Interview with HE Dr. Muhamet Hamiti Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo to the UK

K. Kaan Renda and Ozgur Tufekci*

In this exclusive interview with CESRAN’s K. Kaan Renda and Ozgur Tufekci, Dr. Muhamet Hamiti, the first Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo to the UK, discusses Kosovo’s independence process, its role in the Balkans and international system, its past and future, and the relationships with Serbia, European countries, and Turkey.

CESRAN: Let me start with the first question. Actually, it is a very cliché question you have probably been asked many times. It is about the international recognition of Kosovo.

Seemingly, the main international political priority of Kosovo is to be recognised by other states. In fact, Kosovo virtually reached a certain level of success on this issue. Nonetheless, there are still a number of states resisting the recognition. What do you think the main biases and hesitations of some states not to recognize Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state in the Balkans?

Dr. Hamiti: Well. The process of recognition started immediately after we declared our independence. 70 countries that have recognized Kosovo to this day [14 September 2010; the latest one being Honduras which recognized Kosovo earlier in September] amount to more or less two thirds or perhaps 70 percent of the GDP of the world. 22 out of 27 EU countries have recognized us. 7 out of the G8 countries have recognized us. We have obtained recognitions from all continents. The internal dynamics of each and every nation, of course, has an impact in the process of recognitions. The initial stage of recognitions was, of course, more intensive because it was about the countries that saw in Kosovo the birth of a nation in its own right as a sui generis case, which indeed Kosovo is. And the 70 recognitions that we have received have been made on the basis of this. Now some countries have got their own reasons for either taking longer to review the request and take a decision, which I believe is the case with most of the countries, or simply have their own concerns, apprehensions for a few. Russia’s earlier opposition to Kosovo’s independence is easing. Kosovo has embraced the world and the world is almost universally reciprocating by welcoming Kosovo in its fold.

Let me conclude this answer by saying that an important UN body, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has legitimised Kosovo’s independence. In an opinion the ICJ rendered on 22 July 2010, it said Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law or indeed any UN related document. The ICJ ruled at the request of Serbia and indeed the UN General Assembly, which had referred the matter of Kosovo’s declaration of independence to the top judicial body of the UN.

The General Assembly of the UN, through a resolution adopted unanimously on 9 September 2010, welcomed the ICJ opinion and therefore, by default, implicitly legitimized Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Russia and Serbia also voted for this resolution. The ICJ ruling of 22 July as well as the UNGA resolution of 9 September have cleared the way for other countries, which have so far withheld recognition of our country, to actually move ahead and join the club of Kosovo’s recognizers.

CESRAN: Apart from international recognition, what are the key political problems and obstacles for Kosovo on the road to integrate successfully into the international society? Do you see any problems?

Dr. Hamiti: The process of Kosovo’s integration into the international system is well underway. We are, besides being recognized by 70 countries, members of the IMF and the World Bank. We hope and believe to become soon a member of EBRD, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, based here in London. We, of course, intend to integrate with the EU and NATO. We have had a huge international presence in Kosovo in the past decade; this has been greatly downsized compared to what we had back in 1999, namely after the war. We have a significant NATO presence in Kosovo now , but our goal is to become a member of NATO. We have an EU-led civilian mission in Kosovo – called EULEX – which is there to monitor the implementation of Kosovo’s independence package. As five EU countries still do not recognize Kosovo, our integration into the EU will take a bit longer perhaps. Technically, it can only be finalised once we have been recognised by each and every member, and have fulfilled other relevant membership criteria. We are, however, already involved in a low -profile integration process with the EU.

“Kosovo has embraced the world and the world is almost universally reciprocating by welcoming Kosovo in its fold.”

CESRAN: You just mentioned the EU process and EU mission in Kosovo. What are the pros and cons of having an EU mission in Kosovo for the development of your country and for the stabilization and democratization of Kosovo?

Dr. Hamiti: Kosovo declared its independence on the 17 th of February 2008 on the basis of President Ahtisaari Settlement package, which called for independ- ence, but also a period of supervised independence initially, for which an interim civilian mission, focussing mainly on the rule of law and security areas, would be needed. As I said earlier, this mission, under the stewardship of the International Civilian Office (ICO), currently headed by Peter Feith, would also oversee the implementation of this package during the period of supervised independence. We have benefited a lot from the international presence in Kosovo so far. Of course, independence of Kosovo has brought peace of mind to the majority of the people of Kosovo. Independence has brought peace and stability, but also security, within and without Kosovo, in the wider Southeastern Europe. So, I believe we will be very soon running Kosovo as an independent state on our own without the need for even this kind of mission, which is welcomed and, as I said, beneficial. The process of integration into the EU which has been always a long one for each and every nation aspiring to it especially from the former communist and socialist countries -will take a while. There is a strong will on the part of the people of Kosovo to see Kosovo firmly integrated politically and economically within the EU. Kosovo is already in Europe in terms of values and culture.

CESRAN: Do you think the EU shares the same vision with Kosovo about the membership of Kosovo and the future of the Balkans?

