Ambassador Kosnett’s Interview with GazetaExpress

Ambassador Kosnett’s Interview with GazetaExpress, December 4, 2019

GazetaExpress: First of all, thank you for the interview. I would like to start with—it’s been a year since you’re here in Kosovo, Mr. Ambassador. I would like to know what is something good or something bad – something that makes you happy in Kosovo and something that makes you sad this year?

Ambassador: Thanks, Albioneta. I think that the last year has been a very promising time for Kosovo, and I think the prospects for an even better year in 2020 are strong. At the U.S. Embassy we talk a lot about America’s priorities for Kosovo, the areas where we want to support the people of Kosovo, and we divide that into three key areas: peace, justice and prosperity. On justice, we talk about not just anti-corruption, which is very important to people here, but also equality, equality of opportunity, equality under the law for everyone, regardless of their community, their gender, their orientation. When we talk about peace, we talk about improving relations among the different communities within Kosovo, but also improving Kosovo’s relations with neighboring countries. And on prosperity, we’re talking about economic development with the real focus on jobs and opportunity for young people.

I see positive movement in all of those areas, and the most positive thing, I think, was the election. I think on October 6 the people of Kosovo showed that they are eager for change. They want more opportunity for young people. They want people who have qualifications to have the opportunity to move ahead. They are concerned about justice and corruption. And, those desires are very closely linked in our minds, to Kosovo being able to improve its relations with Serbia and other neighboring countries because we think regional peace is going to lead the way for opportunities for everyone in Kosovo.

GazetaExpress:  We saw elections and we saw their results as well. I would like to ask you, do you think that with this result in elections, Kosovo showed that democracy is working better than in the region? Are you happy, or are you pleased with… not with results of parties but with the way citizens of Kosovo decided to change things?

Ambassador:  I was very impressed. I think Kosovo is showing from election to election the process is improving, the institutions are doing their job, the Central Election Commission, the courts are doing their job. There was—I wouldn’t say the election was perfect. We’ve had some disturbing reports about some parties engaging in intimidation and improper activity, but let’s look at the positives.  There was virtually no violence on election day, and not every country in this region can say that. I think that, in the end, we were satisfied that the final numbers reflected the will of the people and the diverse opinions of the people of Kosovo. Now, we’re looking forward to moving beyond the political stage to seeing the new government established, so we can move into the government stage.

GazetaExpress: But, Vetëvendosje and LDK, those parties, they failed this week to reach an agreement, and they have many problems now, because they can’t agree, they couldn’t agree as they said, just because of positions. Do you think it is appropriate to talk about the position of the President in this stage, between these parties?

Ambassador: I think, if we keep in mind how long the process of government formation has taken after earlier elections, it’s a little early to use words like “failure.”

GazetaExpress: But they promised a very quick agreement?

Ambassador: I think they are working very hard on it. We’re in touch with the people from those two parties, and other parties as well.  I think that LDK and Vetëvendosje are committed to making this partnership work.  My government, like everyone in Kosovo, were all eager to see this process move forward as quickly as possible, and I’m confident that they will get there, I am confident that this coalition will form effectively.

GazetaExpress: But what about the way they’ve discussed positions? I want to stop there – the positions. They can’t agree because LDK is asking for a promise, for an agreement about the position of President, and we know how Kosovo elects the President. Do you think that the two parties should talk about, should discuss about the position of President?

Ambassador: I understand the question. I don’t think it’s helpful for me, as a foreign ambassador, at this stage to be analyzing and offering opinions on this. We are confident, we have confidence that the parties and others who are involved in the process are going to work this out.

GazetaExpress: But, we had cases before, if I mention for example the election of President Jahjaga before. It was a bit preferred candidate by foreigners, from your Embassy. I want to ask you, if Vetëvendosje and LDK can’t reach an agreement in the near future – would your Embassy jump there to help or to facilitate between those parties?

Ambassador:  That’s a hypothetical scenario that I’m really not worrying about. I’m confident the parties are going to work this out fine. And, honestly, I think your readers are more interested in what the new government is going to do than about all these details.

GazetaExpress: Yes, and what are your expectations from the new government, or what is your message to those that won the majority in the Parliament?

Ambassador:  I think that it’s clear that the people of this country voted for change on October 6, and Mr. Kurti’s message, other people’s messages about fighting corruption, making the government more efficient so it focuses on the needs of the people, is critically important. In the weeks and months ahead I’m confident that we’ll start seeing him realize those promises. We are less concerned with how many ministries each party gets and who those ministers are, than we are with what they do. Our hope, and our expectation is that the people who form the new government will be qualified to do their jobs, they will not have criminal records, and they will be people who really are taking on this job in order to achieve things for the people of Kosovo. Achieve what? Fighting corruption, building economic opportunity. I meet frequently with people in the business community, and I’m reminded that you don’t have to be in government to be working for the future of Kosovo. In particular, I’m struck by all of the young entrepreneurs, frequently in technical fields. They’re not really looking for a lot of support from the Government, they are moving ahead to try to make this country a technological powerhouse. I meet a lot of people who want Kosovo to be another Singapore, another Estonia, another Israel. I’ve lived in Kosovo before, I’ve lived here 16 years ago, and people ask me what’s really changed in Kosovo?  I always start by talking about these amazing new young people: multilingual, educated, who could be successful anywhere in the world, who are building a future here in Kosovo.

