By Kosovar Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj - 11/12/13 09:45 AM EST
The local elections on November 3 were a remarkable test for democratic governance in Kosovo.
Despite the challenges in the northern municipalities, Kosovo’s commitment to diversity and democracy passed the test. For the first time since Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, voters throughout our country freely chose their local leaders.
With a turnout close to 50 percent, including in the ethnic Serbian areas, without threats of violence, the results revealed Kosovo’s progress toward a multi-ethnic and inclusive state.
For a world wracked by ethnic conflicts, border disputes and difficult transitions to self-government, Kosovo’s journey should offer inspiration and encouragement. Kosovars are forever indebted to the United States and NATO member states that contributed tens of thousands of troops to the Kosovo campaign, helping to prevent ethnic cleansing and promote a diverse democracy.
The elections were organized in accordance with Kosovo laws, technically supported by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and for the first time monitored by the European Union (EU) Observation Mission. Our adherence to democratic norms reflects our orientation toward the West – and towards the future. Our journey hasn’t been easy, but it is essential.
Emerging after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and enduring war, genocide and ethnic conflict, Kosovo continues to travel a rocky road. While voting was underway, incidents in northern Mitrovica, caused by criminal and extremist groups, cast an appalling shadow on the elections.
Nonetheless, during the weekend when the elections were held, ethnic Serbians in the North showed that they have the will and the desire to be part of the process of building a democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo. I admire the willingness of Serbian citizens in the North to vote, despite the constant threats and intimidation by the extremists who claimed to speak for them. Meanwhile, we must not forget that around 70 percent of Kosovo Serbs who live in the South have been part of Kosovo’s political and social life since the declaration of independence, contributing fully to our state-building process.
As a result of the agreement of April 19, 2013, brokered by the EU, on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia – and with the commitment of ethnic Serbian citizens to integration into our society – this election marks a milestone toward both countries’ accession into the EU.
However, there are still bumps on the road toward a lasting peace in the traditionally turbulent Balkans. As Foreign Minister of Kosovo, I am not satisfied with the role that Belgrade played in the election process. It is worrisome that the most senior representatives of the Serbian state have considered these elections an opportunity to seek revenge against Kosovar Albanians and their representatives. Also, their negative attitude toward political pluralism, as evidenced by their discouraging the Serbian community in our country from voting freely, is regrettable. So is the connection between radical groups and the Serbian state’s parallel institutions that still tend to operate in northern Kosovo.
The US, Europe and the entire world have too great a stake in the progress toward peace and democracy throughout the Balkans to allow these opportunities to be stifled by obstructionism. The international community should send clear messages to Belgrade that its recent actions are unacceptable.
In spite of these obstacles, the success of the electoral process and the full functionality of our free institutions provide Kosovo with the opportunity to accelerate reforms and implement the benchmarks more effectively toward full accession to the EU.
We have come a long way. With the help of the US and the EU, we can continue our journey toward taking our place among the world’s free-market democracies.
Enver Hoxhaj is the Foreign Minister of Kosovo.