Dr. Hamiti: If you think the EU, of course it is a unique political and economic union. The Union maintains, sometimes with difficulties, a common policy vis-a-vis the Balkan countries, which says that they should one day become members of the EU on the basis of merit, that is individually. Now whether they have the same vision, I can’t speak for them. I know for a fact that the major partners of Kosovo within the EU are strong supporters of Kosovo’s independence in the first place, and eventually of Kosovo’s integration into the EU and indeed within the international system as a whole.

CESRAN: How do you think Kosovo at the present or in the future can contribute to the endeavors of international society to secure the region?

Dr. Hamiti: Kosovo is a peaceful nation which has struggled a lot for its freedom, democracy and independence. This nation -building process has been a long one, a painful one, a tragic one in some respects, but a proud one and a successful one. Kosovo has already contributed to bringing peace and stability to that part of Europe, Southeastern Europe, by being one of the entities of former Yugoslavia which resisted longest these calls for war which came from Belgrade. Serbia

“The process of integration into the EU which has been always a long one for each and every nation aspiring to it especially from the former communist and socialist countries- will take a while.”

actually waged four wars of aggression in the region. Some people would dub them local wars. Be it as it may, they were vicious wars, which resulted in more than 200.000 killed in the region, more than 12.000 in Kosovo alone. Serbia, using the former Yugoslav army cadre and equipment, attacked Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, all fellow Federal entities. We in Kosovo waged a peaceful and political struggle during the 1990s in a bid to build up and independent. But frankly we were rebuffed by Serbia, our occupier, which wanted to dominate the lives of non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, which was at the root of the destruction of Yugoslavia actually. So, Kosovo again as a peaceful nation has certainly contributed to the international freedom and democracy in its own right.

CESRAN: Dr. Hamiti, as you may be aware of, nowadays, Turkey has launched an initiative on peace building in the Balkans and has hosted a Trilateral Summit of Turkey-Bosnia-Herzegovina–Serbia began in Istanbul on 24th of April, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited Serbia very recently.

How would this political climate affect the position of Kosovo in the Balkans, especially the relations between Kosovo and Turkey?

Dr. Hamiti: The relations between Kosovo and Turkey are exceptionally good. Turkey was among the first countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Turkey has been a great lobbyist for Kosovo’s recognition especially within the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the Arab League. Now the level of recognition that we have received from these organizations is not one that would have made us very happy actually, because a considerable number of countries from these two blocs have yet to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Turkey has nevertheless played its own role. As far as Turkey’s role in the Balkans, the Foreign Minister of Turkey has made this a sort of priority for his own agenda I be- lieve. Every effort on the part of Turkey to convince Serbia to come to terms with the reality of it being a state within the current borders of Serbia and disowning its culture of dominance over the rest is more than welcome. The problem we have with Serbia is that they continue to be in denial of what they did in the former Yugoslavia, namely of having caused four wars which resulted in the killing of more than 200.000 people. So Turkey is in a good position to actually help them to get over this.

CESRAN: Needles to say, Serbia’s boycotts and isolationist politics towards Kosovo are very well known by everyone who are interested in the Balkans. For instance, recently Serbia has refused to attend the inauguration of the new Croatian president Ivo Josipovic because of the presence of Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu. Another example is the pan-Balkan summit held in Brdo, Slovenia. Serbia did not take part in this summit because of the attendance of Kosovo as an independent state.

“The relations between Kosovo and Turkey are exceptionally good.Turkey was among the first countries to recognise Kosovo’s independence. “

What does Serbia or the existence of Serbia as a state in the Balkans mean to Kosovo or to you?

Dr. Hamiti: Nothing beyond its status as a neighbourly country; formerly a fellow entity in the former Yugoslavia and an occupier of Kosovo, now a neighbourly country.

CESRAN: Do you think it is a partner, a friend, an enemy?

Dr. Hamiti: We do not have enemies. They may see us as an enemy, but we do not have enemies. Serbia is one of the Balkan states, one of us. It is and cannot be a regional leader. Regrettably, Serbia continues to be in a state of denial about its recent genocidal legacy. The leadership in Belgrade has for too long being pampered by some governments on its alleged democratic credentials. Serbia boycotted the inauguration of the Croatian president, but the Croatian President visited Serbia in the summer. It is actually a matter for Serbia to redress its relationships with everybody in the former Yugoslavia. My strict and very blunt answer was that they cannot be a leader in the region. They can be one of us, independent nations working on a par with each other. Nothing more.

CESRAN: Do you see any ground for optimism in the future relationships between Kosovo and Serbia?

Dr. Hamiti: Kosovo is a democratic and sovereign state. Kosovo is standing on its feet economically and politically. Kosovo is doing better economically without Serbia on its back. And, if Serbia one day comes to terms with the reality of independent Kosovo, that is better for them and for us. So, the ball is on their side and Kosovo and Serbia should look towards the future where they can live on a par with each other and can be together within the EU, with Brussels as their capital.

CESRAN: I would like to move on to Kosovo and Albania relationships and what is the importance of Albania for the identity of Kosovo?

