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I want to say how important it is to my country, my Embassy, that Kosovo Serbs feel at home in Kosovo. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to improve the lives of regular people and we know their challenges. We are going to keep working on challenges like implementation of the language law, justice integration, supporting the rule of law sector, diploma recognition and certainly the minority employment issue. We want to ensure that Kosovo Serbs can see their future in Kosovo. We are going to do our best to help them overcome the challenges so that everybody that wants to live here can feel at home, said U.S. Ambassador Greg Delawie during his visit paid to North Mitrovica. We talked to Delawie on two pressing issues: the murder of Oliver Ivanovic, which is the topic shaking the local Serbian public; and whether after three and a half year of resistance the Kosovo Parliament will finally ratify the Demarcation Agreement and with what votes. This topic is viewed as a key obstacle to the visa liberalisation for those who are Kosovan travel document holders. In his tight schedule, the interview with the American diplomat was time limited with the discussion issues agreed in advance.
It has been your first visit after the assassination of designated Serbian political leader, Mr. Oliver Ivanovic. The Embassy reacted immediately after this tragic event – you strongly condemned it. And, you are spending the day – all day long here in the North Mitrovica. Who did you meet and what is the situation like?
First of all thank you very much for having me with you today, I really appreciate it. We started off at the Court, the new court, to meet Chief Judge Kabasic who is doing an incredible job trying to put the rule of law pieces back together for the north and I really respect him and all of his colleagues at the Court for really restarting the Court and the prosecution, in the north. I think it’s a terrific effort. It’s probably a bit harder than everybody expected. But, I have been really impressed with what they’re doing. Secondly, I walked by the construction site of the bridge. It looks like things are moving again, which is great. I hope that project is finished as soon as possible. It looks like there is not much more to do and, certainly I think that weall would be happier when the people can walk and drive across the bridge, like it was always intended. I saw Mayor Rakic. I had a good conversation with him about his priorities for the city and in his role as leader of the Srpska List as well. I talked to some civil society members, I am talking with you right now and then we are going to see a USAID project, a bakery. So, it’s a full day but it’s a good day.
Do you think this is a good day actually – is the situation promising, after the murder, do you see the difference?
I think life is continuing, which is good. I think it’s become clear that the horrible, the tragic murder of Mr. Ivanovic was not necessarily an interethnic incident. We don’t know who, of course, we don’t have any facts yet about the homicide. But, I think the fact that people are not blaming other communities for this is very positive. And I would like to interpret that as being part of the gradual improvement in intercommunal relations, between Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians.
Mr. Delawie, Oliver Ivanovic had been exposed to the most brutal verbal attacks during this short time of his political activity, following the release from the Court. His private property was also destroyed during the local elections so were those of the other Serb opposition candidates. While the Quint countries took a very strong vocal approach during the extraordinary Parliament vote from back last June, this was not the case for the local Kosovo elections. It remained mostly silent, why did it happen so?
There are things that have to been worked on here
„There are things that have to been worked on here. If I haven’t said enough about intimidation, then I’ll talk more about it because if you don’t have people who feel that they can run for office, no matter what their political views are, no matter who they are related to or tied to, then you have to call into question the democracy. Do you want everybody to be able to compete for elected office, whether it is in the local level, from the national level, who wants to run? And then let the voters decide. It’s not for governments to decide who should be able to run for office, it is for the voters to decide who they want to represent them.“
I think I have to disagree with you a bit there. We issued a Quint Statement in September regarding intimidation leading up to the local elections. I gave an interview with Radio Kim in October, where I condemned the interference and intimidation in the elections. I think we have been pretty vocal about interference in what should be a fundamentally democratic process, the election of local officials. Certainly the EU Observation Mission that was here during the local elections talked about the problem, interference, in the elections. I thought they had a very good statement after that. I have to say we heard stories about various type of intimidation, economic and other intimidation. I was disappointed that there weren’t more candidates in the election. I think 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we shouldn’t really be seeing single candidate elections in a democratic country.
