Succeeding in Kosovo

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By Agim Ceku
Tuesday, December 12, 2006; 9:05 AM

Arriving in Washington from the western Balkan region, it is immediately clear that U.S. foreign policy has a new set of priorities. A visitor to my own region would notice a similar shift. This is a good thing. It means we have made collective progress.

In the past several years, Kosovo has undergone a remarkable transformation.Most of the responsibilities of governing have been transferred from the U.N. Mission to the Provisional Government. Kosovo has a sound microeconomic foundation, as well as a tax system with few exemptions and low marginal rates. Our labor laws are among the most flexible in Europe and the government has normalized private property laws.

While the judiciary and security sector still need deeper, fundamental reforms, Kosovo has by and large developed functional and effective institutions.

We have also developed a system for protecting the rights of our minorities. The Serbs make up only five percent of the total population, but the Serb language is one of our two official languages. Such an example is unprecedented in Europe. Twenty seats in the parliament are reserved for our minorities, and I have insisted on having minority representatives in my Government.

Similarly, the government has strengthened the power base of individual municipalities. This guarantees that the majority of Serbs -- most of whom live in communities dispersed across Kosovo -- will live under Serb mayors and chiefs of police, visit Serb doctors and attend Serb schools.

We recognize that the key to the viability of Kosovo is to bridge the divisions of the past. Kosovo is a multiethnic state -- and we have taken the steps to ensure that all of its ethnic minorities will have the stability, security and prosperity that we all aspire to.

Unfortunately, parts of Belgrade's political elite are trying to make martyrs out of the Kosovo Serb community, while doing nothing to actually offer this community a sustainable future. The result is that while Kosovo today is de facto independent, too many in the international community are still reluctant to embrace the inevitable -- and we are all stuck.

Kosovo needs independence to move to the next level, where we can start thinking about promotion of our economic potential and management of our integration into the European Union. But above all, finalizing the status of Kosovo will bring an end to the uncertainty and hopelessness of the Kosovo Serbs - and indeed of Serbia. It will free Serbia of a mythological burden, and open the door to proper politics and economic development.

There are two Serbias today. The modern Serbia understands that Kosovo is moving on, and has come to terms with this reality. This Serbia is focused on Europe and on reviving Serbia's economic potential and, with it, the well being of Serb citizens. Meanwhile, the old, nationalistic Serbia still clutches onto Kosovo. This group has no long-term economic, social or political development plan in store for Kosovo or for Serbia.

Recognizing this dichotomy, the international community needs to find a way to stimulate democratic Serbia while sidelining the radicals. This is in our interest, as well.

Kosovo is doing what it can to help Serbia. We agreed to defer the final status decision until after the Serbian general election in January. This is our way of saying we support a democratic Serbia. I want to develop with Serbia the mature, productive relationship appropriate to two neighboring states with shared interests and goals.

Indeed, the whole region needs an EU-oriented Serbia in order to make progress, and to release the international community from the burden of intervention. Regional cooperation and European integration are two sides of the same coin and the recipe for modern Western Balkans. However, neither will materialize as long as the status issue of Kosovo remains unresolved.

The EU must assume a lead role in developing the region. In many ways, it is already doing so. The region¿s gravitation towards Brussels is only natural and inevitable. But strong and focused American leadership remains essential, particularly in the upcoming months as the status discussion comes to a head in the Security Council.

The U.S. intervened in Kosovo on the side of human rights. US troops together with NATO pushed back and defeated the army of Slobodan Milosevic which brought ethnic cleansing to Europe. The US-led intervention in Kosovo has served as a constant reminder that systematic human rights abuse will no longer be tolerated by the international community, and that the claim to sovereignty is not a guarantee of international immunity for gross crimes.

Recognizing Kosovo's independence would close the dark chapters of Balkan history, and create the opportunity for a new and sustainable regional stability. This represents, for America and the world, the chance of new and striking foreign policy success story.

Agim Ceku is the Prime Minister of Kosovo.


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