Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci: Western ideals inspire Balkans peacemaking

When Vice President Biden addressed the European Union’s Parliament on May 6, 2010, he praised the EU for building what “must have seemed like a fantasy” after World War II:  “a peaceful and united Europe.”

Moreover, the vice president continued, the EU has created “a community dedicated to free thought, free movement, and free enterprise — a Europe that one historian has called not so much a place but an idea.”

When I meet with Biden later today, I will bring good news about how one of Europe’s most traditionally troubled regions — the Balkans — is making peace and advancing western ideals. The advantages of aligning with the worldwide community of free-market democracies, including the United States and the EU, are encouraging the nations of Southeast Europe to reconcile with each other and reform ourselves.

During my trip to the U.S., I will report that a conflict that could not be resolved for more than a century is close to a peaceful conclusion. With the tireless mediation of the EU’s foreign affairs and security policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and the strong support of the U.S., Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and I recently signed the first agreement ever between our countries.

Having reached this historic understanding, we have to redouble our efforts to implement it. Meeting in Brussels on May 21 and 22, with the EU’s Lady Ashton serving as mediator, Prime Minister Dacic and I discussed specific steps to put the agreement into effect. As result, we have agreed and signed the Implementation Plan which has now been formally adopted by both governments.

The Kosovo Assembly has voted overwhelmingly in support of the agreement, and the government of Kosovo asks our Serbian counterparts to continue to support the agreement as well and deliver on the implementation process.

In a crucial provision, our agreement provides additional and comprehensive rights for a northern part of Kosovo with an ethnic Serb majority. The government of Kosovo is making an extensive effort to integrate Serbs living in the north into Kosovo’s institutions and society by creating Serb-majority municipalities that guarantee political, economic and socio-cultural rights.

This endeavor isn’t only about implementing our agreement with Serbia; it’s about insuring that our own country is a diverse democracy. We want to make sure that the Serb community, their culture and their religious institutions, including churches and monasteries, are respected and protected. By doing this, we are demonstrating that we can be a democratic, multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious country.

In that same spirit, during the third week in May, Kosovo held a series of events promoting reconciliation, tolerance and mutual respect among our religious communities, including the Muslim majority, the Serbian Orthodox minority, Catholics, Protestants and Jews. On May 23, a memorial to Holocaust victims was inaugurated on the site of the city’s last surviving synagogue in our capital city, Kosovo. 

Promoting diversity is part of what it means to be a member of the European family of free-market democracies. We are embracing the European vision of equal rights and mutual respect, expressed not only in historic documents on paper but in living realities on the ground. 

For Kosovo and Serbia, the prospect of full participation in the EU is an inducement and an inspiration for our efforts at reconciliation and reform. Our agreement provides that neither Serbia nor Kosovo will obstruct, or encourage others to obstruct, each other’s progress toward integration into the EU. 

This mutual assistance by former adversaries is encouraging the EU to move forward with membership talks with both of our countries. Indeed, the EU Commission has asked the EU to set a date on negotiations for accession with Serbia, while also recommending the opening of negotiations with Kosovo on a Stabilization and Association Agreement — a key step toward membership. Through free trade with the EU, as part of this agreement, Kosovo can increase its exports to the 27 member countries, thereby generating jobs and building businesses in our country.

With continued support from the U.S. and the EU, Serbia and Kosovo can show age-old adversaries in other turbulent regions that it is better to build a shared future of peace and prosperity together than to allow ancient hatreds to fester forever. Our example can inspire a war-weary world.

Thaci is the Prime Minister of Kosovo