The State Department released the advisory tip on the 12th of January, just 4 days before the murder, and then also did it Germany – a traveling guideline for the U.S. citizens to recommend, how it was specified, increased attention to those travelling to Kosovo, including the north of Kosovo. This information hit the major attention by Belgrade media and after the murder there were lots of not only speculation, but there was a very clear question raised in public. Was there any ground for that? Was the State Department aware, if not about the assassination itself, but about a possible particular threat?
Unfortunately there has been a lot of misinformation about this. If you look at the State Department website, you’ll see that the travel advisory for every country in the world was changed on that date. It was not just Kosovo, it was every country in the world and it was just a computer website refresh. That is point one. Point two, we have looked back at the travel advisories for the last year basically for Kosovo, including the north, and they are all basically substantively the same. There are a couple of words different here and there, but in substance, they were the same both before and after that day, the 12th. Unfortunately, what was basically an internal State Department computer website update got misinterpreted as signaling that we had information, or at least renewed concerns about security here. Now, of course we are concerned about security in the north and I think a lot of the north citizens are concerned about that as well. But, as far as that day or any specific information goes, that was purely a computer thing. We had no new information. If you look, you will see that there is really no new information from before the 12th and after the 12th.
It will be almost for two months that the investigation in regard to the assassination is ongoing. If you are analyzing how from the public perspective, information goes so far in public, it is back and forth accusations between Belgrade and Pristina. Is that a surprise to you that there is really no clear, tangible result presented in the public so far?
I have to say American television has probably given us all the idea that you can solve any crime within an hour. Unfortunately, that is not the case in the real world. It strikes me that the police are looking at this case seriously. There is a Kosovo Serb and a Kosovo Albanian prosecutor leading the investigation, which is good to have someone from each community here. I wish they had an answer already too, but in the real world, especially for a homicide, sometimes it takes a while to figure things out. I do not have the indication that people are being lazy or slacking off. I think it is a hard case, there is different types of evidence they have to evaluate and I hope they will get to the right result. Certainly, there has been some cooperation between Serbian and Kosovan police departments. Maybe it took a little while to get kicked off the ground, but there seems to be some, which is positive because it is certainly possible that there is evidence in both countries that could help lead to a solution to the problem. We are doing what we can to support the police, the prosecutors with training and things like that. If I could solve this crime I would, I’d tell the police. I don’t have any evidence unfortunately.
Are you concerned about the rule of law and policing generally in Kosovo and in the north of Kosovo?
Absolutely. It is the number one topic for my Embassy in Kosovo. I talk about it almost every day. It is the thing. If you don’t have rule of law, economics and reconciliation and things like that become very, very difficult. You have to have rule of law. There is a way to go in Kosovo, there is a way to go in the north. I was very glad to see German Foreign Minister Gabriel here two weeks ago talking about rule of law challenges. I think the more it is talked about, the better because it is the citizens ultimately who, through pressure on politicians, are going to lead to improvements on the rule of law. We can do a lot of training, and we do. We spend millions of dollars a year training police and prosecutors and things like that. But, what it really takes is thecitizens to say: ‘I’m just sick of this, I don’t want my children to be around drug dealers, or I don’t want bad things to happen.’ They can pressure the politicians and the police to do a better job, and they should. It is their right.
What would be your response to a significant portion of the public who thinks that it is not that a difficult case to investigate in regard to what Oliver Ivanovic had been warning months ahead of the assassination in a very small place where everyone knows everything?
If people really have evidence or facts, they should tell the police. I know people think it should be solved by now, and in an ideal world of course it would. But, in fact, complicated cases sometimes take a long time to resolve.
