Epoke e Re
Questions and answers for interview with Henry H. Perritt, Jr.
Professor Perritt what do you expect from talks that are being held in Vienna between kosovar and serb side?
I do not expect agreement. The talks are useful, however, for two reasons. First, they give the Kosovar side an opportunity to prove its professionalism and good faith engagement in the diplomatic process, and make the Serb side look bad for its stubborn attachment to various myths about Kosova. This contrast should help improve Kosova’s international image and build support for independence.
Second, the talks educate everyone on concrete issues that must be addressed in any final resolution of status for Kosova. I wish as much attention were being paid in these talks to economic issues as to decentralization and human rights. For example, final status needs to include an international mechanism to ensure that courts in other countries respect decisions made by the Special Chamber of the Supreme Court of Kosovo regarding privatization. I have emphasized the importance of this to President Sejdiu, Prime Minister Ceku, Ramush Haradinaj and Hashim Thaci and I hope it will receive priority in further talks on economic development. Otherwise investors in privatized enterprises will be exposed to lawsuits all over the world, which will impede job creation and discourage investment.
How do you valuate “elephant’s” meeting which occurred time ago in Vienna. Is the Serb side realizing that she’s losing Kosova?
The several “elephants’ meetings” have been encouraging because, so far, they reveal that the international community is determined to get a basic decision on status made before the end of this year. I have been worried about several forces that might delay final status resolution or send it in the wrong direction. First, is the possibility that the conflicts in Iraq, Israel and Lebanon would distract U.S. policy makers, bleed off their political capital, and empower Russia to block independence for Kosova. So far this has not happened, but it continues to be a concern. This danger makes it all the more important to get a basic decision before the end of this year that Kosova is independent, even if implementation of independence takes us into a few months of next year.
Second, is the possibility that aggressive Serb propaganda in the United States and Western Europe might shift public opinion against independence for Kosova. So far this does not seem to be happening, in part because the propaganda is so extreme, reiterating long-standing racist and religious slurs against the Kosovar Albanian Community.
Apparently, extreme nationalist politics in Serbia does not make it possible for Serb leaders to agree to independence for Kosova. It is encouraging, however, that a few Serb voices are being raised to tell the truth: that Kosova is lost to Serbia. It also is encouraging that Kosovar Serb leaders are beginning to question Belgrade’s hard line. It has been true for a long time that Belgrade’s policy does not further the interests of the Kosovar Serbs. They would be far better off breaking away from Belgrade’s control and participating in the political process in Kosova. Kosova’s political leaders must do everything possible to demonstrate that such participation will produce benefits for the Kosovar Serbs.
Which will be the epilogue of these talks?
I am still optimistic that the international community will recognize Kosova’s independence and sovereignty before the end of this year. This may occur through a UN Security Council resolution, or it may occur through formal recognition of Kosova as a sovereign state by the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Italy and other major powers, without a Security Council resolution. A Security Council resolution, followed by recognition would be better. Otherwise Serbia will be able to claim for years to come that Kosova is still formally a part of Serbia under Resolution 1244.
Even if Kosova is granted independence this year, some form of continued international oversight is certain. I worry about the form this may take, and Kosovars should be worried about it too. It would be easy for the international community to structure its continued supervision of Kosova’s local political institutions so that it looks like UNMIK with a new name, or so that it looks like Bosnia. Both of those approaches are unsound. As long as political decisionmaking in Kosova is in limbo, Kosovar political leaders will be able to escape accountability by blaming international administrators, and international administrators will be able to escape accountability by blaming the Kosovar political leaders. That has been going on for seven years, and the results have been disgraceful. The electricity crisis continues. There are no rational plans for job creation or economic development. Corruption continues unabated, uninvestigated, and unpunished.
The peoples of Kosova deserve a political and economic environment in which elected Kosovar leaders have to produce results or get voted out of office. That means that the international community must get out of the way, and allow Kosovar politicians to succeed or fail on their own, under their own names. And the people of Kosova have to be willing to express their frustrations and dissatisfactions at the ballot box. Political parties and candidates must begin to campaign for votes based on concrete proposals for economic development and job creation, rather than merely criticizing the international administration and saying they are for independence. Everyone is for independence. Let’s begin to move on to other problems.
