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Kosovo's PM Thaci on statehood, corruption and the EU dream

Kosovo's PM Thaci on statehood, corruption and the EU dream
By Euronews
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Kosovo emerged from a bloody and brutal conflict with its neighbour Serbia some 15 years ago and has since embarked on the rocky road to reform hoping one day to be accepted by the whole international community as a fully fledged sovereign state. However, many obstacles remain in its path.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci discusses these and other issues with Isabelle Kumar in this is edition of the Global Conversation.

Isabelle Kumar, euronews: “When will Kosovo be accepted as this sovereign state, as you so wish, by the whole international community?”

Hashim Thaci: “Kosovo has strengthened its international position as a sovereign and independent state and has been recognised by 105 different states, 23 EU states, by the US and many others throughout the world. Kosovo is working hard to be part of NATO and the EU in the near future. We also hope in the near the future to join the United Nations. Kosovo is consolidating and strengthening its position to become a member of the UN and this Euro Atlantic family.”

euronews: “Our interview has sparked a lot of interest across our social media sites and we have received a lot of questions from our viewers. We received this question from Seremb Giergi and I think this is key – ‘When will Serbia recognise Kosovo as an independent state?’.”

Hashim Thaci: “In reality, last April we reached a peace deal with Serbia in Brussels. It was the first time we were able to reach such an accord between Kosovo and Serbia for the normalisation of relations. So this is a first step. But I have total confidence that Serbia will recognise Kosovo’s independence. Now, when will that happen? That really depends on the institutional authorities in Serbia – to recognise Kosovo – and as such we can’t define a date.”

euronews: “That is key then isn’t it, if Serbia were to recognise Kosovo would that then become the catalyst that would allow Russia, China, India, other EU member states to follow suit?”

Hashim Thaci: “I am confident that Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo will then help other countries who are for the moment hesitant concerning Kosovo’s process of independence. At the same time, I am hopeful and confident that Russia will change its position towards Kosovo. Kosovo and Russia are not enemies. Russia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence because of Serbia, but if it were too that might even help Serbia.”

euronews: “When you sat down for talks on normalisation of relations with Serbia, you were sitting opposite the Serbian Prime Minister, who not so long ago had wanted you dead. How did it feel the first time you sat opposite him for these negotiations?”

Hashim Thaci: “ When we sat together we did not have conflict in our minds but how to bring an end to what had happened earlier and how to open a new chapter of cooperation, a chapter of understanding, of reconciliation and of promoting civilizing European values amongst our people to build good friendly relations. If we had opened last century’s chapter we would never have reached an agreement. Over and above our emotions linked to the past we posed arguments of the future for peace development and progress.”

euronews: “We received this question from Albert Limani and he asks: ‘What was the most difficult moment of negotiations with the prime minister of Serbia?’.”

Hashim Thaci: “The most difficult moment was signing the peace agreement. Our people are not used to reaching peace between Kosovo and Serbia and in general people in the whole region are not used to reaching peace. We would have been, both prime ministers, more applauded if we failed to reach an agreement.

“We signed the agreement for the EU perspective of our countries but at the same time there was strong criticism in Pristina and in Belgrade. But, what’s the solution? Shall we continue conflicts and these problems, hostilities, murders, violence, I think against all these arguments the right proper logic triumphed with the signing of the agreement.”

euronews: “There have been international agreements, but in Kosovo you are facing a lot of pressure when it comes to corruption and you have been told to put your own house in order by the international community. You declared zero tolerance against corruption but it doesn’t appear to be working does it?”

Hashim Thaci: “There’s been a battle against corruption, organised crime and negative phenomena. We are continuing the zero tolerance mode against corruption and other negative phenomena and we are cooperating with all international authorities. Results cannot be denied but we are aware that more can be done and in this respect we will not compromise.”

euronews: “But what I am getting at is that this zero tolerance doesn’t seem to be working, if we look at the recent Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, 75 percent of Kosovars say that they feel political parties are corrupt, or extremely corrupt, and if we look at the United Nations Organisation for Drugs and crime – they say corruption is the main thing holding businesses things back in Kosovo? Are they wrong?”

Hashim Thaci: “According to the figures, the fact is we do need to do more, there should also be more done for presenting this fight so that we change this perception people have of Kosovo and the region. I am aware that this perception needs to change, with concrete action we can change this. I take seriously every remark, every criticism, every opinion but the reality in Kosovo is that corruption in Kosovo, organised crime and all other negative phenomena are being fought.”

euronews: “Corruption is obviously dragging down the economy and Kosovo is one of the poorest countries of Europe, over 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. We received this question from Besnik Kallaba who says, ‘Do you feel responsible for being one of the poorest countries of Europe?’ How do you shoulder that responsibility?”

Hashim Thaci: “There have been changes in Kosovo and you can see them everywhere, starting with construction of highways – the most modern in the region, a modern airport, we have invested in infrastructure, agriculture education. As prime minister I know more needs to be done. But Kosovo is unfortunately still the poorest country in Europe. It used to be in the past, and what we are doing, we are moving in positive trends to eliminate poverty that dates one century back from the rule of Serbia and for the first time we are deciding on our own. There can be no miracle in six years but we are building the basis for a future and stable and developed Kosovo.”

euronews: “So no miracle in six years, but 2014 is going to be an important time in Kosovo. There are going to be elections, will you stand again as prime minister?”

