Remarks by Vlora Çitaku, Ambassador of Kosova to the United States, during the Security Council session on Kosova
Despite the best efforts to make her into one, Vasifje is not a victim. She is a hero. And heroes like her define my country.
Honorable Mr. President,
Honorable members of the Security Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honor to be here with you today to represent the youngest democracy in Southeastern Europe. Fortuitously, we have gathered here only days after we all commemorated the centennial of the end of the 1st world war. As the stories of the few remaining witnesses of this dark chapter of human history recently reminded us, a steep price has been paid for freedom and peace in our old continent. The aftermath of the Great War also reminds us that peace is not sustainable, lest it is complemented by justice. It is no coincidence that before the dust of this terrible war settled, our continent was hit yet again, by peril of unprecedented proportions in the form of the 2nd world war, causing staggering loss of human life.
While the nations of the Western Balkans were occasional protagonists of these conflicts, more often than not, we were the battleground. A stage where ideals clashed, nations brawled, lives where cut short, and dreams gutted. Following WWII, a most unfortunate course of events would lead our region, and my dear country Kosova, to become the arena of the last war in the European continent. That is a war that I remember all too well. Myself, along with one million Kosovar-Albanians were displaced, forced out of our homes as part of the ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by the Serbian military forces. One million refugees scattered. 20,000 women raped. Tens of thousands killed. Many, still missing.
The wounds of war cannot be easily healed. Especially when the aggressor, the Serbian state, continues to refuse to take responsibility for its actions. Does anyone believe that peace in Europe would have been possible if the perpetrators of the 1st and 2nd world wars had not been held accountable for what transpired? Can anyone seriously contend that it would have been possible for the world to move on if the instigators of these wars would have insisted on moral parity?
There was no moral parity in the 1st World War, or the 2nd one.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no moral parity in the Kosova war either.
There is an oppressor and the oppressed, and we are all acutely aware of who the oppressor is, namely the Serbian state.
It was disturbing to see the Serbian President Vucic praise Milosevic few weeks ago, as he visited Kosova. Instead of sending messages of peace and reconciliation, President Vucic praised the butcher of the Balkans, the man responsible for the most terrible crimes that hit our continent after WW2.
As far as our Presidents visit in Ujman, let me make few points: 1) there was no incident the day President Thaci visited that part of our country. This is also what KFOR reported. And our President does not permission by anyone to visit parts of his country. In fact, the incident happened the day after, when the bar he visited to have a coffee with his delegation in the northern Kosova, was attacked by Serbian sponsored parallel structures.
Yet, we as Kosovars refuse to be defined by our painful past alone. Instead, we chose to identify ourselves with our capacity to build a better future. We are not yesterday’s victims. We are today’s champions. We are the nation of Majlinda, Distria, and all the young women who have elevated Kosova to the highest pedestals of the Olympics by relying solely on their own abilities. We are the nation of youngsters who refuse to accept failure, who when given the chance to preform, raise the bar for everyone else. We are a young republic that has been recognized by the majority of the free nations of the world. We are relentless and resolute in repelling every desperate attempt of our northern neighbor to undo our accomplishments. And should they try, they will undoubtedly fail.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the Caribean states that have reconfirmed their recognitions of Kosova’s independence and sovereignty. On behalf of the people of Kosova, I also want to humbly express our gratitude to you, each and every one of you sitting around this table, for everything that you have done for Kosova and our people. Dozens of statements and resolutions passed by this chamber pertaining to Kosova were punctual and lifesaving in our darkest hour of need.
However, ladies and gentlemen, we would be remiss if we fail to acknowledge that the world has since changed. Kosova has changed. It is no longer 1999. It is 2018. Kosova has moved on, and it is long overdue for this honorable chamber to do the same on the matter of Kosova. UNMIK is not a peacekeeping mission anymore, and it certainly is not an administrative mission. The most instructive illustration of the point that I am trying to convey is the Security Council resolution 1244 itself. I urge you to read it. Read it and you will be baffled to find that it refers to an alternate reality, to a world that ceased to exist a long time ago. Kosovars, as a people who have been on the receiving end of the UN’s helping hand, believe that this organization’s resources can be put to much better use in offering solutions to more troubling problems and crises that have engulfed other areas of the world. As far as Kosova is concerned, I implore you to consult the ruling of the International Court of Justice, which might I add, was written upon the request by none other than Serbia itself. This ruling is and precise and unambiguous. It states that Kosova did not break any international laws when it declared its independence one decade ago. These facts, these realities are indisputable and irreversible. They will not change, now or ever. Kosova is independent and it is here to stay, now and forever.
