Ten years later, Kosova’s independence remains an irreversible fact

By Vlora Çitaku, Kosova’s Ambassador to the United States of America


Honorable Mister President,
Honorable Members of the Security Council,
Honorable Special Representative of the Secretary-General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor to be here with you today. This month is very special for me and my fellow citizens. On the 17th of February, just ten days from today, Kosova will celebrate its first double-digit birthday. As I sit around this honorable table, in this honorable chamber, along with representatives of states with centuries of admirable tradition on statehood, representatives of nations that have given so much to humanity, from science and technology, to arts and sports, I can’t help but reflect on our journey as an independent republic, and wonder about what Kosova is going to look like 10, 20, and 100 years from today. I wonder, how well have we done as a young democracy in meeting the rightful expectations of the Kosovar people? How well have our institutions performed? How much has our society evolved? And most importantly, what is the legacy that we leave behind?

Ten years after, Kosova has been recognized by the overwhelming majority of the free nations of the world. Today, Kosova is a member of dozens of regional and international organizations. We are also very much aware that we would never have made it this far without your unwavering support. The United Nations were there for us in our darkest hour of need, and for that, we will be forever grateful. Today, I must pay tribute to one great man in particular, Sergio De Mello, who was the first SRSG in Kosova. When De Mello arrived in Kosova, he found a country in ruins. A nation torn apart and devastated by the pains and horrors of war. Yet, he somehow managed to bring our people together, and establish a UN administration in Kosova. Sergio may no longer be with us, but he will always be remembered.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ten years of statehood have taught us that survival and independence are not self-sufficient. They are not solitary concerns. Freedom and food on the table are not the only things that people need. People need education and health care, respect and dignity. In Kosova, we have come to learn that statehood is not only about building government and institutions. Civil society, the free press, and the non-governmental sector are equally as important, and often a driving force for growth. According to international organizations, Kosova today enjoys greater freedom of speech than any other country in the region. This remarkable achievement is entirely a credit to the Kosovar journalists who never bow to power, never surrender to threats, and never compromise the truth.

In Kosova, we have a vibrant civil society which manages to mobilize independently from the government around issues ranging from war crimes committed during the war in Kosova and special courts, to air pollution and energy prices.

While our institutions may have their flaws, ladies and gentlemen, the irrefutable truth is that our society has matured. All one has to do is observe the manner in which the Kosovar society and media reacted with regard to the unfortunate assassination of Oliver Ivanovic. Unlike what may have probably occurred in the past, Ivanovic’s assassination was a murder that did not incite ethnic hatred in Kosova. In fact, local citizens and the media, both Albanian and Serbian, agreed that organized crime in northern Kosova is to blame for this murder.

Of course, Mr. Ivanovic himself was a controversial figure. Nonetheless, we will leave no stone unturned until the perpetrators of the crime against him are brought to justice.

Allow me to also briefly address the debate surrounding the Specialized Chambers. First, Kosova has an exemplary record in cooperating with international and local war crimes tribunals. Not a single Kosovar Albanian who was ever indicted for war crimes has ever attempted to escape justice. However, this is not the case with any of the former Yugoslav republics. In fact, if you look at the numbers, more Albanians have been prosecuted and convicted for war crimes in Kosova, than Serbs. Something is tremendously wrong with this fact.
Second, no court can ever re-write history or artificially impose moral parity. The oppressor and the oppressed are clearly defined in our recent tragic history.
Third, people in Kosova want justice. They want justice for all the victims, regardless of their ethnicity. This sentiment has been displayed most powerfully in various forms during the past few weeks. For your reference, 80 MPs voted to establish the special court. 43 signatures to have a debate about this court can not and will not undo that.

However, while we are on the topic of war crimes, let us talk about crimes that the Special Court is not going to be dealing with, and for that matter, neither is any other court. The Qyshk massacre, the trial for which completely fell apart in Serbia, despite the public testimony of Serbian Paramilitary Goran Raeskovic about the killing of Albanians by paramilitary units which was abundantly reported by the media. The execution of the Bytyci brothers, for which another witness came out to testify just last week. And once again, no measures were taken by the Serbian justice system.

Ladies and gentlemen,
There is no doubt that Kosova has made progress and taken major steps forward. We just concluded a nearly flawless electoral process. Every day, the Kosovar people are demanding more accountability from their political representatives. According to the World Bank, Kosova’s GDP growth in 2017 was 4.4%, the highest figure reported in the region.

Needless to say, Kosova is not a paradise, and many challenges still linger. Yet, for every challenge, for every single institutional shortcoming, there is a success story, a role model citizen that defies the odds and pushes the boundaries.