Hashim Thaci: “The Democratic party of Kosovo, the party that I lead will also win the election of 2014. I will continue to lead the campaign, the party’s campaign as prime minister of the Republic of Kosovo.”

euronews: “You will be fighting another election campaign, something that interests me. Is fighting in your blood, you were the political chief of the Kosovo Liberation Army, how do you consolidate those two personas, the person who was fighting on the battlefield and now the person who is fighting elections?”

Hashim Thaci: “There are two different political arenas and circumstances, which are quite complex. It was not easy to lead the political fight during the war. I was a political leader of the army, I feel proud of the resistance of the people and the role of the international conference in Rambouillet in 1999 when we reached a political agreement with the international community, the EU, and NATO. I think this brought some some exceptional leadership experience which helped me build the profile of the party. An electoral campaign is an exceptional privilege as I can talk directly with the people.”

euronews: “I guess what I am getting at, is when you are on the battlefield, and correct me if I am wrong, you had the pseudonym the Snake because you were very skillful at evading capture, so you were skillful on the battle field, how do those skills help you in government, do they help you in government?”

Hashim Thaci: “Of course every leader has his own tactics, skills in the positive sense, tactical, strategic sense in different battles in different times I have different tactics and strategies to lead the party. But what is important is that I always respect full transparency. Of course it was quite different to convince a person to fight against Serbia and now it’s quite different to convince a citizen to trust you to lead the country. Now we live up to our responsibilities that we were trusted by the people.”

euronews: “Do those times in the Kosovo Liberation Army haunt you, now that that period is over, you must have had to kill men, possibly ordered assassinations?”

Hashim Thaci: “The fight of the people of Kosovo was a just fight, it was a clean fight for freedom and existence; we won it together with the internationals. Serbia was forced out of Kosovo, its military, police and Serb administration. We did not have a battle with the Serb citizens but for the removal of Serbia from Kosovo and we did that and I feel proud.”

euronews: “But on a personal level, does that period haunt you? Did you have to kill people?”

Hashim Thaci: “I was far from the battle field, Kosovo’s victory is more political than military. It’s a common victory for Kosovo, and of all of the international community. It’s a battle against injustice, good over evil, we have managed this with our international partners, I feel comfortable with the political cooperation I built in different periods before this the war that you mentioned, but also the cooperation with the US and the EU. So Kosovo is a success story, it’s a shared story and our battle was for Kosovo to win, not a battle to kill.”

euronews: “2014 is also the year where we are expecting a criminal investigation that has been led by the European Union that has been investigating claims that you were involved in murder, in drug smuggling, that members of the KLA were involved in organ harvesting and smuggling, are you concerned about that, because you will find out and your aides will find out if they will be vindicated or indicted?”

Hashim Thaci: “We have given full support to this investigation task force. As institutions of the Republic of Kosovo we have full trust in justice, there is nothing for us to hide. Just to be clear, what you asked earlier, I never ordered or committed any activity that runs contrary to international law, but we broke Serbia’s laws and we did good to break Slobodan Milosevic’s laws because they were not lawful, they were laws of repression, genocide and segregation and we give full support to justice and we have full trust in justice and we will continue with our close cooperation.”

euronews: “Can you categorically state that no member of the Kosovo Liberation Army was involved in this organ harvesting?”

Hashim Thaci: “I say it with full conviction, that I heard about this for the first time in Dick Marty’s (Council of Europe) report . I can never ever believe that someone has done this, I can never ever believe that a freedom fighter can do something like that. But of course we need to give time and space to justice to resolve all these suspicions that have come up. I cannot believe it, it is science fiction, no one can believe it. I am certain it did not happen, this is my belief.”

euronews: “We received this question from Stephen Christie who said, ‘With the benefit of hind sight what would you have done differently?’”

Hashim Thaci: “I would have liked, if I could have done at the time, to have changed international opinion, for the international community to have acted sooner than 1999, and to not have had the deportation of a million of people from Kosovo, to have avoided mass expulsion of people in the summer of 1998. International intervention should have happened earlier but they were busy elsewhere, but I would like to have improved communication with the international community, with the UN, to convince them that Serbia was committing genocide in Kosovo because this only occurred late in 1999.”

euronews: “You have also been – and this is quite a dramatic difference from the allegations you are involved in, the criminal investigation that is underway at the moment – you have also been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize along with Serbian PM Ivica Dacic and Catherine Ashton who is the EU Foreign Policy Chief, how does that make you feel? Do you feel you deserve that nomination?”

Hashim Thaci: “I have signed all the agreements of my country with the international community which have brought peace and freedom of the country and independence as well. I think with the reaching of the peace agreement between Kosovo and Serbia there are circumstances created and we have contributed to peace and stability and understanding, and to the future of our generations and our people. This has been respected by the US Congress, by EU parliamentarians of various world countries. But if we win that prize if would to a great extent dedicated to the people of Kosovo because they have the greatest merit for freedom independence and peace.”

euronews: “And finally, on a much lighter note, I am going to end with a question we received and this is from someone who goes under the name of Dardan, he asks, ‘What did you want to be when you were a child?’.”

Hashim Thaci: “I studied history but doing that I realised remaining in history archives was not enough because that way I was not able to change the course of my country. That’s because I wanted to get out of history archives and to face current problems and face the battle of my people for independence and freedom.

“I have had three political goals in my life, reaching freedom for my country and independence and these two have been achieved and my third is to integrate Kosovo to NATO, the EU and United Nations. It’s not an easy or a short term effort but I am convinced that we will reach the third objective with the people of Kosovo.”

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