Kosova has undergone a process of painful growth through which it has come to realize that independence is not self-sufficient. While we rejoice and take immense pride in the individual accomplishments of our champions in sports, arts, and science, our institutions have a long way to go in order to meet the rightful expectations of the Kosovar people. Our government must do much more to provide higher quality education, better welfare, and more opportunities for its people. It must also go the extra mile in combating corruption, nepotism, and other negative phenomena that plague our young republic.
However, while some battles are ours to fight internally, other challenges we will only be able to meet if we are completely integrated into the global community. Kosova cannot be expected to effectively battle transnational crime if it is not part of Interpol. Kosova cannot, and should not, be a black hole in the middle of Europe. We are prepared and willing to help make not only Kosova, bot our entire region and Europe at large safer for its inhabitants. The Kosova Police Force, that was bios with the help of the U.N. 19 years ago, meets all the conceivable criteria for a credible partner in the fight against transnational crime. They have already helped foil international terrorist plots and curtail violent extremist currents, thus proving that they are a valuable asset to global security. They have also signed over 80 bilateral agreements of cooperation with counterpart law enforcement agencies around the world. However, in order to become a proper contributor of regional and global security, Kosova must become a member of Interpol. That is what membership is about. And frankly speaking, I don’t know how on earth such an outcome would be a loss for our northern neighbor. This matter is not a zero-sum game, quite the opposite actually. In this day and age, it is irresponsible to pretend that our nations are not deeply affected by what happens beyond are borders. We should view our growing interconnectedness as a reason to increase cooperation. The fact of the matter is that those who obstruct Kosova’s membership in Interpol are implicitly aiding organized crime. It is evident that the only parties who stand to benefit from keeping Kosova out of Interpol are criminals, drug cartels, terrorists. The question you must ask yourselves is, do you really want to be on that list?
The same principle applies to the establishment of Kosova’s armed forces. First and foremost I must emphasize that Kosova has not engaged in building an army with the intention of threatening to fight anyone or invade any land. We are actually transforming the mandate of our existing security forces in order to make them compatible to contribute to regional and global security to the full extent of their potential. Our soldiers and officers have excelled in every single international coopetition that they have participated in, proving that they are ready to give back. Moreover, we are proud to have the second most diverse security force relative to all NATO members. In Kosova, we perceive our diversity as a source of strength. It is an attribute that we cherish and want to preserve. Hence, it is disconcerting to see Serbian members of KSF be subjected to intense campaigns of intimidation that are not limited to the members themselves, but affect their families as well. The Serbian state and its proxies have left no stone unturned in their endeavor to stop the process of the transformation of KSF.
But ladies and gentlemen, let me be clear, no other state, spare Kosova, no other citizens, but the ones of Kosova, have veto power over the establishment of our armed forces. This issue is a matter of sovereign decision, one which Kosova shall conclude soon. And again, allow me to be completely candid, this is not something which we will ever dialogue with Serbia about.
Ladies and gentlemen, while we are on the topic of the dialogue, I feel it is necessary for me to reiterate on behalf of the government of Kosova that our country remains committed to fulfilling all the arrangements previously agreed to in Brussels with Serbia. However, as the expression goes, it takes two to tango. And Serbia is not holding up its end of the bargain. It has consistently failed to deliver on almost everything that we have agreed upon. From its blatant disregard for the energy agreement, which is costing Kosova millions on an annual basis, to its unwillingness to recognize Kosovar diplomas, and many other matters that are hindering normal interactions for citizens in both our countries. Furthermore, Serbia has been in violent breach of the the CEFTA agreement with Kosova, dumping its products in order to destabilize our markets. As such, Kosova’s imposition of a 10% tariff on Serbian products was unavoidable, and is both an economically and a politically sensible measure.
This brings us back to the necessity of the dialogue with Serbia. It occurs to me that we all seemingly agree that dialogue is the only path forward for our two countries. Let me be clear, Serbia does not decide who represents Kosova. That is our sovereign decision. Mr Limaj was acquitted. form The Hague tribunal. We ladies and gentleman are of a generation that fought Milosevic and we can look back at our past without feeling ashamed of it.
