Op-Ed for End of Year Edition of Kosova Sot
The start of a new year offers a perfect opportunity to step back and assess: where have we been, and where must we go next? Just weeks from the tenth anniversary of Kosovo’s independence, these questions resonate especially. Kosovo has come so far since 2008. We have seen fair and credible elections. Kosovo’s government has enhanced its sovereignty throughout its territory by extending the judiciary to all the country’s citizens. The signature of the billion-dollar Kosova e Re power plant deal demonstrates that the country is addressing its greatest economic and pollution threats. Kosova e Re should also signal to investors around the world that Kosovo is a safe destination for their money; the country’s improved ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business Report” is another terrific indicator.
As much as Kosovo should enjoy a moment to celebrate these successes, we — Kosovo and the United States together — must envision solutions to key challenges that will define this independent country’s next ten years.
First, the secretive effort to change or revoke the law authorizing the Special Court must stop. Undermining the court, which is vital to bring justice to the victims of war crimes, would have profound consequences for Kosovo’s European future and its relationship with the United States.
Every citizen in Kosovo should be proud of the country’s successes over the last decade, but I understand why many people feel frustrated. Unemployment remains too high, especially among youth. Too often students believe they have to leave Kosovo for a better future. Corruption is pervasive. Important jobs or public life in general are too often reserved for men, with women relegated to second place.
Corruption is a huge, broad problem: how can we fix it? Every citizen has a role. Kosovo’s judiciary must commit to prosecuting high-level officials, support laws that bring discipline and accountability to the system, and further strengthening the country’s rule of law. Kosovo’s politicians must demonstrate the political will to implement initiatives like e-procurement and vote through criminal code and procedural code reforms, all in the interest of the nation and not personal self-interest. Citizens must refrain from participating in even low-level bribes and report corruption when they see it.
What should the Assembly do? It needs to ratify the Border Demarcation Agreement with Montenegro to unlock visa-free travel in Europe. The 2015 agreement represents the same border that has existed between these two countries for decades and should be approved as is. The Assembly has a responsibility to support Kosovo’s advance along its European integration agenda and end the isolation of its citizens.
With the balance of these achievements and challenges in mind, I’d like to encourage every person in Kosovo to think about the future. How can you help? A business owner cannot solve equal employment for women alone, but could choose to employ women when they never have before. A student cannot solve corruption in higher education alone, but can refuse to pay a professor for a better grade. A Member of Parliament cannot solve government mismanagement alone, but can encourage fellow MPs to support e-procurement, making the government’s largest expenditures transparent and more efficient.
Too often people think that because Kosovo’s problems are big, someone else has to deal with them. But that isn’t how any of the big successes I talked about happened. Countless individuals across Kosovo in government, civil society, media, and everyday citizens, have banded together to make elections fair, the economy stronger, and human rights a priority. It will take continued commitment by everyone to make continued progress in the coming decade.
The United States believes in Kosovo. You can see that in big ways, like our economic assistance or the completion of our new Embassy, which will open in 2018. You can see it in small ways as well, through enabling loans for small businesses, new high value crops for farmers or a scholarship to study in the United States. We have been here for Kosovo’s most strategic decisions and discussions, and its most momentous triumphs. The United States of America looks forward to continuing working with the Republic of Kosovo for the next ten years and beyond.
Happy New Year, Urime Viti i Ri, Srećna Nova Godina!