DAS Yee Interview to VOA

VOA: Your visit to Kosovo coincides with the seventh anniversary of its independence.  From the U.S. perspective, where is Kosovo today?

DAS Yee: Well, Kosovo has made great progress since becoming independent in 2008. As you know, there have been a number of important positive developments, including recognition by over 100 countries of Kosovo, Kosovo’s participation in many international organizations, Kosovo’s agreement on the Stabilization Association Agreement with the European Union, and progress in normalization of its relations with Serbia. All these milestones, all these positive developments show that Kosovo is on the right track, Kosovo is heading to its proper place in Europe and European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. While we have still a lot to do, all the friends and partners, together with government, civil society, media, all of the people of Kosovo, we are very optimistic the direction and the future of Kosovo.

VOA: Currently Kosovo is facing a high degree of civic discontent that led to the protests and also an increase in the number of illegal migrants toward the European Union countries.  How do you see the recent developments in Kosovo?

DAS Yee: With respect to the demonstrations, I want to say first of all that we fully support the right of citizens, everywhere including in Kosovo, to express themselves freely and openly. We are strong supports of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly however, there is no place for violence, there is no place for damage of property, whether it’s public or private, in this dialogue between citizens and their government or between citizens and political parties. Free speech – we support; violence, we do not. I think that the demonstrations, the outpouring of strong feelings by different parties in Kosovo reflects the transition that Kosovo is going through in terms of its democratic development. Like all countries in transition in this region and in others, there are growing pains, there are difficult challenges to overcome, which lead to difference of opinions, sometimes very strong differences. What’s important I think, as I mentioned is that Kosovo is on a right track first to normalize its relations with Serbia, secondly to move closer towards joining the European Union, closer to joining NATO. The types of things that Kosovo as a country and its government need to address are first and foremost, I think, the economy. In order to have a chance of joining the European Union, Kosovo must be able to have a competitive, market-based economy, it must be able to attract foreign investors, foreign companies, but also it must be a place in which Kosovo’s own companies can thrive in order to have that strong market-based economy. There must be freedom of people to start doing businesses, there must be opportunities for young people to work here in Kosovo, so they don’t feel the need to move elsewhere. In order for this to happen there has to be a very effective, a more effective fight against corruption. Corruption and organized crime are some of the factors that are the most devastating and the most difficult to solve, but some of the most damaging in terms of the economy of Kosovo, in terms of the ability of businesses to thrive here; ability of people to get jobs without having to pay bribes, without having to depend on connections, whether they be family connections or other connections, Kosovo needs to continue its fight. And I have met with the leaders of the government today, including the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Thaçi, the President, all of them have assured me that they agree on the need to do even more, even better in the fight against corruption. This is what I think is important, the people of Kosovo need to understand that the government is committed to this fight, is committed to moving Kosovo towards the Euro-Atlantic institutions.

VOA: Also, with a broken heart, Kosovo has agreed to establish a Special Court for war crimes. We are the only country in the region with such a court. Does this make Kosovo a unique case in this treatment as a victim of aggression as the political leaders say?

DAS Yee: Dealing with the legacies of the past and of the war is something that all the countries in the region have had to face and to confront solutions and changes, which are difficult for all the government in the region, for the citizens. So, I would not say that Kosovo is not unique in that respect. The Court itself, the Special Court is by its nature a unique court. It is meant to address very specific accusations, specific charges in Kosovo. These are of course very disturbing charges that have to be taken seriously. The United States of America takes these charges very, very seriously, as does the Government of Kosovo. It is important for Kosovo that it addresses these charges, these concerns, in a way which is transparent, which is professional, which is serious so that the entire world knows that there is no cover up, there is no effort to push these accusations under the rug, to conceal them rather to address them in a way that the entire international community can accept as a serious manner for ensuring the rule of law, ensuring justice, ensuring these issues are truly resolved so that we can close this chapter and move on without Kosovo having a cloud over its name, over its history. In a way also it shows that Kosovo is deserving of its place in NATO and in the European Union. So, while we fully accept that it is a difficult issue for the people of Kosovo, I think all of us agree that we want to put it behind us in a way that is not going to continue to come up and come back to haunt us.

VOA: But, there is no such a case in Serbia. There is no such Special Court for Serbia with what we saw during the wars in former Yugoslavia, especially in Kosovo.

DAS Yee: Well, there was an International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which addressed the war crimes in the region, including in Serbia. As you know, there is not one solution that fits all the problems. The particular charges that are going to be addressed by the Special Court would not be, could not be addressed by the ICTY, and that’s one of the reasons why we need this Special Court. But, the same principles apply that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the country itself in which the accused reside or have been members of government, it’s much more difficult for that country to deal with those kind of charges to deal with within its own legal system without the suspicion of bias or partiality and it is much better to have some kind of international solution, which is recognized by the European Union, by the United States, and other members of the international community as a legitimate means of addressing the charges and resolving the question in a fair and transparent manner.

VOA: These days Kosovo resumed the dialogue with Serbia mediated by the European Union. From what you know, where are these talks going? Are they fulfilling the goals for which they were designed?