GazetaExpress: If I could go back to the new government? Mr. Kurti said that he will give a ministry to Serbs. He said that he won’t cooperate with Lista Srpska – he doesn’t want Lista“Srpska List in his government. How do you see this? Which is your comment on this?

Ambassador: I think Lista Srpska is a political reality.  Not every Serb citizen of Kosovo is supporter of Lista Srpska, but I think its role ….

GazetaExpress: Yes, but they won 10 out of 10 seats in our Parliament. I mean, they have like 100% of everything of Serbs in Kosovo right now. So, what is your comment on that?

Ambassador: Well, my comment on that is that the U.S. Government is not a Kosovo political party and these discussions have to be going on right now among the political parties. Having said that, I certainly believe that Mr. Kurti understands the Constitution of Kosovo. He understands the role that the minority political parties have to play, and he has said many times that he intends to be the Prime Minister for all the people of Kosovo. So, I think that he needs to be speaking with many Kosovo Serb politicians, including Srpska List, and figuring the best way ahead.

GazetaExpress: But Belgrade’s influence in Kosovo institutions is still here, by Lista Srpska being part of all these institutions. I would like to ask you how do you comment on Lista Srpska winning 100% of votes, not votes, but they have 10 out of 10 seats in our Parliament. So, do you think that this is alright, or is this democratic in your eyes?

Ambassador: I think that there were credible reports that caused us concern about improper behavior by Lista Srpska, intimidation and so on. We could spend time talking about that. What I think is important to understand is that Lista Srpska cannot be ignored. It is a political reality that has strong support. Not 100% support but strong support among Kosovo Serbs. I’d also recall something I said when I first arrived in this country and I had one of my first interviews a year ago, that there is kind of a circular question about the role of Belgrade in politics in Kosovo. Yes, Belgrade has a lot of influence over Srpska List, a lot of people in Kosovo resent that, I understand it.  But I think that, if Kosovo truly builds a future where everyone in this country feels that they have a stake in the country, that their voices are heard, then they will look less to neighboring countries for political guidance. And that’s why it’s important for the United States that Kosovo’s leaders, all of Kosovo’s leaders, think not only about their ethnic identity but about the country’s national identity.

GazetaExpress: Here in Kosovo was discussed a lot a picture from an event organized by your Embassy where you were seated at the table with Mr. Albin Kurti and Mrs. Vjosa Osmani. Media in Kosovo reported, in a way, it as if U.S. Embassy designated the new Government by having just Mr. Kurti and Mrs. Osmani there. I would like to ask you if your Embassy invited other leaders, because we didn’t see there Mr. Thaci or PM Haradinaj. Were they invited, and why only Mr. Kurti and Mrs. Osmani were there?

Ambassador: Well, we have a lot of meetings. I can also show you photos of me meeting with Kadri Veseli, with Hashim Thaci, with Ramush Haradinaj…..

GazeteExpress: Yes, but I’m asking for that…

Ambassador: … and sometimes we have meetings where we have a kind of “oda” where people from all the parties come together to meet with American visitors. We had American Senators here recently. We had our Special Presidential Envoy, Ambassador Grennell, was here recently, and met a whole lot of people.  We meet in different formulations if you will—sometimes everyone is together, sometimes not.  I think it is perfectly reasonable that a foreign ambassador would meet with representatives of the two parties that have the lead in trying to form the Government.

GazetaExpress: Let’s get back to VV leader, Albin Kurti. Kurti had a very interesting relationship with U.S. Administration – I mean he refused or he was against everything that U.S. Administration for years required or supported. He was against the agreement of Rambouillet, against Ahtisaari Package, and lately against the Association and the Demarcation. I would like to ask you, how do you see – do you see that you’ll work easy with Albin Kurti and do you think that he changed and his party already changed? Because, we saw for example, a former Ambassador of the U.S. in Kosovo, Mrs. Tracey Ann Jacobson, she said that she was even assaulted by some activist of Vetëvendosje in a protest. So, do you think that this Vetëvendosje and its leader changed?

Ambassador: The short answer is yes.  I think that Mr. Kurti knows very well that the role you play as an opposition leader, to challenge ideas and bring forth new policies, is different from the role you play as Prime Minister of a country where you need to bring everyone together in a spirit of national unity. He is a very intelligent and mature man. He has made clear Vetëvendosje has put political violence behind it, it’s a new party, it’s a new era.  I look forward to working with him just as I worked cooperatively and productively with the leaders of other political parties in this country.

