(Speech of the President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, at the summit “Brdo-Brijuni Process 2021)
Dear President Pahor and President Milanovic,
I want to start by thanking our hosts today for facilitating this meeting of presidents in the region at such an unprecedented time, not just for the Western Balkans, but for the entire world.
It is, however, times like these that show the absolute necessity for cooperation between us, as neighbours, on equal footing and the need for reflection and honesty on how we collectively move forward.
This event marks the 10th anniversary of the Brdo Brijuni process. Today we must remind ourselves of why we started this, and use this as motivation to remove the bilateral barriers and hurdles that have slowed us down along the way.
We need to reflect on what’s been achieved, and indeed what’s not, and crucially, how we can make up this shortfall. This milestone is a reminder of the urgent need for greater regional cooperation with the ultimate goal of European Union integration.
With a clear EU perspective for all, and well-defined commitments for closer cooperation, we put ourselves in a much better position to embody and enact the fundamental values of the European Union: respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.
The Republic of Kosova is committed to advancing EU values and regional economic and political cooperation in the true spirit of the Brdo Brijuni Process.
For more than a year now, our region and the entire world have been faced with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. We have witnessed significant changes in our communities such as children rapidly switching to remote-learning, many employees working from home, and numerous firms adopting digital business models to maintain operations and preserve revenue flows.
The pandemic has presented serious challenges for policymakers in all our countries, but it has also offered an opportunity for drawing out valuable lessons.
There is a clear expectation from citizens that our respective economies should achieve a more efficient and fairer allocation of resources with the aim of enhancing productivity, economic growth and employment. This requires change centered on innovation and entrepreneurship.
Throughout this period, we have also understood that only through coordinated action, solidarity, and institutionalized multilateralism can we stand a chance to preserve our democracies and safeguard the health and wellbeing of our citizens.
And as we continue to battle the challenges posed by the pandemic and focus on the economic recovery, we need bold action and leadership that meet the needs of our citizens, and of our collective society, in the 21st century.
We have momentum for genuine change, and we must use it wisely.
When we all go home after global summits, and meetings like today, I believe the expectation from our citizens is that we come back with deliverable aims and ambitions, not just greetings for the sake of the cameras.
We must work hard to embrace and implement EU rule based models of regional cooperation which promote enhanced trading relations and address shortcomings related to the rule of law and unemployment, and work to intensify cultural, educational and sports exchanges, develop better infrastructure, as well as, look at how we use technology and digitalization to enhance overall welfare.
And, as we do so, we must remain focused on following the roadmap set by the European Green Deal, and jointly agree to turn environmental and climate challenges into opportunities across all policy areas. With the scale and pace of change required, we will need the support of the European Union to ensure equitable distribution among our countries.
The question for our region should not be ‘If the Europe Union?’
The question should be ‘When?’
The sooner the enlargement process is complete, the faster the European Union project itself will be complete. The inclusion of the Republic of Kosova and those countries in the Western Balkans that carry out the necessary reforms is crucial to the success of the Union.
We are well aware of the challenges that the Union faces, those are manifold. We are also aware of the resistance of some Member States towards the idea of EU membership for the Western Balkan countries.
But it must be made clear to everyone questioning the membership of the region that their resistance will only contribute to one thing – and that is it will spur instability and create opportunities for malign actors to exert influence in our region, which in turn could destabilize the whole continent.
By contrast, our membership is the guarantor for stability, sustainable peace and enhanced welfare within the borders of Europe.
But as each of our countries continues to do its share of the work, the European Union has to deliver on its end of the bargain.
And in the case of the Republic of Kosova, it has yet to deliver on its promise to grant our citizens long-overdue visa liberalization. While it has delivered on this promise for many countries, including those in the Far East and Latin America, it has failed to deliver for us.
The citizens of the Republic of Kosova remain isolated and hostage to the domestic political considerations of a very few member states.
Our Republic is the most pro-EU country in the region, and our institutions have fulfilled double the criteria related to visa liberalization compared to all other countries in the region, and it is home to only 1.8m citizens.
It is essential that our ‘European Perspective’ does not remain just an empty phrase. We have fulfilled our duties, so they must now deliver.
My people and my country believe in this project. We believe in European values and we reaffirmed our commitment to these values in the recent election.