DAS Yee: I think the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo is definitely heading in the right direction. It’s already I think, helped normalize to a large extent the relations between Serbia and Kosovo. There’s much work to be done; there’s much more normalization that needs to be done, but the discussions and the dialogue are heading in the right direction. I think it’s very important that the European Union is facilitating this dialogue. It shows the commitment of the European Union to a European future for Kosovo, as well as for Serbia. It shows the commitment of the member states of the European Union to helping these countries resolve a very difficult set of challenges. And it also shows the dialogue, shows the ability of Kosovo and Serbia to confront the past issues, which probably would not have been addressable in just a bilateral context except with much greater difficulty.  Also, the ability of both countries to look together towards a common future, in which they are neighbors that are exchanging trade, exchanging freedom of movement, but also relations – normal relations between two neighboring countries that will bring stability, and security and prosperity, not only for the two countries themselves, but for the wider region. So, I’d say it’s been a success so far; again there’s much work to be done. All of the countries that care about this region, all of Kosovo’s partners, all of Serbia’s partners need to continue encouraging both countries, and we need of course both governments – Serbia’s government, Kosovo’s government – to stay very closely engaged in all the issues that are important for both countries so that this continues moving ahead at a pace that is going to address the needs of the citizens, the expectations of the citizens of both countries, and also the desire of both countries to join the European Union in a timely manner.

VOA: Kosovo is mentioned as one of the countries that faces the threat of extreme religious movements. How do you evaluate the steps that are being taken by Kosovo authorities to deal with these concerns?

DAS Yee: Well, the problem of extremism, violent extremism is not one that Kosovo is facing alone. It is a problem that affects all the countries of this region and many countries around the world, including the United States. It is a global problem that requires a global response. Kosovo is making an important contribution to the problem in Kosovo and in the region. We are very pleased with the cooperation we’ve had with Kosovo, with the results that Kosovo has made in terms of arresting persons suspected of being violent extremists. We appreciate Kosovo adopting legislation, which will prevent so-called foreign fighters from leaving Kosovo, going to fight in foreign conflicts and then possibly returning, importing that violence back into Kosovo into the region. It’s extremely important that the government is taking this problem seriously. We’re happy with the degree of cooperation.  We’re glad that Kosovo will participate in the meeting in Washington on the 19th of February. It will be devoted to exchanging ideas and best practices on how all the countries that are facing this problem can work more effectively together.

VOA:  If you’d allow me, I’d like to jump into the region.  What is your assessment of the current situation in Albania?

DAS Yee:  I think it’s very important that Albania has made substantial progress in its own desire to join the European Union. The fact that Albania is now a candidate for joining the European Union is proof that countries that make important reforms, that are committed to fighting corruption, to strengthening the rule of law, to strengthening their market-based economies to attract foreign corporations and investors – these countries are going to become candidates for joining European and Euro-Atlantic institutions, and that there are rewards for what seem to be and which are in fact difficult, and sometimes costly and painful reforms.  So I think that’s an important message for the people of Albania, who will need to continue to pursue these reforms, and as a message to the government that as a matter of political commitment, that their own efforts to achieve what is one of the most important goals for Albania and other aspiring countries trying to join the European Union, and their own efforts, legislative, government, executive branch actions to pay off in terms of progress towards joining European institutions. I think it’s also important that Albania has been a very effective and generous participant in a number of initiatives with NATO, with the United States, in combatting violent extremism, in participating in international operations, including Afghanistan, as has Kosovo. But challenges remain for Albania to strengthen even further the rule of law and the fight against corruption.  In order for Albania to continue accession talks with the European Union they’ll need to be able to show the decisions, the reforms necessary in order to proceed on that path.

VOA: Sir, what about Macedonia, besides the outstanding problem with Greece, Macedonia is facing its own political problems, where does Macedonia stand?

DAS Yee:  Well, I feel like I’m beginning to repeat myself, but we also believe that Macedonia belongs in NATO, belongs in the European Union, that it has a lot to contribute to both of those institutions, that it is not so far from qualifying for candidacy or membership in these organizations.  It must of course meet all of the criteria, which includes good neighborly relations, which include meeting all the democratic standards for the EU or for NATO.  I think in Macedonia one of the challenges is to demonstrate to the European Union that the democratic reforms, whether it’s respect for media, whether it’s respect for the open political space, whether all of the basic political freedoms are still as strongly respected by the government as has been the case in the past. I think that the government of Macedonia has made clear it wants to join the European Union, that it wants to join NATO, and it must continue, even with the difficult impasse that it has been faced with now for a number of years. It must continue to strengthen and sustain those democratic reforms.  It will be important I think also for all of the members of the European Union and NATO allies as well to continue encouraging Macedonia on this path and to work towards a solution to the name issue, which affects not only the two countries most directly involved but the entire region. It’s important for the region, for Europe, that Macedonia does proceed towards NATO, towards the EU.

VOA: But how can the problem with Greece be solved?

DAS Yee:  Well, if I had the solution, I wouldn’t be here right now, I’d be somewhere else.  But seriously, I think if both countries can find the right political space – of course, it’s a sensitive issue for both countries domestically, it has been for a number of years.  If they can find the right occasion for recommencing the intense dialogue on the issue, it will be possible.  What it also requires I think is encouragement from partners, from allies, to encourage both countries to pursue a solution so that they both understand that it’s important not only for those two countries but for the region and for all of Europe.