1. Some 20 months have passed since NATO and other troops arrived in Kosovo. Did you expect that the process of normalization in the Kosovo province would take place faster and that life in Kosovo would be safer than it is today?
The peace offer that I presented in Belgrade in June 1999 together with Viktor Chernomyrdin ended the war in Kosovo. The end of the crisis in Kosovo is not yet in sight. Hatred and violence are still present in everyday life. Overcoming a legacy of communist political and economic structures, years of repression under Milosevic and a vicious war can be expected to take some time. The building of a lasting peace requires patience and long-term commitment from both the population in the area and from the international community.
It will take civic courage from political leaders in both Belgrade and Pristina to begin the process of reconciliation. It will also take political will on the part of the international community to implement a strategic vision for normalising Kosovo. But we all owe it to future generations to end this crisis.
2. The project of building a multiethnic community in Kosovo is far from completed. What should, in your opinion, be done to realise a peaceful solution for Kosovo?
What needs to be achieved in Kosovo is a self-sustaining democracy that is built on good
governance and a political system that represents the interests of all citizens. This requires the development of a secure legal and political framework in which political leaders can be held accountable.
The most reliable way to build a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo will be to speed up its political, social and economic development. I believe that it is necessary to begin building institutions as soon as possible - irrespective of the final status negotiations. Whether Kosovo is in the end an autonomous region, a republic or an independent state, it will need to have functioning institutions to secure the rule of law and democratic governance.
I would also advocate that the political leadership in Belgrade leave the issue of constitutional status on the side for the time being and focus, instead, on developing practical institutional relationships and functional links with Kosovo that will serve everyone’s interests.
The European Union was itself born as an initiative for conflict prevention and crisis management. The aim of functional integration through the coal and steel sectors was to tie Germany into European structures and to make future conflict unthinkable. In post-war Europe stability has been achieved primarily through unification and the spreading of economic prosperity. Concrete steps toward European integration and regional cooperation might also help to alleviate tensions surrounding status issues in Kosovo. The key to stability is to embed Kosovo in a broader regional framework.
3. The return of Albanian refugees to Kosovo presents one of the most substantial achievements in bringing about a peaceful solution for the province. Unfortunately, this positive process was followed by a wave of expulsions of the Serb and other non-Albanian population from Kosovo.
What is to be done to implement the peace plan in a just way?
The recent incidents of terror against displaced Serbs in Kosovo, including the bus bomb that claimed eleven innocent lives, are to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The Kosovan Albanian political leaders must be held responsible for integrating ethnic minorities into Kosovan society and providing them with the same rights as all other citizens. Here again I come back to the need to set up accountable democratic institutions.
At the same time, it is the responsibility of both sides to the Kosovo conflict to engage in a process of reconciliation that will overcome the hatred and violence. The aftermath of the Second World War has also taught how important it is for the success of a people to go through its own history in an honest and critical way. Different countries have succeeded in doing so to different degrees. In the Balkans, history has unfortunately often been used as an instrument of politics. It is now time to overcome the past and turn to a vision for the future.
4. Is it possible to achieve stability in the area without the return of all the refugees and displaced persons to Kosovo?
Not all refugees and displaced persons are likely ever to return, but there will be no stability without the creation of the necessary conditions for return. Regional stability can only be achieved if minority rights are secured and respected throughout the South Eastern Europe. This in turn requires strengthening the democratic foundations of society and the rule of law, creating good-neighbourly relations and developing cross-border cooperation.
5. Extremists from Kosovo are a key source of concern for the EU, NATO, OSCE and others in the international community because of terrorist acts and serious incidents in the so-called “security zone” and in northern Macedonia. Where do you see the causes and solutions to new centers of instability in the region?
The deeper causes of continuing instability have to do with the past repression of Albanians in Kosovo during the Milosevic era, and the fear that Kosovan Albanians will be forced to give up the gains of what they view as a liberation struggle. The perceived embrace by the international community of the new government in Belgrade has led many Albanians to be concerned that their hopes for sovereignty are slipping away. This could in turn explain the interest of some in expanding the conflict beyond the territory of Kosovo.
At the same time, I believe that what we are dealing with in southern Serbia and northern Macedonia are groups of extremist Albanians, without very much support from the population in general. It is important not to allow these extremist groups to gain legitimacy and capture the mainstream Albanian public opinion. For this reason, it is vitally important that the governmental forces in both southern Serbia and northern Macedonia continue to respond with restraint – and do their utmost to reach out to the Albanian communities, to integrate them and to respond to their concerns.
6. In your view, how long will the presence of international troops be necessary in Kosovo?
I have said elsewhere that the international community must be prepared to remain involved in the Balkans for the long term, for ten or twenty years – until the job is done. Our joint commitment for stabilizing the region must be no less than the commitment of the United States in building up Western Europe after the Second World War.
The presence of international troops in Kosovo will be necessary for a long time to come if the region is to be stabilized. It may be time for us to think of a broader framework for European security in which SFOR and KFOR would not be seen as temporary peace implementation forces, but as the beginning of a long-term Euro-Atlantic security commitment to South Eastern Europe.
7. The peace solution for Kosovo presented, in certain of its aspects, a punishment of the former Yugoslav leader who had - at the time when this solution was accepted - no “right to vote”. It seems that this punishment was borne more by thousands of innocent civilians than by Milosevic himself. Could this state of affairs be corrected or at least seriously alleviated?
When I accepted the assignment to mediate in the Kosovo peace process I did not believe that our chances of success were very high. The process included several states and leaders, and was influenced by different and often contradictory interests. In order to create the preconditions for the return of refugees, for the ending of the bombings and for sustainable peace, it was necessary to bring together this range of different interests.
The Kosovo peace offer that I presented to President Milosevic together with Viktor Chernomyrdin was based on the practical realities on the ground. Had the international community allowed Yugoslav troops to remain in Kosovo, the refugees would not have dared to return.
The Serb exodus from Kosovo was much greater than we had expected, as was the vengefulness of the returning Albanians. The thousands of Serb civilians who have fled, or continue to be harassed for having remained in Kosovo, are now suffering the consequences of the injustice of the repressive politics of the Milosevic regime. We bear witness once again to the fact that injustice breeds injustice.
8. In your opinion, will the future solution for Kosovo and its neighbourhood be based more on universal principles?
There are two competing sets of universal principles operating here. One is the right of states to sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the other is the right of peoples to self-determination. The argument for self-determination of the Kosovan Albanians has been considerably strengthened by the repressive measures employed by the Serbian and Yugoslav governments against the population over the past decade, and the culmination of this repression in the atrocities committed by Serb forces during the 1998-99 war. The final status of Kosovo will have to take account of both the sovereignty principle and the right to self-determination, as well as of political realities on the ground.
I would like to end by saying that Serbia and its citizens should now have the courage to look beyond day-to-day politics, so that the country could begin to transform itself in the direction which it has declared itself as wishing to take. This will have to involve self-scrutiny and an honest account of recent history in order to be able to meet the challenges of the future.