The Question of Kosovo: Interview with Delfin Pilana

Delfin Pilana

Delfin Pllana is currently serving as deputy head of mission at the Embassy of the Republic of Kosovo in Hungary. Prior to joining the Kosovo Diplomatic Service, he worked with international organizations, civil society and media.

Am Johal: The International Court of Justice recently backed the legality of Kosovo's independence. What are the implications of this decision for Kosovo?

Delfin Pllana: The ICJ made it very clear that the declaration of the independence of Kosovo wasn't a breach of the applied international law and reaffirmed the legality and legitimacy of the state of Kosovo. ICJ confirmed the will of the people of Kosovo to live in a free and independent country. ICJ also confirmed that the independence of Kosovo hasn't set a precedent; it has always been a sui generis case with very specific historical and political circumstances, and thus it is an irreversible act. Further, the Court has expressed the opinion that the UNSC Resolution 1244 and the Constitutional Framework didn't prohibit the declaration of the independence. Finally, the ICJ reconfirmed that the declaration of independence of Kosovo is in the interest of peace and stability in the Western Balkans.

AJ: Kosovo is already recognized by 69 countries including the U.S. and the E.U. Many view the threshold to wider acceptance to be 100 nation-states recognizing. Is the next step for Kosovo to build wider recognition and work to achieve status at the U.N.?

DP: It is important to mention that to date the republic of Kosovo has received highly qualitative recognitions, and this is true because of the following facts: 80 percent of E.U. member states, over 70 percent of member states of the Council of Europe, 60 percent of member states of the OSCE, and a dozen member states of the Organization of Islamic Conference and Arab League have recognized the independence of Kosovo. Further, last year Kosovo became member of two very important international institutions, IMF and World Bank. 60 percent of U.N. member states that are members of these two institutions, and which by then didn't recognize yet Kosovo, had supported Kosovo's bid to join these two institutions.

To answer your question, yes, our ultimate goal is to achieve wider recognition and join the U.N. There is a big number of states that have delayed the formal recognition of the Republic of Kosovo thus awaiting the ICJ advisory opinion. The institutions of the Republic of Kosovo are now explaining to these states the content of the ICJ advisory opinion, which reconfirmed Kosovo's right to independence, an act that has contributed to strengthening of peace, stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans.

AJ: Serbia still refuses to accept the recognition of Kosovo. In response to the ICJ decision, Serbia passed a resolution reaffirming that Serbia will not recognize Kosovo and will seek new talks on the territory's status at the U.N. General Assembly in the fall. What is Kosovo expecting by way of a Serbian response and how will it address these complications?

DP: The Republic of Kosovo is coordinating efforts with its international allies to address the ICJ outcome at the forthcoming U.N. General Assembly in fall. However, I must say that it is rather unusual and unserious for a country that considers itself a responsible member of the international community to ask for an opinion of a respected and honorable international body such as the ICJ and not respect its outcome. Serbia has gone further and proposed a resolution at the forthcoming U.N. General Assembly in rejection of the ICJ advisory opinion calling thus for new talks on the status of Kosovo. I say that any call for status talks on Kosovo is a call for destabilization of the region, and in fact this is the essence of Serbia's resolution. The proposed resolution has been condemned also by E.U. high officials.

The issue of the status of Kosovo once and for all has been settled. Still, there are a number of issues of joint interest that should be dealt on bilateral grounds that need efforts from both sides. Issues such as missing persons, transport, recognition of travel documents, participation at regional trade arrangements, etc., need to be dealt in the format of technical talks but only between two independent states.

AJ: Is Kosovo intending to proceed with E.U. membership, and what does the timeline look like for that?

DP: Kosovo is part of the Association and Stabilization Process through a tracking mechanism where it enjoys support from the Instrument for Pre-Accession, like all other candidate countries. However, due to non-recognition by all E.U. member states, Kosovo still can't enter into contractual relations with the E.U. E.U. membership is on the top of Kosovo's political agenda and is seen as the ultimate goal in terms of prosperity, economic development and structural changes. Kosovo institutions and society in general are working hard to fulfill set standards and criteria to join the E.U.

It is a hard road ahead but Kosovo is committed to becoming part of Euro-Atlantic integration processes together with the countries of the region. It is of great importance that there is a big E.U. presence in Kosovo, and this shows that the E.U. has profound interest to help Kosovo progress towards E.U. membership. To date, Kosovo has marked significant progress to adjust its laws with the Acquis Communautaire. It is undergoing serious structural, institutional and judicial reforms, and also privatization of previous socially owned enterprises has been an asset to the overall economic development.

AJ: What are the economic prospects for Kosovo in the near term?

DP: Kosovo represents a highly attractive place to invest because of a number of factors, such as its strategic location. It has young and relatively motivated and educated workforce, low taxes, E.U.-compatible legal framework including foreign investment legislation, macroeconomic stability having euro as its currency, and a sound banking system.

With the declaration of independence in 2008, Kosovo has removed some obstacles for foreign investors, and here I want to convey the message that Kosovo has proved to be a secure place for international investors, a prejudice that has existed among potential investors. A proof for this is an ever-increasing number of foreign investors that have invested in Kosovo or have shown interest to do so. Kosovo today hosts more than 2,700 companies of foreign or mixed ownership that have invested or plan to invest in various fields.

There are good investment opportunities in a number of sectors such as mining, energy, agriculture and the wood-processing industry where Kosovo enjoys rich resources. Kosovo possesses the fifth-largest proven reserves of lignite. It has large reserves of decorative stone as well. I must emphasize also that Kosovo has an open access to the seaport of Shengjin in Albania, widening thus possibilities of making trade and business in Kosovo.

Kosovo has achieved recently major success by opening 22 embassies and nine consular posts across the world that, amongst others, are promoting the Kosovar economy abroad, thus facilitating communication between businesses and attracting foreign investors.

AJ: What are the prospects for regional cooperation with the former Yugoslav countries?

DP: The government of the Republic of Kosovo pledges for good neighborly relations with all countries of the region, including Serbia. To date Kosovo has entered into diplomatic relations with all countries of the region, excluding Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has also signed a number of agreements at the bilateral level.

Promotion of good neighborly relations and cooperation with countries of the region is a precondition for E.U. membership. Kosovo has understood this very well and apart from contributing to peace and stability in the region, it has also managed to develop and intensify diplomatic, economic and cultural relations with the countries of the region.

Kosovo is also member of some regional initiatives despite the fact that frequently Serbia proved to be an obstacle for its membership.

AJ: How will protection of the Serbian minority within Kosovo be guaranteed?

DP: The constitution of Kosovo is based on an Ahtisaari plan that grants minorities, and in particular Serb minority, high level of protection. In other words, minorities in Kosovo are positively discriminated. There are mechanisms in place that allow them to exercise their freedoms in full capacities.

The government of Kosovo has been very committed to the process of decentralization, through which new municipalities have been established. New municipalities have been established mainly in areas where Serbs make up the majority of population. These new municipalities will have more responsibilities for local economic planning and development, public services, education, basic healthcare, whereas Serb-majority municipalities have also the responsibility for protection of churches, other cultural monuments and also have a say in appointing the police chiefs. The process of decentralization has been significant where new Serb-majority municipalities have received legitimacy of their citizens through local elections and are now in the process of consolidation.