President, Speaker, Prime Minister, Moderator, Commission, Members of Parliament, experts and other observers, I am glad to see all parties gathered in one place to listen to both concerns and support for this issue. I think this will be a useful opportunity to put the various arguments on the table for public understanding and to inform the parliament deputies before they vote.
Let me state up front that it is my view and the view of my government that approving the Border Demarcation Agreement is good for Kosovo and for the region.
As we announced in December, analysis by our cartographic experts supports the border demarcation that the Kosovo state commission has produced.
I would note that the commission’s borders are the same as those submitted by Kosovo to EuroGeographics in 2007 in preparation for independence. They are the same as those used in the Ahtisaari Plan, which is the basis of Kosovo’s independence. They are the same as those described in Kosovo’s constitution. They are the same as those shown on the flag of Kosovo, which the Assembly approved in 2008. The changes some have sought would clearly result in a different outline of Kosovo than the one shown on the flag. So I think the issue is pretty straightforward.
Having said that, I welcome the Assembly initiative to hold this roundtable as an opportunity for open, honest debate on the matter, and I hope this process may lay to rest some of the concerns that have been expressed around this issue.
This morning I have heard three main arguments against the border demarcation agreement; I will address them separately.
First, to those who accept the 1974 border but believe the government should have negotiated a demarcation method other than one using cadastral records, I want to commend you for investigating this issue and taking this matter seriously. However, using cadastral records results in the most accurate border; this is a fact. Using mountaintops or other geographical features might serve well in countries that had no formal land ownership, property rights, or state-managed land. However, the former Yugoslavia kept very good land records. Cadastral maps are much more detailed and precise – using that method eliminates claims of usurping land. The International commission that reviewed the issue in February and March compared the cadastral records in Kosovo and Montenegro and found that they matched perfectly at the border determined by the government commission —there is neither a gap nor an overlap.
Second, to those who believe borders should be drawn based on long ago history or nostalgia, I am here to tell you this is not appropriate in today’s world. This is the era of two modern, sovereign nations determining their boundaries based on history, a proper legal framework, and land ownership records. Wishing history were different does not make it so; nor is it a realistic basis for international agreements.
Third, I want to address those who know perfectly well that the border is where the government commission said it is and who already have their own Schengen visas, those who falsely claim that this agreement costs Kosovo 8,000 hectares of land. I believe you are opposing the agreement cynically, stirring up xenophobia and putting your country’s future at risk in order to gain political power. I think we have seen enough of this type of political tactic in this region and am disappointed that politicians continue to make use of it. Kosovo will not succeed in the future by looking backwards or adopting the tactics of the 1990s.
I don’t want to address only those opposed to the agreement. To those in government who let this straightforward and solid agreement wait for 11 months before bringing it to the public, I would remind you that transparency is a cornerstone in any healthy democracy. This issue might not have become so politicized and polarized if people had understood, from the beginning, the legal basis for the commission’s work and their mandate, and had access to the documents that have finally become public.
The commission’s results and methods should have been openly discussed from the start.
Lastly, I am not persuaded by concerns that the rights and welfare of residents in the border region who make use of these lands for pasturage or other purposes will change. Everyone who lives there, herds their animals there, or wanders freely in the high mountain areas under discussion will be just as free to do so after this agreement is reached as they are now.
This agreement, between the Republic of Kosovo and its friendly neighbor, Montenegro, strengthens stability in the Balkans and furthers the region’s progress toward Euro-Atlantic integration.
I want to let you know the United States will stand behind Kosovo’s citizens whether the agreement is ratified in parliament or not. But make no mistake, the United States is convinced it is far better for the agreement to pass than to fail. Better for Kosovo’s sovereignty, better for European integration, and most importantly, better for this country to get past an overly-politicized fake issue and focus on issues that really matter for the people of Kosovo.
I want to see Kosovo move forward and succeed. That means staying focused on addressing the real needs and priorities of the citizens of Kosovo. It means tackling corruption and strengthening the rule of law. It means fostering economic development and promoting foreign investment to create jobs. And ultimately it means building a better future for the young men and women of Kosovo.
The trouble and time that has been spent on this issue over the last year has imposed real costs on Kosovo’s economy, on its integration with the rest of the world, and with its reputation abroad. I can tell you this waste has been a profound disappointment to Kosovo’s friends in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
Members of parliament, I expect you to vote your conscience when this comes to the Assembly. For the good of the country, please vote peacefully and help the Assembly get on to more important issues that truly matter to your employers, the citizens of Kosovo.