Haradinaj stands firmly behind the position that there would be no abolishing of the taxes without the recognition of Kosovo even seven months later. “The current dialogue did not move in a good direction. A dialogue framework is needed in order to sit at a table again,” he emphasized. According to Haradinaj, this framework is „recognition.“ „If we do not have political relations, we will not have economic ones,“ Kosovo Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj said in an exclusive interview for KoSSev. He answered most of the questions by talking about the recognition, while simultaneously asserting that the Kosovo side does not expect any kind of favour from Serbia, but also that he is aware of the mood of the people from the north. „No matter the opinion you have, continue to love yourself, your values, language, Serbia, while living in peace and order,“ he emphasized.
You are aware that your persistent attitude over the past seven months that the 100% customs duties should remain in force evidently brought you popularity among the Kosovo public, even an advantage over Thaci, it is speculated. On the other hand, it also caused strong dissatisfaction in the West. A diplomat told me recently, in an unofficial conversation, that it was a very unpleasant awakening for them in terms of what they expected to come following 20 years of democracy-building in Kosovo. Specifically, this story about the introduction of customs duties contributed it. Likewise, your decision on taxes has evidently provoked the revolt of your partner in the dialogue – Belgrade, and what is quite clear now, has caused a crisis in the field, regardless of the fact that Pristina is sending a message that it is an artificial crisis. Regardless how the crisis in the north is perceived by both Belgrade or Pristina, poor quality of life of the citizens of the north is noticeable and the existence of this crisis is evident. Your decision to introduce taxes is interpreted in such way that there is not a sufficient political justification for the economic measures you have imposed – which is an attack on a free economy, trade, a violation of CEFTA agreement and a violation of your relationship with your first partner.
Will you change anything in this tax policy of yours that has been in force for seven months, which is seen by many economic experts as the abolishing of free trade, even interpreted and described by many as economic nationalism?
First, let me make this clear and the citizens know this: Every citizen can import up to 165 EUR of products from Serbia without any customs duties. If there are four passengers, it can last for more than a week or a month. Secondly, there is no tax or customs for humanitarian needs of the church, for schools, for outpatient clinics. Everything is open. The decision on the taxes on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was not imposed because of Pristina’s arrogance, but we were, I would say, forced to do so. Now we can go back to the table, we can suspend the taxes, but we need a dialogue framework. This framework, the dialogue framework that is, of course, is what still remains outstanding and what we have not yet agreed on – which is recognition within the existing boundaries. If there is no readiness for us to sit down and discuss, with a dialogue framework, then it is a sign that Serbia does not recognize our existence and then it is no longer free trade. Since free trade exists among free people and not if one does not recognize the existence of the other. We are defending our national interest here and this will remain until Serbia shows a readiness to sit down and discuss the relations between Serbia and Kosovo. These relations can be mutual recognition within the existing boundaries. We will then be free people on both sides and there will be free trade.
You often publicly say that you take care of all your citizens. And you often send messages to residents in the north of Kosovo. Why are you punishing a certain number of people (in the north) for the sake of competing politically with Belgrade’s official policy? You expect recognition – a high political goal, but it is happening directly over the backs of citizens in the north. They are the ones who are suffering in this situation. I will not list all the ways they are suffering. Just one of what you mentioned. You say, they can buy goods. As the Prime Minister, are you aware of the consequences for your government and population when citizens go to Raska – and they do it often – as it is not far for shopping, they buy groceries, and the bulk of the money is thus taken away from the local market? Take, for example, some 60,000 (people) from the north. Let’s say that every person spends €20 in a Serbian city – that is over a million euro less for the local economy in the community, and generally less revenue for the economy of Kosovo. So, what kind of economic justification do you see if you propose that citizens go to the other side and transport goods two or three hours and spend money outside the territory they live in?
First of all, the cross-border economy exists throughout the world. I used to live in Switzerland and went to France to shop every weekend because it was cheaper. We did not do this to make life difficult for our people, Albanians, Serbs, and others. If citizens in the north go to Raska or elsewhere because of geography or for some other reason, then it would still be a solution for them, but we are not doing this to act against our citizens. We pay the price when needed, but making the lives of our citizens difficult is not the goal. Nevertheless, there are products in the north, as there are in the southern part of Kosovo, and it is possible to procure what is needed for life, at the same price, but also of the same quality. I also hope this will not go on forever. I hope that Serbia will understand that Kosovo exists. We are not going anywhere. We are here. And I think that without this political agreement, we will sometimes have such questions that are difficult to answer. I was personally interested in ensuring that the rights of every citizen carrying goods are respected, the rights of charity shipments for the church and for other humanitarian shipments are respected, but Kosovo is still a state and it will be a state and here we are. Even if our neighbor is not ready to admit this reality, but we have to wait.