I fundamentally believe that the future of the Western Balkan countries lies in the European Union. So, I say this here today, and I will say it to colleagues around Europe – the EU must open its doors to all the countries in our region that fulfill the necessary criteria and truly commit and contribute to democratization, stability, justice and rule of law.
Good neighborly relations, dear colleagues, should not remain just an empty phrase, either. A good neighbor neither interferes nor destabilizes another one. A good neighbor respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional order of another. A good neighbor does not become an instrument for Russian or other malign actors to influence our region.
We must work to counter such interferences.
The EU should not be just an alternative. It should be the only option for the countries of the Western Balkans. Because, as the saying goes: you cannot sit on two chairs at once.
As with our European journey, Kosova strongly believes that NATO has been an essential component of peace and security in our region. I am delighted that more and more countries from our region have joined this alliance that provides peace, stability and prosperity. We, in Kosova, are committed to doing the same, as joining the Partnership for Peace & NATO membership remains a strategic priority.
As well as being a peace-loving nation, we have always demonstrated that we are a progressive and constructive party in regional processes and international fora. Today, I want to reaffirm our will to remain a constructive partner and ally.
Nevertheless, let me say it here loud and clear: The Republic of Kosova as a sovereign and independent country is a permanent project. There is nothing and no one that can reverse this reality. Dangerous adventures on border changes should be resolutely rejected by all of us, if we truly desire peace and stability in our region.
While Kosova has always been a constructive partner, the reality is that it has not always received this treatment from some of our neighbours. Despite many efforts to improve regional cooperation and many institutions set up to facilitate trade between our countries, enterprises and businesses in Republic of Kosova regularly face non-tariff barriers from authorities in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Serbia applies technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures and administrative barriers linked to transit, licenses and rules of origin. Whereas, Bosnia and Herzegovina customs does not cooperate with our customs for mutual assistance on certification and verification of origins under Article 32 and 33 of the CEFTA 2006 agreement. These examples showcase that beyond the rhetoric by our neighbors, the reality is that businesses in Kosova are systematically penalized and blocked from entering and competing in their markets.
As we move forward, we must remember that we can only succeed if we face into the existing and sometimes difficult reality.
The reality is that these economic hurdles are fueled by a dark recent history. Facing up to this – seeking and instilling justice – will also promote an honest dialogue, both economic and political.
Our region is still wounded by the past. And many of those wounds are still open and yet to heal. The only way to heal is to deliver justice.
We will only be able to move forward when the mothers and the families of the missing persons in the Republic of Kosova, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina finally understand the whereabouts of their missing beloveds. They deserve to have a place to lay a flower. They deserve peace within their hearts – we all, deserve peace.
To this day, there are 1639 missing persons from Kosova that were forcibly disappeared during the 1998-1999 war, many of which were children. Learning of their fate is not mere politics, rather, learning of their fate is a fundamental matter of respecting and enforcing human rights in our region.
Justice is the precondition for peace.
I am confident that understanding the fate of the missing persons would mark a strong starting point for reconciliation, which would pave the way for more sincere engagements in other regional undertakings thereafter.
We can only move to the next chapters when we all thoroughly read and understand the previous chapters, and the one in front of us here today.
We will only be able to enjoy peace and prosperity in its full sense when we talk honestly:
When we speak the truth about what happened in our region,
What really happened to the victims, the survivors, the missing from the wars?
And most importantly, why are the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes committed by the Milosevic regime, not behind bars?
Beyond my duty as the President of the people of Kosova, it is a moral and human duty to speak the truth of what took place in our country. To call the crimes committed by the Milosevic regime by their name: War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. And, more importantly to ask our Northern neighbor, Serbia, to bring before justice the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes against innocent civilians.
Instead of accountability, what we are witnessing is denial and historical revisionism of what happened during the 90s in our region. Responsible and courageous leadership requires determined rejection of such vile action.
Our path to peace and reconciliation is clear, should we wish to choose it.
Our path to prosperity and regional cooperation is clear, should we wish to choose it.
Our path to Europe is clear, should we wish to choose it.
Today, your Excellencies, I say that this is the path the Republic of Kosova has chosen and there is nothing that can revert us from it.
Brijuni, Slovenia, 17 May 2021