However, it is crucial for us to also agree on what this dialogue is, and what it will never be about. This dialogue is not about debating Kosova’s right to exist as a free nation under the sun. This dialogue is principally and exclusively about peace and reconciliation. As such, this dialogue will only have meaning and produce results if we consciously decide to speak in earnest with our own domestic audiences about the process in Brussels. Beyond agreements and papers signed, it is essential that our neighbors begin to treat us as human beings, equal in every dimension and endowed with the same inalienable rights and freedoms.
Only two months ago, an 18 year old boy from Kosova was beaten and hospitalized in Serbia, because someone on the streets of Serbia heard him speak the Albanian language on the phone. Thankfully, this time, he survived.
Not long ago, an infant, a baby, was about to die because Serbian air traffic control refused to grant a permit for the use of its airspace to a plane that was due to land in Prishtina. Ladies and gentlemen, indulge me for a moment and think about this, Serbian ACC officials refused to grant a permit for the use of airspace by a plane because it was headed for Prishtina, even if that meant saving the life of a baby. This behavior is beyond comprehension.
Not to mention, the dozens of busses with Kosova-Albanians that were attacked with stones as they passed through Serbia because Kosova was their destination. Or the Kosovar artists and scholars that were banned from entering Serbia in the first place, although the purpose of their travel to Belgrade was to promote peace and dialogue.
Such issues transcend politics. However, they are exponentially more hurtful when the state is an accomplice. An innocent infant was about to die in the sky this September, because Serbian authorities refused to grant a simple request by an international aircraft operator that was flying a plane to Prishtina. Ladies and gentlemen, we can agree and disagree on various and numerous counts, but we can not, and we will not discuss placing a price tag on human life. There are no circumstances that can justify this horrendous notion becoming the subject of a negotiation. In fact, it is shameful that an EU candidate country is utilizing such despicable tools to make a political point.
An agreement between states is meaningful and sustainable only If it is an agreement between people. If it brings about a more secure peace and better living standards for those involved. Not if the effect arches the other way around.
Our neighbors in the north may have their doubts. However, we in Kosova know exactly where we stand, where we are headed, and where we belong. In Europe.
We are reminded of this everyday by our brave and courageous journalists who work fearlessly to hold our politicians accountable. We are constantly reminded of this by our sportsmen and women, more so by the women, who defy the odds and bring golden medals back home. We are reminded of it by our vibrant youth that excels in science and technology, exploring new frontiers and experimenting with cutting edge innovations to find answers to the questions of the future. We are reminded of this by brave women like Vasfije Krasniqi.
Vasfije was only 16 years old when she was taken from the arms of her mother by the Serbian military forces in the spring of ’99. She was raped. They did not kill her, because as she herself has testified, they explicitly told her “you will all suffer more if we keep you alive”. Little did they know, Vasfije would grow up to become an incredible woman, a mother of two beautiful daughters, and nearly two decades latter come back home stronger than ever. Braver than ever. To teach us all a lesson about justice. A justice that was once denied to her. A lesson of perseverance. One about never giving up. For despite the best efforts to make her into one, Vasifje is not a victim. She is a hero. And heroes like her define my country.
The lessons of war speak to us still, reminding us that progress must never be taken for granted. Kosova has borne witness to the worst of humanity. We live in the debt of the dead, the wounded, the raped, and the missing. Remorse cannot do justice to such suffering. We believe that every act of aggression, terror, cruelty, and oppression must have repercussions, for hatred shall never prevail. As Kosovars, we have a shared responsibility to do better. We are determined to honor the lives that might have been by ensuring that their sacrifice was not made in vain. Their memory has fueled our transformation and empowered our sense of purpose. They have inspired our collective commitment to the sublimation of the dreams of the fallen and our persistent efforts to pursue a future of enduring peace and prosperity. We know that these ideals are not easy to achieve, but they are nonetheless worth striving for. However daunting the odds may be and insurmountable the looming challenges may say seem, you can rest assured, Kosova will never give up. We are a young republic, one that is far from perfect, but also one that will not stop striving to become better for all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. Because that is how we keep our promise to our children. This is the Kosova we are fighting for.