Ambassador’s Remarks regarding Election — Alumni Open House American Corner Pristina, March 2nd, 2016

I’d like to talk a bit about the Assembly’s election of the president of Kosovo last Friday.  From what I can tell, part of the country has celebrated this election, and part of the country has condemned it.  This is normal in a democracy—no matter who is elected U.S. President next November, I can promise you that you will see the same reactions from various groups of U.S. voters.

However, what is not normal in the United States, or elsewhere in Europe, is the use of political violence such as Molotov cocktails or tear gas as a tool to impede, or even derail, that democracy.  Political violence is the surest path away from the kind of future that public opinion polls say most citizens of Kosovo really want.  It is the path away from important things my embassy is working on, like lower unemployment, less corruption, and better integration into Europe.

I understand the interest of many in Kosovo to dissect and interpret my actions.  I’ve been here long enough now to understand that many people believe there is a story or maybe even a conspiracy hidden behind everything in politics.  I talk a lot about politics, and the importance of the Assembly.  Why is that?  Let me tell you what my hidden motivation is.

My motivation 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 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 Assembly have 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.  But I throw my lot in with the Assembly nevertheless, because it embodies Kosovo’s democracy, and its future.

And 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.