We are here tonight to welcome Thomas Melia, new USAID Assistant Administrator for our part of the world. I think the fact he decided to come to Kosovo on his first trip abroad in his new job is indicative of the importance of the U.S. – Kosovo relationship, as well as the key role USAID has played and will continue to play in Kosovo’s economic and political development.
I’ll ask Tom to speak in a minute, but before that I wanted to take advantage of your presence here tonight to talk briefly about the opportunity that many of you have to reset the political dialogue in Kosovo following last Friday’s presidential election in the Assembly.
The absence of tear gas this week has given me an opportunity to reflect on how and why I have spent so much public time dealing with the Assembly. I had an initial conversation about this last night with a large group of alumni of U.S. Embassy exchange programs, and I would like to share some of it with you as well.
My concern for the Assembly stems from one simple fact. In its short history as an independent country, Kosovo has had exactly one national election whose results were interpreted both here and abroad as free and fair; those were the Assembly elections in 2014. Is this a big deal? Yes it’s a very big deal. There are plenty of countries in the world that have been independent for decades that can’t say they have had even one fair election.
Kosovo’s 2014 election was a watershed event; it produced an Assembly that is legitimate by any reasonable definition because it was created by the voters in a fair election. And those 120 people that you elected to that Assemblyhave both the right and the obligation to complete the job you hired them to do. A sovereign, democratically-elected government—no matter the political party or coalition– has the right and the responsibility to govern within the framework of its own laws and Constitution. And when it does so, its actions are legitimate, since they stem from the will of the people as expressed during free and fair elections. One can agree or disagree with the outcome, dance in the streets or yell that you want to “throw the bums out,” but neither reaction changes the democratic legitimacy of the Assembly.
In Kosovo’s system of democratic government, most power comes from the Assembly; it appoints the governing coalition; it appoints the president; it chooses Constitutional Court judges; and of course it passes laws. The Assembly is the practical expression of Kosovo’s democracy. Therefore, an attack on the Assembly is effectively an attack on Kosovo’s democracy.
Will I promise to support every action the Assembly takes? No, I will not; I am sure I will disagree with some future decision the Assembly makes. I certainly disagree with my own Congress often enough. But I have thrown my lot in with the Assembly nevertheless, because it embodies Kosovo’s democracy, and therefore its future.
And those of us in the international community, but far more importantly, the people of Kosovo, should not be prepared to let that democracy evaporate without a fight. Because if there is anything worse than a democratic parliament that produces decisions you don’t like, it’s an anti-democratic one.
Following last Friday’s activity in the Assembly, it seems to me there has come a break, or maybe even a vacuum. People seem to be wondering what will happen next. I encourage everyone here to try to fill that vacuum with a new commitment to refocus on what Kosovo’s people really need, especially regarding economics and rule of law, rather than politics. Try to reach across the aisle to your opponents. Propose new ways of working with each other. Try to get out of confrontation mode, and into problem-solving mode.
Governments and societies rarely get a chance to reset the narrative. I think you have that chance now, and I hope you will seize it. Because Kosovo’s challenges will not be solved until people like you begin to take active steps to solve them.