Dr. Hamiti: Kosovo has got its unique identity which has a crucial ethnic Albanian element to it, but not an exclusive one. As a state in its own right Kosovo aspires towards these European integrations and these values just like Albania is. So, Kosovo and Albania have a lot in common, ad both countries gravitate towards the same values and aims as it were. Albania has made crucial contributions to Kosovo’s freedom and independence. Tirana has made crucial progress in terms of their economic development. They are members of NATO and are involved in this process of integration into the EU. There is a special relationship between Kosovo and Albania.

“It is actually a matter for Serbia to redress its relationships with everybody in the for- mer Yugoslavia. My strict and very blunt answer was that they can not be a leader in the region. They can be one of us,”

CESRAN: With the declaration of independence; we suppose one of the privileges of your Embassy is to establish some close ties between the Diaspora in the UK and the Nation in Kosovo.

How do you support Kosovars in Diaspora to keep their sense of belonging to Kosovo especially in a foreign country such as the UK?

Dr. Hamiti: Our diaspora everywhere has been an integral part of the independence drive from day one. Therefore the independence of Kosovo in terms of the establishment of Embassies abroad including this one in London is also part of their contribution. The Parliament of Kosovo has this year passed a law on diaspora which provides for, I would say, basic structures to assist the diaspora maintain its attachment towards its nation . Of course that is what the Government of the Republic of Kosovo will pursue.

CESRAN: My next question is regarding the Diaspora and the national ties.

Do you think is this policy compatible with the mission of Kosovo to enhance national bounds among the domestic identities that are living in Kosovo?

Dr. Hamiti: Kosovo, as I said earlier, has a strong Albanian element to its iden- tity, but Kosovo has people of other ethnic backgrounds living there and each and every community within Kosovo is well respected and well represented and of course Kosovo as a state and a multi-ethnic society will support the existence of each and every community as part of the very fabric of this new nation in the political sense of the word ‘nation’.

CESRAN: HE, my question will be about low politics and Eurovision song contest. What is the importance of Eurovision Song Contest from Kosovo’s perspective?

Dr. Hamiti: For me, frankly, a much more important one is the World Cup. We have emerged as an independent nation. Now we are gradually becoming a full member of the international system, not only in the political component of it but also in other aspects. We will soon I believe be part of the international system and be allowed to play football and compete in other sports internationally, but also to have our own musicians participate in the Eurovision song contest.

CESRAN: This last question is about any unification opportunity with Albania.

From one perspective, the position of Kosovo and Albania is similar to the position of Azerbaijan and Turkey, concerning the identity.

Kosovo as a state and a multi-ethnic society will support the existence of each and every community as part of the very fabric of this new nation in the political sense of the word ‘nation’

This similarity is an issue as 92 per cent of the population of Kosovo consists of Albanian. Do you think that in the future there will be lots of motives towards unification of Albania and Kosovo because of Kosovo’s Albanian elements?

Dr. Hamiti: Kosovo is a democratic and independent country, on the basis of the will of its own people, but also as a result of an internationally sanctioned process that led to the final status of Kosovo being an independent nation. I have fought myself for this. Kosovo will be in the EU, just like other countries, including Albania, on a par with each other there. In the 21 st century peoples and nations strive towards a modern unification in shared values and interest within a larger Europe and wider.

“If Azerbaijan and Turkey had lots of things in common, Azerbaijan would recognise Kosovo, just like Turkey did it on day one.”

One final observation. If Azerbaijan and Turkey had lots of things in common, Azerbaijan would recognise Kosovo, just like Turkey did it on day one.

CESRAN: Thank you very much for your time and the interview.

* K. Kaan Renda is Doctoral Researcher in Department of European Studies at King’s College London.

* Özgür Tüfekçi is Doctoral Researcher in Department of War Studies at King’s College London.

  • Dr Muhamet Hamiti was born in Dumnice village, of the Podujevo municipality in Kosovo, in 1964. He earned his BA in English language and literature at the University of Pristina in 1987, his MA in English literature at Zagreb University (Croatia) in 1990 and his PhD in English literature (with a thesis on the prose fiction of James Joyce and Joseph Conrad) at the University of Pristina in 2006. In the 1990s, Hamiti was an independent scholar at the University of East Anglia and at Birkbeck College, University of London. Hamiti taught English literature and theory of literature at the University of Pristina from 1989 to 2008. He is the author of a monograph book on English literature, a range of literary essays, as well as literary translations from and into English. From 1991 to 1999, Dr Hamiti worked at the Kosovo Information Centre (KIC) – Qendra per Informim e Kosoves (QIK) as editor in chief for the English service. He edited and translated into English a number of publications that the KIC published during those years relating to the Kosovars’ struggle for freedom and independence. Hamiti was affiliated with Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the first non-communist party in that part of the world, and was a media advisor and spokesman to the President of Kosovo, Dr Ibrahim Rugova, from mid 2002 until his death in January 2006. From 2006 to 2008, Dr Hamiti served as a sen- ior political advisor to Rugova’s successor to the presidency of Kosovo, Dr Fatmir Sejdiu. Dr Hamiti has been Charge´ d’Affaires a. i. of the Republic of Kosovo to London since October 2008
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