GazetaExpress: The dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia—Mr. Kurti said that he will lead the negotiations with Serbia as he won the elections. On the other side, we have President Thaci, Mr. Kurti and President Thaci don’t even talk to each other, as they said. So, how do you comment this, how do you see that two leaders don’t have a nice relationship and they don’t even – especially from Kurti’s side—he doesn’t even accept the presence of President Thaci anywhere where he is?

Ambassador: I have no doubt that Mr. Kurti, when he becomes Prime Minister, assuming he becomes Prime Minister soon, is going to build a constructive professional relationship with President Thaci.  The Prime Minister and the President, they need to work together for the good of the country.  This is an opportunity for me to emphasize that I think that parties that are in opposition have an important role to play for the good of the country.  Their job should not be to obstruct the Government, it should be to find ways to cooperate with the Government for the good of the people. That doesn’t mean that the opposition has to blindly follow the Government’s lead, but they need to work together and try to build consensus and act constructively.  I am not worried that President won’t be able to work with the Prime Minister. With regard to the dialogue process, what I’ve said before is that the work that has been done up until now between President Thaci and President Vucic should not just be ignored and thrown away.  If they had productive talks and made progress on some issues, then the Government should take that into account as they move forward.

I also think it’s important for the Government to solicit the views of a wide range of citizens of Kosovo, not only political parties, but civil society organizations, ordinary citizens – really make sure that they understand what all the people of Kosovo are looking for in improved relations with Serbia and other neighbors, as well.  For example, I believe strongly – my government believes—that Kosovo should be an active participant in the current effort to explore a mini-Schengen arrangement. A lot of people in Kosovo don’t like what they are hearing about mini Schengen.  My response to that is send a delegation to the next meeting, put forth your positions and shape it, don’t just ignore it.  Because I think other countries in the region understand that you can’t build a regional economy and regional peace by ignoring any country in the region.

GazetaExpress:  To the dialogue with Serbia—you advised to restore the dialogue as soon as possible, but do you have any—does the United States—have any deadline or time when you think that Kosovo and Serbia should reach an agreement—finally reach an agreement?

Ambassador:  We would like to see the two governments get to the start line as quickly as possible—once the new government is organized in Kosovo—and then we want to see them get to the finish line. What I mean is we want the process to be able to produce a sustainable agreement that satisfies the people in both countries, not just the political leadership, but that is acceptable to the people of both countries, so that will take some time.  I don’t want to give you an artificial deadline. I do think that it is realistic in 2020 and the current U.S. administration is really committed to supporting this process.  We are committed to peace and prosperity and justice for everyone in the Balkans.  I can’t say how long this period of intense U.S. interest is going to last but it’s an important opportunity that should not be missed and our friends in the European Union are also committed to this process.

I think that the delays in moving ahead on the dialogue have not been to Kosovo’s benefit—it has not helped the country economically. We have this problem of countries withdrawing their recognition of Kosovo—Kosovo is not going in the right direction.  I think that improving relations with Serbia and the other neighbors is going to create conditions for prosperity and opportunity for all the people of Kosovo.

GazetaExpress: One more question—the idea of border corrections. I would like to know, did any leader, when I speak about leaders of course I speak about Mr. Vucic and Mr. Thaci, did they officially propose anything to United States officials or to the United States administration? Did you see anything official, because there were so many talks but no one knows what they discussed about, I mean when we talk about the idea of borders correction?

Ambassador: I’ve never seen anything like a formal proposal for a comprehensive agreement or for a land swap.  Let me take this opportunity to remind your readers that the U.S. position on land has been that we don’t want to stop the negotiators for the two parties—for Kosovo and Serbia—from talking about issues. We have never actively pushed for any kind of land swap.  What we’ve said is that if there is a comprehensive agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, and they negotiate some border adjustment or change—land swap—in that context we’d look at it, we would not rule it out, it’s not our position to rule it out.  Some people interpreted that to mean that the Americans were actively seeking a land swap, that’s never been true. Also, I come back to my earlier point, any comprehensive agreement in our view, has to be acceptable to the people, not just to some political leaders, and it’s obvious that there is very little support in Kosovo for big border change. Last point there, if in the course…

Express: But what is big border change?

Ambassador: ……there’ve been talks about dramatic exchanges of population, redrawing the map. What I mean to say is that, if in the course of negotiations about all the different issues that the two countries have to talk about—trade, investment, law enforcement cooperation, judicial investigations, security—if in the course of these broad talks Kosovo and Serbia agree to talk about demarcation of the border, fairly minor changes, again, we are not going to step in and say no, you can’t talk about that.  That’s for the parties to discuss, but I think that all of this talk in the past year about some massive exchange of territory and populations – that’s clearly something that nobody in this country supports, and it’s become a distraction from talking about positive aspects of improving relations with Serbia.

Express: Mr. Ambassador, thank you for your time.

Ambassador Kosnett: It’s been a pleasure, thank you very much.