Ramush Haradinaj is prime minister of Kosovo.
My country, Kosovo, is being asked to make an impossible choice that would cheapen the sacrifice made by U.S. soldiers, undermine the stability of the region and threaten America’s allies. In the face of sustained attack from Serbia meant to undermine our sovereignty, security and prosperity, there are some who would like Kosovo to engage in so-called “peaceful” ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. This is a shortsighted attempt to give in to a bully in the hope that the bullying will stop. We will not do this — we will instead stand up against those who would seek to take advantage of us, while simultaneously working toward a long-lasting and comprehensive peace.
Following a genocidal campaign of terror, Kosovo won its independence from Serbia through hard sacrifice, supported by the United States and NATO. Since the 1999 war and our declaration of independence in 2008, we have built a modern state committed to democracy and integration with NATO, the European Union and the United States. As of today, more than half of the United Nations’ members recognize our independence.
However, Serbia and its ally Russia have refused to recognize our sovereignty and fought to block our joining the United Nations. In violation of the Brussels agreement on the normalization of relations, Serbia has worked to block our path toward E.U. membership, as well as membership in many international organizations. Last week, our effort to join Interpol was undermined, helping organized crime and hurting internal law enforcement.
Now, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, backed by Russia, has made us an obscene offer: Serbia will recognize Kosovo if we give it part of our territory. Serbia wants to create an ethnically “pure” state, stripping people of their citizenship and expelling them from their homes.
This is too high a price to pay. We will not violate our constitution, give up our sovereignty and destroy our territorial integrity just to have Serbia recognize something that is already a fact. We will also not set a dangerous precedent that will destabilize the wider Balkans and those countries fighting for their own territorial integrity, such as Israel, Ukraine and India.
The vast majority of international experts oppose this idea. It has also been soundly rejected by the Kosovo people – with 77 percent voting against it in a recent poll. As the country’s prime minister, I would never support such a trade.
More fundamentally, we also have no confidence that Serbia will honor its commitments, given its history of acting in bad faith. Serbia has failed to implement any major agreement it has entered into with Kosovo including the Ahtisaari Plan, the 2013 Brussels agreement on the normalization of relations, and the 2013 and 2015 agreements on power supply. The E.U. and the United States were guarantors of these agreements, demonstrating how Serbia ignores international pressure when it is applied.
In violation of these agreements, Serbia was recently caught blocking Kosovo from joining Interpol. Furthermore, Serbia has been actively lobbying the E.U. to further delay granting visa-free travel rights to Kosovars, despite Kosovo reaching agreement with the E.U. and implementing more than 95 reforms.
Shockingly, Serbia is using money generated from unfair trade with Kosovo to fund these lobbying campaigns against our very existence and economic development. For too long, Serbia has abused Kosovo’s market and violated the terms of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). Serbia has regularly dumped underpriced products in Kosovo and violated rules related to public procurement, labeling, health standards and customs enforcement.
Enough is enough — in the name of fair trade, national security and our vital national interests, my government has imposed a 100 percent tariff on all Serbian goods. These measures will remain in place until Serbia stops its efforts to undermine our sovereignty and begins honoring its commitments.
Despite these tensions, I know the only answer is peace, and I still wholeheartedly support the creation of a long-term comprehensive peace deal with Serbia that addresses all political, security, economic, trade and cultural issues. To be successful, such an agreement must have the support of a majority of both Serbia and Kosovo’s peoples so that it is durable and can survive long-term. This agreement must result in Kosovo’s recognition by Serbia, entry into the United Nations and a rapid path to E.U. and NATO membership.
As long as the final agreement achieves these goals and does not violate our constitution, sovereignty and territorial integrity as this ill-conceived land-trade idea would, I will support it and urge all others to do so, as well. Thinking creatively and working together, Kosovo and Serbia can move past their current disputes and insulting proposals to create a lasting peace that benefits all of our people.