To get on the demarcation. You has just tweeted and said that the ratification is closer than ever, expecting the demarcation to be ratified this week. However, last week you tweeted again about very optimistic expectations and you also reminded the public of the tweet you posted in August 2015 when you had another very optimistic message. We are now in the fourth year of this. How sure are you that the Demarcation Agreement will be ratified this week, and to be so, would you expect it to be voted by Srpska List or Vetevendosje?
I plead guilty to being an optimist. You shouldn’t go into the diplomacy business if you are not an optimist. I think it is a fact that we have never been closer than we are today to a positive vote in the Assembly, 80 or more votes in favor of this Demarcation Agreement. I’m going to be optimistic and say it could actually be voted on positively this week, and that would be great. Certainly it is in the interest of all of Kosovo’s citizens that this agreement be ratified as soon as possible. Whether you are a Kosovo Serb, a Kosovo Albanian, a Gorani, a Roma or whatever – this is in the interest of every community here, that this be passed. European Union High Representative Mogherini said a couple of days ago when she was here that the vote on the border would „unblock“ visa liberalization for Kosovo. I think this issue has really sucked up a lot of the political oxygen in Kosovo the last couple of years and prevented other important things from being done because everyone is consumed with this issue. The Assembly can vote on it, approve it, and then that would give the Members of Parliament an opportunity to go on to other things that are important to Kosovo citizens like rule of law, like education, like health care, that are very significant. I would love it if it were approved by all MPs from all parties. If everybody voted for it.
Will that happen?
Your crystal ball might be better than mine, I hope so. That’s all I can say. There is a significant portion within the Serbian public concerned about this Demarcation Agreement.
There are some voices, both political and expert voices saying that this would not be an international legal border between Kosovo and Montenegro like between Montenegro and Serbia. Do you see any difference between the border between Kosovo and Montenegro in terms of that this is not an internationally recognized border like the ones of the countries within former Yugoslavia? The borders between those countries, former republics, were certified by the UN.
The United States government position on this issue is clear. Kosovo is a sovereign, independent state. We recognized that sovereignty and independence in 2008 and we feel that Kosovo should be able to engage in international agreements with foreign partners on the same basis as any other sovereign, independent state. Certainly, I view the border agreement between Kosovo and Montenegro as being a sovereign agreement between those two nations and both nations, in my view, are perfectly capable, able and legally justified in defining that border.
Will it need an extra recognition from the UN?
I’m not a lawyer. I believe that as long as both countries agree, it becomes valid for those countries, and those are the countries that matter.
Currently there are two simplified narratives ongoing, both in Kosovo and Serbia. One, for Belgrade they says that if the normalization agreement is signed, Serbia will be accepted into the EU. In Pristina it is – if the demarcation agreement is ratified, Kosovo will get visa liberalization. Both political leaderships and media somehow dropped the criteria – the fight against crime and corruption. Are they right? Are those the only two criteria for having Serbia in Europe or having visa liberalization in Pristina?
If you want an EU opinion, you have to ask an EU official, which is not me. But I can tell you that crime and corruption in Kosovo are the defining issues for this country. Kosovo has to work on it, it has to work harder. We are trying to help and we have seen some progress. The Transparency International ranking on corruption for Kosovo has improved a couple of points from last year. That is positive. The World Bank ranking on corruption has improved a couple points from the year before. But there has to be more work, there has to be more seriousness, there has to be more commitment by the rule of law institutions and by the politicians to get things done. This is just vital. It is what the Kosovo citizens want from all of the communities. If you look at any public opinion poll, 70% of people say that the biggest problem in Kosovo is corruption. I think this is a big issue that has to be dealt with. Of course Kosovo is not alone in this, there are other countries that have this challenge as well. But, Kosovo has to work harder on this issue and everyone in the rule of law sector has to work. Kosovo citizens have to keep making their opinion known because I think we see, increasingly in Kosovo and in other countries, what the citizens want, they also normally get. They don’t get it as fast as they want, but they will get it.
Thank you for talking to Kossev.
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