Albin Kurti, Prime Minister of Kosovo: “Russia urges to increase instability at EU borders”

Albin Kurti, Prime Minister of Kosovo: “Russia urges to increase instability at EU borders”

Albin Kurti has spent more than half of his 47 years fighting for Kosovo’s independence and international recognition. This former activist was elected Prime Minister in 2021 by a large majority. He arrived in Brussels this Wednesday with a tight agenda to negotiate with Belgrade a way out of the latest crisis that comes after his decision to abolish number plates and identity documents for Serbs in your country. He met first with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and on Thursday with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Kurti carefully prepared her messages. One thing stands out above all: Serbia is a loyal ally of Russia, the invader of Ukraine, which has become a threat to Western stability. His country, on the other hand, is on the other side: that of NATO, the EU and the USA.

Questions. Is there really a risk of open conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, as you said days ago?

Answer. Tensions run high as Belgrade refuses to recognize crimes committed in the war in Kosovo. For example, about the Racak massacre on January 15, 1999, they say it did not exist. You deny the crime. Furthermore, they do not recognize our independence and have carried out 48 operations around our border: 28 by the military and 20 by the gendarmerie.

P Since when?

R Since 2001. Now they have developed relations with Russia. Last year there were 104 joint military activities between Serbia and Russia. Gazprom owns 56% of Serbia’s oil industry and within the Serbian Ministry of Defense there is an office of the Russian Ministry of Defense in Belgrade. The last meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and [Vladímir] Putin took place on November 25 last year. In ten years they had 19 meetings.

P Are you saying that Russia is pushing to increase tensions at the borders of the European Union?

Subscribe to EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.

Subscribe to

R Yes, I believe that despotic President Putin hates the EU and is a warrior trying to destabilize the European continent. He started out nostalgic for the Soviet Union and ended up nostalgic for the Russian Empire. He is obsessed with Kosovo.

P Why?

R He regards NATO’s intervention in 1999 to end the Serbian genocide in Kosovo as the most unique event in international relations since the fall of the Berlin Wall. To compare something. He says: “If NATO can do it in Kosovo, I can do it in Ukraine.” It tries to show that just as Western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan was unsuccessful, success in Kosovo is only temporary. On the contrary, we want to show that Kosovo is a resounding success story. In that sense, NATO’s defense of Kosovo is important, but so is NATO’s defense of Kosovo.

P In this context, do you think it was the best time to take the decision on number plates and identity documents in the territory of the Kosovo Serb minority, which is suffering from increasing tensions?

R Serbia agreed to stop issuing car number plates with the names of cities from Kosovo from January 2018. Also, these license plates are illegal in my country and we have facilitated the transition with financial incentives of up to €5,000 per car. However, the problem on July 31 stems from a huge disinformation campaign by Serbia saying that we would confiscate the travel documents of Serbs coming to Kosovo. It is not true. We don’t take anything away from them. We gave them an additional document stating that they are entering another country, as Serbia has been doing for 11 years with every Kosovar crossing the border. It is a mutual, legal and peaceful action, they are the ones using illegal structures to set up barricades and shoot at our police.

P Yes, but was this the right time?

R I don’t think we should look at legality in tactical terms. We must fight corruption and crime in a normative way, not in a utilitarian-tactical sense. We’re not going back. We will minimize any kind of use of force.

P A few weeks ago, President Pedro Sánchez reiterated in Albania, meaning that Spain is sticking to its position of not recognizing Kosovo. Do you have hope that it will ever happen?

R Spain must and will recognize Kosovo. I know that there are some complaints that the Kosovo case could cause in some areas of Spain. But as our great writer Ismail Kadaré said when he won the Prince of Asturias Prize: “Spain should never be compared to Serbia because Serbia committed genocide in Kosovo”. I think that just by recognizing Kosovo, Spain would show that Catalonia and the Basque Country are completely different from our case. Therefore, it would be beneficial for Spain to recognize us. A meeting of the Socialist International takes place in Madrid in November. That’s why I’m looking forward to going to Madrid.

P And what will he say to Sánchez?

R He traveled through the Balkans and did not come to Kosovo. So you owe us a visit.

P How would a change in Spanish position help Kosovo?

R Spain should join the EU and NATO majority in recognizing Kosovo. She must not remain in the minority. 22 of the 27 members of the EU recognize us and 26 of the 30 members of NATO. Spain should join the majority.

P Before joining the EU, Kosovo and Serbia need to settle their differences, is that possible?

R yes i think it is possible We engaged creatively and constructively with Brussels. This dialogue should lead to a full normalization of relations through a legally binding agreement with an emphasis on mutual recognition. Now Kosovo and Serbia do not recognize each other. We must know ourselves.

P And when do you think the Serbs will recognize them?

R The sooner the better for both of you. But it’s not my place to know. If the people of Serbia had their way, it would have happened very soon. But unfortunately the Serbian President does not want to do this because he was Minister of Information during the war [Slobodan] Milosevic. He’s a man from the past.

P He is the one chosen by the Serbian people.

R Yes.

P And you have to negotiate with him.

R Yes, although I think that people in Serbia voted more for him to have a job, education, health care, and not for Kosovo. Vucic needs a double distancing, from Milosevic and from Putin.

Albin Kurti, during the interview. Albin Kurti, during the interview. Pablo Garrigos

P No concrete progress with the EU recently. Are you disappointed?

R We are the most pro-European and pro-democratic country in the Balkans. We have climbed 17 places in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, we’ve also climbed 17 places in the World Freedom Index and are ranked number one for rule of law in the Western Balkans according to the World Justice Project. This is also due to the cooperation with the EU, which is our largest donor.

P And has the EU recognized this in concrete matters, such as visa liberalization?

R We have been meeting all criteria for four years. In 2018, the European Commission declared for the second time that Kosovo has met all the criteria and that visa liberalization should take place. Despite this, we still have a visa regime, but that has to do with some [Estados] skeptical members.

P Can this be a solution in this crisis?

R Yes, visa liberalization would do a lot to boost trust in the EU, which is very high in Kosovo. But a bit of frustration is noticeable, especially among young people, students and business people. We are neither bitter about the EU nor cynical. We are patient and have no alternative to the EU. It’s our destiny. Europe is our continent. We must protect and defend the EU. There is frustration in certain sections of the population. But I must say again that I am never frustrated, nor bitter, always critical, not of the existence of the EU but of its action or inaction.

Follow all international information on Facebook and Twitteror in our weekly newsletter.

reduced by 50 percent

Subscribe to continue reading

read limitless