I am not an economist, but I understand enough that I can hardly accept that, in the 21st century, some political goal can be reached with economic sanctions, and this is a type of economic nationalism. What is the difference between Milosevic’s decision to ban imports from Slovenia in the 90’s and what you are doing now by imposing the 100% tax? There are practically no imports from Serbia?
If someone does not recognize your existence – and Serbia does not recognize the existence of Kosovo – that plays a big difference. It still does not recognize that we exist…
… Milosevic did not recognize Slovenia.
And what about Slovenia? Did it recognize Serbia?
It was a dismantling of the state. Therefore, Milosevic introduced economic sanctions for the same reasons, as did you. How would you compare the two of you?
Let me explain. The Serbian state security services visited the homes, families, and threatened approximately 40 young people of Serb ethnicity, from the southern part and from the north, to leave the Army of Kosovo… and they still have 24-hour police protection guarding their houses and the Serbs.
Was this enough to introduce the 100% taxes?
Kosovo is threatened by Serbia, unqualified for free trade and those principles of CEFTA. Serbia was very proactive, Kosovo was destroyed and we defended ourselves. People can make those parallels with Milosevic, but I think that the people of Serbia know what bad things that President Milosevic did to all his neighbours. And for me, the current politics of Belgrade is not very different from the one back then, since there is this non-recognition. We exist, Kosovo exists, it is a state and Serbia must now find that courage to recognize that a neighbour who has a very tragic past due to Mr. Milosevic and the regime is offering mutual recognition and free trade. Selling by force cannot be done here. Selling by force cannot be done in Kosovo either by Serbia or anyone else. If we do not have political relations, we will not have any economic ones.
Do you feel any responsibility for the taxes? Did you know that until the implementation of your decision there was an incredibly vibrant co-operation between the Serbs and Albanians in Mitrovica and that the first bridges of cooperation between the two nations actually started through trade? The south was one of the favourite places to shop for residents in the north for years, whether Bosniaks, Serbs or Albanians. The inhabitants from the south liked to come to the north. Both sides had their favourite products. The people from the south, for example, liked to buy goods from the market, medicine. People from the north visited big shopping centers, they bought everything – not just products from Serbia or other countries, but they liked to buy domestic products from Kosovo, sweets, cheeses etc. Bosniak Mahala is one of the most popular shopping spots where Serbs and Albanians trade together. With your tax introduction, segregation of these two peoples according to the origin of goods took place. We had very uncomfortable situations at the beginning of the introduction of the taxes – Albanians burning Serbian products, the Plazma biscuit, for example. Or in the past days, residents of the north gave statements that it does not cross their minds to go to the south and buy „their goods.“ After this decision on the taxes, there was a segregation in cooperation between the two ethnicities. Do you feel any responsibility?
Yes, I have a responsibility for everything that happens in our country. I am responsible for all the population of Kosovo – both in the north and in the south and everywhere. We bought Serbian goods and we did that for twenty years. Over the past twenty years, that money was used for lobbying against the recognition of our country, for everything that happened, threats to our security structures, and not just that, for buying weapons in Russia, in Moscow. Vulin goes there often and buys those airplanes, MiG aircrafts…
I do not understand you. What does that have to do with this?
For twenty years, we bought Serbian goods in Kosovo. Do Vucic and Serbia feel sorry about how they are treating Kosovo where they have been selling their goods for twenty years? That’s more than a billion a year. Now, if we want a solution, there is a solution – recognition of Kosovo. If we just want an apology, or just to throw the ball here and there, we can do it, and the story has been going on for a long time. We know what happened here in ’99. We know what happened before. Kosovo is ready for some new relations with Serbia but that comes with recognition. The gesture of recognition must be very honest. It will not be repaired in this way.
You have made it very clear that there is no cancellation of taxes without recognition of Kosovo by Serbia, as you say. On the other hand, you know that there is no government in Belgrade that would recognize Kosovo so that you abolish the taxes? Or do you believe that is possible?
No, I do not think that the recognition must come because of the taxes alone. But recognition is perhaps in the interest of Serbia as well.
What if the government in Belgrade, President Vucic, tells you – abolish the taxes and we will sit down at the table, what do you say to that?
We are looking for a dialogue framework, and the dialogue framework is to discuss the recognition. It’s the framework for the (negotiating) table.
When you say dialogue framework, what does that mean in practice?
Contract. That means – we will always talk about recognition.
That means you expect to receive clear guarantees that you will meet and talk about recognition, and then you will abolish the taxes, or…?
It would contribute to it, if there readiness from Serbia to sit down and agree on what finally remains – the bilateral relations.
I will ask you once again because President Vucic is constantly repeating it, almost every day. He says: Abolish the taxes and we’ll sit at the table. What do you say to that?
We were at the table, and when we were at the table, the dialogue went in the wrong direction.