What’s your opinion on decentralization in Kosova, what do you expect from this process?
Further decentralization is desirable, both because of its symbolism and because it could produce reassurances for the Serb and other minorities that they will not always be outvoted in Kosovar political institutions. The latest proposals by the Kosovar side are sound, and my guess is that some further concessions could be made.
On the other hand, everyone should be steadfast in opposing formal horizontal ties between municipalities or formal ties between municipalities and Belgrade. Municipalities should not have diplomatic relations with other countries. Moreover, Kosova cannot be governed effectively if power is decentralized too much. Elected Kosovar officials in Prishtina must have sufficient legislative and executive power over all of Kosova to produce results in economic development, minority rights and rule of law so they can be held accountable. When power is decentralized too much, no one is accountable.
An open issue still remains divided city of Mitrovica, how will this problem be solved?
It won’t be solved quickly, but progress can be made along the lines suggested by ESI and Verena and Gerald Knaus, who consistently do some of the best policy analysis that exists on Kosova.
What is public opinion in Washington for Kosova question?
The focus in Washington is not on Kosova. It is on Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, North Korea and Iran. There are a few policy makers focused on Kosova, however. The Bush Administration (and I am a Democrat and find fault with much of the Administration’s policy) has done a very good job so far. It has involved some of its best people in the State Department in the final status process. It continues to push hard to get final status resolved this year. I hope that this determination will continue and intensify, backed up by a commitment to recognize an independent Kosova this year, if the international diplomatic process falters.
The friends of Kosova in Washington and around the United States could use more help from NAAC. NAAC’s voice is rarely heard, while an aggressive and well-funded Serb propaganda machine regularly gets its anti-Albanian and anti-independence message in U.S. newspapers and on the Web. I hope this public relations asymmetry does not begin to turn Congressional opinion against independence. NAAC needs to do its job more aggressively and more effectively.
President Sejdiu, Prime Minister Ceku, Hashim Thaci and Veton Surroi have done a wonderful job over the last several months in their speeches and public statements, helping to educate people in other countries about Kosova’s need for independence and the capacity of its leaders to govern an independent Kosova with a respect for human rights. I am sure that Ramush Haradinaj would do a similarly good job with public speeches and statements if his moves and statements were not so tightly controlled by UNMIK and if he were free from the shadow of his pending trial in the Hague.
How do you see the future of Kosova, are you optimistic about out country?
I am very optimistic in some ways, and pessimistic in others. I am optimistic because of the pride, patriotism, and energy of the people of Kosova. The younger generation, especially, has good ideas and a commitment to results. As more of them attain responsible decisionmaking positions, the outlook will improve. And some in the more senior generation have much to contribute as well. Ahmet Shala is a hero for his patient, persistent leadership of privatization. Enver Hasani’s elevation to be Rector of the University of Prishtina is wonderful. He is off to a good start on rebuilding the University, which consistently has been an embarrassment to those committed to a bright future for Kosova.
I am more pessimistic about the capacity of the present coalition government and of existing political parties to meet their responsibility to produce results, to produce creative programs for job creation, and to clean up corruption. I am baffled that Prime Minister Ceku, a strong man, with enormous public support, so far has done nothing to carry out his initial commitment to clean house in the government and to hold ministers accountable. If the two coalition parties will not let him act, he should resign. Or he should go ahead and do what he thinks is right and make the coalition parties remove him. If the coalition parties want continued public support, they should give the Prime Minister some space so he can govern.
It is important, not only that independence be recognized in 2006, but also that both national and municipal elections be held in 2007, with an open list system. For Kosova to get a good start on independence, the existing political elites must demonstrate results or be voted out of office and replaced with new faces. This needs to happen within the next year.
Two urgent priorities must be tackled by the government of a newly independent Kosova: job creation and reducing public corruption. With regard to corruption, my team of students and I have been working on a 75 page report laying out an anti-corruption initiative for Kosova, which we expect to release publicly in the next few weeks.