovo Police. There are now customs duties collected going across the border from Serbia into Kosovo and as a result of this summer’s agreement, Kosovo will get its own telephone code, there is this association of Serb-majority municipalities, which is in progress. So there have been, I think, real achievments. Is everything moving as fast as people want? Absolutely not. I am impatient too, but with the history in this region, takes time for people to trust each other, takes time for some of these complicated issues to be worked out, but I don’t see any way other than the dialogue for Kosovo to fulfill its ambition to become part of the center of Europe, a member of the European Union, of NATO, of the Council of Europe. In my view, Kosovo’s aspiration should be to be a state just like any other state in Europe, to be part of the all same democratic, economic, and political clubs, and that is certainly our aspiration for Kosovo. It is not going to happen as quickly as everyone wants, including me, but it is happening, we are making progress, and sometimes things take longer than we would wish.
Zeri: In the north part [of Kosovo] we have 40,000 Serbs not recognizing Kosovo’s laws and constitution while there are many Albanians not being able to go to their homes there. It is different when you hear politicians talking about the north and it is different when we go in the field. We have a journalist who speaks the Serbian language perfectly and she had to say that she is a Serb journalist or an international one in order to go there and to cover for example the pre-election campaign, or Oliver Ivanovic issues or anything else there. On the ground, it feels like a different situation compared to how it is said that things are there.
Ambassador Delawie: I understand that. There is progress. There is progress since 2008. Municipalities in the North are participating in the national budget process; you’ve got people in the north voting in national elections, but there is still progress to be made, absolutely I agree with that. Our vision and our goal for Kosovo is to strengthen its multi-ethnic democracy, continue to grow and we have been working ever since we have been here to make that possible. There has been a fair amount of progress, but there is still lots of progress to be made, absolutely.
Zeri: visa liberalization. Kosovo is still isolated. Obviously, the other regional countries are dealing with corruption; it is not only Kosovo. So, are we much worse than other countries that have liberalization? Isolation causes a lot of problems.
Ambassador Delawie: I’ve got a couple reactions to that. First of all, regarding the isolation, I think that things are getting better. Kosovo has signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU in October. That has passed under the radar as far as the press goes, but I think that is extremely important. It is the first step – and I know about this because I was in Croatia when it was going through the same process – and is the first and most important step on the path towards integration into the European Union. And looking ahead to this summer, the Olympic Games coming up in Rio, Kosovar athletes will be representing the nation at the Olympic games. So there is some progress.
Regarding the visa liberalization, without saying stuff that belongs to the European Union and their mission here, I noticed some positives in the report that came out a week and a half ago. First of all, it said that that was going to be the last report, which is positive. Second of all, it said that there were eight specific tasks that Kosovo still needed to accomplish. And third of all, it said that Kosovo can meet do these things relatively quickly. Commissioner Avramopolous is willing to come to Kosovo early in the year to review the status of those eight things. So I think it was the relatively positive report and the thing for Kosovo to do now is to review those eight measures, some of which are pretty straight-forward, and implement them as soon as possible and that will help make progress towards the visa liberalization issue.
Zeri: The last issue has to do with radicalization. Basically, the only door that remains open to us is Turkey. Officially are 300 refugees in ISIS, and this number is the same from the beginning, but Kosovo has the highest number of individuals in ISIS Balkan states. So the impact of having the door open with Turkey, how do you see the situation? Talking with some international representatives that used to be here immediately after the war, now they can see the difference. They see the change in the growth of radicalization and what is causing it. In the beginning, we thought it has to do with economic issues, but now there are a lot of cases where those who are joining ISIS are not poor. We can say that the whole world is facing this, but in the Balkans, Kosovo is in a much worse condition.
Ambassador Delawie: To be honest, a lot of what I know about this comes from your reporting, so I should be asking you this question rather than the other way around. I think it is very interesting that some of the more recent cases of radicals are middle-class people, not people subjected to the high unemployment rate here, for example. I think it is important to recognize that Kosovo is not alone in facing this problem. We saw the attacks in Paris a month ago. We have people being radicalized in the United States and traveling to the Middle East, which is a much longer journey than it is from here. And I think until a couple of years ago, we didn’t really realize the magnitude of the problem and I think we are still grappling to a certain extent to some extent with how to deal with the problem.
Kosovo has taken some important measures. It passed this legislation on foreign terrorist fighters. It participated in the regional summit in Albania in the spring. Kosovo officials participated in President Obama’s summit at the UN General Assembly in New York in September. People are being arrested. We had people who were arrested near Lake Badovc. It is a hard problem, and I think it is a problem that faces all the states of the Balkans, it faces all the states of Europe, as well as most of the countries of the world, including in the United States. You have to deal with it both from a law enforcement standpoint, but first from a preventing radicalization standpoint. I don’t have great answers on that, to be honest. We are working on it and it is one of the subjects that are working with USAID and the Public Affairs Section at the embassy, and we are trying to support those who are trying to counter violent extremism. I would be happy for any suggestions for any specific measure that we could support, because it is a big deal and it is important to us. Also, it is important that we work regionally to try to both learn about networks that cross borders easily, but also to learn about the positive and negative experiences that other governments in the Balkans have had.
Zeri: Thank you so much for your time.
Ambassador Delawie: You are welcome. Thank you.