But you were not involved in this dialogue?
It does not matter, it is not a personal matter. Kosovo was in dialogue. It did not move in a good direction. We will not enter some kind of process now, in which there will always be some bad surprises and we want to be safe. Dialogue must have its own frameworks – what we are talking about, why we are sitting at the table. And if we had that, and if it were known, then our behavior would be different.
A month ago we had a police action throughout Kosovo. It was explained that it was an action to fight organized crime. A dozen people were arrested, mostly members of the Kosovo Police – Serbs, Albanians and Bosniaks – in several municipalities. There is the other side of this also, and that is what happened in Zubin Potok. On the one hand, barricades, and on the other, there were a few cases of what, according to people’s testimony, were obvious excessive use of force? Have you heard what happened to the residents whose houses were located near the police action? Did you hear their testimonies, did you see their photographs, documentation, videos, where you can see that they were beaten, mistreated? A sixty-year-old deaf man Razvigor Cvetnic who was on his way to a shop was brutally beaten. A 28 years old woman was beaten, along with her father and brothers, a 75 years old man named Lekic was mistreated by police officers, who removed his shajkacha hat. You know what a shame it is for the elderly, Albanians and Serbs, when the hats they wear are removed. Is there an investigation into these cases? These few examples of the use of brutal force against residents who were not part of the whole situation left a very bad impression on the population that the Kosovo Police can gain their confidence and be able to explain the fight against organized crime. Has the government taken any actions to investigate this?
It is important to know that Serbs from the north are in the police in the north, but there are other communities living in the north. And the first actions always come from the northern police, these are ordinary policemen, citizens of that region. If there is some sort of difficulty, then, according to police protocol, some other units provide support. That happened in Zubin Potok, because of shooting at police officers and one wounded policeman. Otherwise, there would be no force and there would be no reason for it to not proceed normally.
But why were ordinary people harmed?
I’m explaining to you that ordinary policemen, who were ordinary people, were shot at and a policeman was wounded. Then those who arrived acted according to their protocol. I just came from the Kosovo Police Inspectorate led by the professional Miradije Kelmendi. We were supported by Europeans, Americans, OSCE, they were there. That inspectorate always controls the behavior of each police officer.
Is there an investigation into these cases?
They do their job very professionally.
Do you know if there is an investigation into this case?
Hundreds of police officers have lost their jobs because of the investigation so far. I cannot precisely say anything on the last thing that happened, what is being done, but they are very good at their job. Secondly, it is not the Kosovo police’s intention to behave badly, but the additional police units are employed only in the north – when they cannot do their job. I want to thank those police officers who were there. Look, if there is peace and order in the north, it does not mean that Serbs from the north must only love Kosovo and not love Serbia. Order and peace are needed for all… No matter the opinion you have, you have to continue to love yourself, your own language, your value, Serbia. But while living in peace and in peace, while your children go to school, while someone can pick up your trash, cleans the streets, while you have quality water and electricity, while you live a normal life. If you have political goals, it does not hurt them if you live in order and peace and democracy. If you live in ignorance and if crime commands you, then it is not good for political opinion. Where will you end up? I would say that the goal of Kosovo is not living in the past. It is not living in hatred. That is not Kosovo. We don’t want to see Serbs in the north being underestimated by the state, institutions, or anyone. We will not accept disrespect. At any time, we will see exactly what happened, but it is important that the people understand that any political decision, political will or future – does not depend on whether you live in order and peace, by law or by criminal means.
Many from the north would agree with you that they need peace and order, the only problem is that the entire time they are getting a message about double standards. I want to ask you about your relations with Srpska Lista? Four officials, ministers, have been dismissed?
I do what I would, in the end, do for my party, with respect. There were some situations that I had to decide on, but nevertheless, I am trying and I am working to support the municipalities in the north and the people of the north, not only through the municipal budget, but also through the Ministry of Communities and the Local Government budget. And all national projects are included in all of this from the Office for Communities. We support the people in the north, just as we support the people throughout Kosovo.
Yes, but I’m asking you about Srpska Lista. What is your current relationship with Milan Radoicic? When was the last time you saw and talked to each other and would you tell me now what you told my colleague Budimir Nicic two years ago – that he is someone who is very important and who is in charge of everything?
At the time of my cooperation with Mr. Radoicic and with Srpska Lista, I can say that I had good experience in cooperating with them at the time. There is an investigation now and since this is the matter of the judiciary, I have no communication, no relationship (with him/them) now. If this were to be solved with the judiciary, then I would respect that, but now I have to wait for the judiciary to have their say.
Are you preparing for the autumn elections?
The decision on the elections is political and we will decide on that, but it does not depend on the relationship with Srpska Lista or with any other party. It’s a political decision. I am ready to continue my mandate in 2021, because I was elected until then, unless the Assembly decides otherwise. I respect that.