In a country where there is a lot left to be done to improve the quality of education, where you still have overcrowded classrooms and overworked teachers, you also have young girls like Doruntina Sylejmani who win medals at the International Math Olympiad. Today, Doruntina is studying at Princeton, with a full scholarship, and dreams of coming back to help her country.

At a time of disbelief and doubt over whether the justice system is worth fighting for, Shyhrete Berisha, who witnessed the brutal execution of her husband and her four children during the war in ’99, was exposed to yet another form of injustice. She had to battle for 18 years, 18 long years just to get back the keys to her own house. The house in which she lived with her husband and children. Throughout those 18 years, Shyhrete did not lose faith. She never gave up. And neither must we. We owe it to Shyhrete, and the many others who share similar experiences, to work as hard as we possibly can to improve our justice system and make sure that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.

Today survivors of sexual violence during the war in Kosova have a legally regulated status and can benefit from pensions because of women like Kadire Tahiraj. For years, this group of survivors of painful wartime violence was completely neglected by institutions and stigmatized by society. While the rest of us were either hiding away from the truth, or being both blind and deaf toward it, Kadire was diligently working with the survivors, offering them all that she could. Care, medicine, shelter, at times perhaps even just a shoulder to cry on. Kadire fought, she fought tirelessly and remained resolute even when all the odds were stacked against her. Finally, 18 years after the war, the government has allocated the necessary funds to implement reparations programs for these survivors.

It is because of women like Fahrije Hoti, that Krusha, a village in southwestern Kosova is no longer known only for its tragic past. A young widow herself, living in a village where most of the adult male population was eradicated during the war, Fahrije resolved that the best way to honor the fallen is by building a better life for the ones that remain. She started by working her patch of land, and with little to no institutional support, she managed to not only sustain herself, but also help organize other women to cultivate their fields and open small farms and businesses. Today their products are customer favorites in stores across the country.

Although Kosova remains the only country in Europe without visa liberalization, our talented youth transcend borders and inspire their peers throughout the European continent and beyond. Just last month Forbes published its famous 30 under 30 lists. Three amazing Kosovar women, Blerta, Dafina, and Bilna made us all proud by being part of it. These young ladies are working hard to increase the transparency and accountability of the government by utilizing digital platforms and novel technology. They understand, better than most, that European Integration is an internal dynamic. That it is, first and foremost, about building and applying standards of transparency at home. We are all proud of these young women, and I am sure that we will be hearing more of them in the future.

Let us not forget, the one and only, Majlinda Kelmendi. Our golden pride. Our golden champion. While Kosova was struggling to become a member of the Olympic Committee, Majlinda often had to practice in halls without electricity or heat. Nevertheless, she turned down the millions that were offered to her to compete for a different flag. She patiently waited for her chance to represent Kosova. And when she finally got the opportunity to compete to in Rio, Majlinda did us all proud by winning a gold medal. In doing so, she also gave us all an invaluable lesson, a lesson of integrity, perseverance, and love for one’s country.

Although Kosova has yet to overcome many obstacles in its way, it is these women that make me hopeful. Whenever we come up short, whenever we fail to deliver, courageous women like them are there to lift us all up. Time and again, they empower us by inspiring us. They challenge power and authority, they fight for justice, and change social norms. They encourage us to dare and dream.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We meet today, one day after the European Union published its strategy for the Western Balkans. While we in Kosova believe that the language used to describe Kosova’s path forward should have been more specific, perhaps more concrete, there is absolutely no doubt where the future lies. Moreover, what is also made glaringly clear by this strategy is that Kosova and Serbia must normalize relations and enter a legally binding agreement. Now more than ever, it is crystal clear that the new status quo and a frozen conflict is not normalization. Normalization can only be achieved through the recognition of Kosova. And the sooner Serbia recognizes Kosova, the better it will be for the entire region.

As I have stated numerous times, we in Kosova believe that the appropriate platform and venue for dialogue is in Brussels. I want to reaffirm our commitment to the dialogue in Brussels, and the implementation of every single agreement reached in Brussels. However, the United Nations have no role in this process. UNMIK is not a peacekeeping mission, and it is not an administrative mission. The UN may choose to maintain an expensive mission in Kosova, but we believe that your taxpayer’s money could be put to much better use.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Women like Fahrije, Kadire, Doruntina, Majlinda, and many more, they don’t have time for debates like this. While we meet here every three months to repeat the same old stories, they are out there changing the world, fighting for a better, brighter future for their families, their country, and the global community. They don’t have time to listen to us argue whether the sky is blue. They know that my speech here today will not change anything, but their actions will. They are aware that Kosova’s independence is an irreversible fact, as confirmed by the ruling of the ICTY. But, they also know, that it is in our hands to create more prosperous Kosova to leave behind for the next generations, so that when we celebrate the next decades and centuries of independence, there will be a lot more to be proud of.

Thank you.