By Kosovar President Atifete Jahjaga - 06/14/12 01:00 PM EDT
When you scan the globe’s hot spots, every civil war and massacre, every act of terror and every clash between states has its unique local circumstances. But often the sparks that ignite violence can be from a familiar list of grievances — ethnic and sectarian strife, political deadlock, economic deprivation, scarce natural resources — and world leaders need to work harder to combat these problems.
Because of my personal history — I began my professional life 12 years ago as a police officer guarding Kosovo’s borders, and today I am president of Europe’s youngest country — I am often asked for the keys to improving people’s lives, fostering collaboration, strengthening societies and reducing conflict. And I say: democracy, development, security and inclusion. No matter where the conflict or what its cause, these four principles can be transformative.
Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation. Where there is no democracy, there is dictatorship and conflict — especially in our globalized, wired age. In Egypt and Syria, dictatorship created a false stability that has given way to people’s undeniable desire to be free.
Democracy is a revelation, but it’s complicated. There are elections to hold, politics to create, rights to assert, grievances to settle and institutions to build. To many, it’s exhilarating. For others, it can be disappointing when it turns out that democracy doesn’t immediately make life better. We must remember that democracy works when given time to develop, mature and deliver. People must have access to information for informed debate. Government institutions must treat citizens fairly, and with dignity, while responding to their needs. Societies must develop not only the confidence to seize freedom, but to use it with charity and wisdom.
Economic development is crucial. Polls in my country and many others show that, more than anything else, people say they want jobs, a strong economy, good healthcare, sound education and a reliable infrastructure. They want to improve their lives so that their children have more opportunities than they did.
This is what development is about: growing our economies, meeting social demands and orienting government to serve the public interest. It requires that government have the resources and the policies to unleash the talents of each individual, while doing its best to ensure fair opportunity for all. Democracy and development go hand in hand.
For many years, in my country, the uniform symbolized violence and brutality. But over the past decade, Kosovo has become a country where citizens perceive the police force as their own — a force that looks after their security and rule of law regardless of ethnicity.
I was part of building this force and am a strong believer that the security of individuals and communities leads to security for the whole country. I believe that security forces need to build relations with local communities and help nurture a country’s development, prosperity and democratization. Kosovo police has succeeded in this, overcoming a legacy of mistrust bred by a long record of repression.
I have a special perspective on the issue of inclusion, being my country’s first female head of state and having climbed up the ranks of a traditionally male profession — the police force. I see the hurdles that many women in Kosovo face: incomplete education, limited economic opportunity, domestic abuse. As I meet with women across Kosovo, I see the challenges. And I also see the passion and the commitment to change things for the better.
We know that, when women take control of their destinies — as mothers, wives and citizens — and participate as full members of society alongside men, not only do they find rightful fulfillment, they make society stronger and government perform better.
But the issue of inclusion is much larger. People historically placed on the sidelines by social convention and personal prejudice — whether with regards to gender, race, age, sexual orientation or disability — are stepping forward to take their place at the table. In Kosovo, this means repairing the shaken trust that still lingers from the legacy of the war, especially between the Albanian majority and the Serbian minority. Albanian-dominated institutions have extended broad autonomy and legal guarantees for the protection of the rights of the Serbian community, their way of life and religious traditions in Kosovo. As a result, the Serbian community in most of Kosovo is fully integrated and runs its day-to-day affairs.
There is a lot of history, though, and building true friendship between all our people will take time. But guided by democracy, development, security and inclusion, we are on the right path. It’s one we would urge people in strife-torn areas around the world to join us on.
Jahjaga is the president of Kosovo. The above was adapted from a speech she delivered on June 11, 2012, at the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Frontiers in Development conference at Georgetown University. The full speech can be found here.