What do you think are the main reasons why the Serbian community opposes Kosovo’s independence? What do you honestly think and what do you see as the reason behind this?
This is known, national affiliation has a great, I would say, influence on any decision. I was born an Albanian. I live in Kosovo. I am an Albanian, but my country is Kosovo and here we have a flag that is new, common. Firstly, I believe that national affiliation is important for what is, I would say, first love. For example, I understand that Serbia may be the first love of many Serbs and those who live in Kosovo. However, respect for their home, Kosovo and their, I would also say, state because Kosovo is not only a state for Albanians, Kosovo is a state for Serbs living in Kosovo and our house is common. And to everyone else – that would be a solution, I would say, for our troubles.
You remember that in the past there was the Contact Group and the Russians agreed that there would be no return, no partition, nor a merger. So from then on, from the Contact Group which included the Russians, it was known that Kosovo would be in the north. I believe this is a solution for our troubles
Imagine that in the past twenty years, Kosovo has demonstrated, in every possible way, that it provides security to citizens, whether they are Albanians, Serbs or anyone else. That the institutions have truly tried to show every citizen, even Serbian citizens, that they can exercise their civil and ethnic rights in those institutions. For twenty years there is a very strong impression among Kosovo Serbs, with numerous examples, of violation of their civil and national rights. If the Kosovo institutions showed a sincere willingness to fight corruption, organized crime, to create a space for young people, educated people to remain here, what do you think the Serbs would think today, twenty years later?
I would explain that, maybe the Serbian citizens in Kosovo know – even the Albanians in Kosovo do not lead the best lives. The position of Serbs in Kosovo is not much different than the position of all other nations in Kosovo. There are other reasons maybe, but nevertheless, our goal now is economic development and the GDP is 4.7. There is some kind of energy that is good for order and peace and the fight against corruption and life. But I would not agree, not only with you, but with anyone that Kosovo was not aware of its obligations and responsibilities to the Serbian citizens of Kosovo. And we are trying, if you go to Gracanica, to Partes, to Strpce, Ranilug, wherever Serbs live, Novo Brdo – they live their lives, nobody disturbs them, they are respected. Mayors are Serbs, some would complain that it is not possible to see the Kosovo flag everywhere, but nevertheless, they live very freely and there are no additional obstacles than those faced by everyone living in Kosovo.
Do you know that citizens in the north have a lot of objections to Srpska Lista on account of it being your coalition partner? I believe that you are also aware that, for Serbian citizens, your role in the war of the 1990s is very problematic, before the bombing and during the bombing. Why do you think and how do you think that citizens from the north can listen to you rather than what the government from Belgrade is telling them, no matter the sort of relationship that the Belgrade government has with the (Kosovo) Serbs?
It’s important to explain. After the war, I was placed before the international justice (court). I spent eight years in courts and all those claims that existed were presented in court. I was acquitted by the largest court of the world, created for the former Yugoslavia on two occasions. The last decision reads that I didn’t contribute to crime, but also that I tried to prevent crime.
You also know that many witnesses were killed or died during your trial…
With all due respect, Serge Brammertz, who was the chief prosecutor in Belgrade, said it was not true. Not a single witness in the Haradinaj case was missing. All listed on the testimony list which appeared in court. There was one Roma man who died in Podgorica, and he was hit by a bus driven by a Serb. That’s the truth in my case. I know something different is being said, though I do what I believe in – for the sake of the citizens. Our people say that one should not do to others what you don’t want being done to you. I try to respect all citizens, to respect the Serbs. I would never be part of the underestimation of Kosovo Serbs. He must be a free man in his country and I am working on it. Many who cooperated with me, have trust in me. I did not choose Srpska Lista, the Serbs from Kosovo voted for Srpska Lista. They are in the Assembly, I found them there and respect them. I have to respect the people elected by the citizens, this is my democratic duty.
Are you ready to unlock the dialogue? Do you have a politician’s vision of the future? To have the politician’s responsibility about a true compromise between Belgrade and Pristina. Are you ready and in what way?
I will not always cry, blame, sue and say what the other side did. I don’t do this. I’m ready for mutual recognition with Serbia. That’s the solution, we don’t have to avoid the truth.
But Serbia does not see that as a compromise.
Sorry, but it’s a compromise. You know what sort of sacrifice was made by Kosovo, and Kosovo is ready for recognition and new relations, and to move past what was in the past.
In what way is this a compromise for Serbia? For Serbia to recognize you? Where in this do you see a compromise for it?
Excuse me, Serbia does not need to recognize us for us. Serbia will recognize us because of the Serbs, not because of us. We are not asking Serbia for any favours.
What is the compromise for Serbia here?
The same thing as what is our compromise – for us to recognize Serbia.
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