Fair international justice, institutional stability, peace dialogue with final recognition

Joint press conference by the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, and the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Avdullah Hoti:

Prime Minister Edi Rama: Hello everyone and welcome, especially those who have traveled from Pristina to attend this joint communication. It was a pleasure, as always, to welcome every Kosovo Prime Minister, and to welcome PM Hoti to Tirana today, despite the extraordinary circumstances that you already know. We met 48 hours ago in Pristina, but today we have the opportunity to elaborate and expand on all aspects of cooperation. We will continue discussing after this conference, while we have already agreed on setting a new date on the next joint session of both governments in the city of Shkodra, hoping that the not so easy situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic in the second half of September.

In the meantime, we have also agreed on another important joint event we will hold for first time, always in the hope that the Covid-19 related situation will allow us to host it at the Palace of Congresses in Tirana in November, where we jointly, the government of the Republic of Albania and the government of the Republic of Kosovo, want to sponsor the first Congress of the Local Authorities. We want it to become a traditional congress, with the mayors of the municipalities or the heads of the communes, as they are called in Kosovo, along with their teams will share best practices, discuss shared challenges in addressing community problems, as well as explore the potential of joint initiatives on good local governance.

Availing myself of this occasion, I would like to reiterate what I sought to convey either at the Assembly of Albania or in the course of my visit to Pristina regarding the public announcement of the big character poster against the President of Kosovo, stating that this big character should  become a very strong motivation for all Albanian-speaking stakeholders and political factors, be they in Kosovo, in Albania or in North Macedonia, be they everywhere, to unify and be unanimous in relation to the necessity that justice be fair and that a potential judicial process, which is possible as a result of the commitment of the Assembly of Kosovo to adopt a special shed light on all war crimes allegations, not to be deformed by being transformed into a process of injustice to Kosovo, injustice to the liberation war, injustice to the authorities of the sovereign state of Kosovo.

Of course, misinterpretations are expected regarding this attitude, unfortunately, either among us in the Albanian-speaking setting, or in the English-speaking setting, confounding precisely the very essence, as this attitude has nothing to do with any attempt or temptation to disrespect, let alone to politically obstruct a fair legal process, but it has to do with quite the opposite. But it is the other way around; it is about the attempt to discredit this process in public through an unprecedented media announcement in the good practice of the justice of an alleged guilt of the Head of State of Kosovo and the former Speaker of the Assembly of Kosovo together with others. At this point, any compromise in silence is unlikely.

I have seen and somehow concerned I have followed the international statements supposedly encouraging justice and the statements considering it a positive step regarding what the whole world read, yet the document offers no positive step at all. That is a very worrying step that turns the specialist prosecutor’s office into a certainly prejudiced body and not into a respected institution due to the fact it has formulated an indictment, while a formal indictment has yet to be confirmed.

Having said this, we discussed ways to push the cooperation process further. I hope and I believe it is a good omen that Prime Minister Hoti, among others, is on this visit also as one of the protagonists of this entire path of cooperation, as he has been serving in key institutional roles, namely aspects of the finance and economy. Given his experience and his indisputably high competence he will certainly be an added value to this process, which is not about political will as the two sides have consistently demonstrated unwavering political will, but it is about implementation of the pending agreements, a part of them, because many of them have been already finalized or are in the implementation process.

We have discussed concretely and we will go one with talks, not only today, but also in the future, to explore all elements related to the quick implementation of a series of key agreements. Today we also talked about Kosovo’s customs office at the port of Durres. We have previously agreed on opening Kosovo’s customs office in Durres in principle, yet its implementation is still incomplete. What PM Hoti raised in the bilateral talks comprises the core of the agreement, and not a first station that would be followed by a second checkpoint at Morina border crossing point, but a single station in Durres. It will be a single customs checking point to allow clearance of all goods bound for Kosovo from a legislative and legal point of view. This means we still have to technically detail the agreement in order to prevent bureaucracy or certain interests from hindering its implementation.

We also discussed ways to unify rules and procedures about trade exchanges between the two countries, where it is impossible to talk about full efficiency, unless the two sides fail to unify the technical aspects so that we no longer continue asking Kosovo exporters to show documents here in Albania too, or the Kosovo customs authorities no longer ask exporters from Albania to provide required documents, but a single document, valid in both countries, is issued instead. If the exporter or the importer has obtained the required documents from the relevant Agency in Albania or Kosovo, he actually has been issued a document that is recognized by both Albania and Kosovo and he will no longer need to present these documents to the bureaucrats, inspectors of both countries and undergo two pairs of not easy procedures, as we all know.

I reiterated my publicly known position that given the need to progress as soon as possible in the entire strategic cohesion related to the daily lives of our citizens and the daily movement of goods, services and capital, the regional  Schengen, in my view, remains a program where Albanians on both sides of the border must jointly see their strategic interest. I believe this is clear. I believe it is pretty clear that if we join the Schengen regional framework together, no one would stop us from opening the border to allow control-free movement of people. What I said about customs will apply to people travelling between Kosovo and Albania. The Ministries of Interior of the two countries have worked to create a common database regarding the security perimeter at all entry and exit points of people between the two countries.

These were more or less the aspects that are worth underlining, while definitely we stand with Kosovo. The government of Albania and I personally will continue to provide stronger support to Kosovo, by respecting and becoming available to the legitimate authorities of Kosovo that have the responsibility to make decisions about Kosovo. We do not make decisions for Kosovo, we do not speak on behalf of Kosovo, we talk about Kosovo and the harmonization of our work is indispensable.

In the meantime, I can’t help but say a final sentence. It is shameful for the European Union to hold entire people hostage, the only people being taken hostage in our continent who are still not allowed to travel freely just like everyone else, even though the state has met all obligations for visa regime liberalisation. We know the reason very well and this reason is not to be found in Kosovo. The reason doesn’t rest with any incompetence of Kosovo to deliver on the requirements for the visa-free regime, but the reason is found in Europe, in the internal politics of various member states that anytime they make decisions about us they are increasingly considering the calculations about the electoral stability of the governing political forces. This is not a secret and a shame. It is shameful that Kosovo citizens are not allowed to travel freely just because of the EU refusal.

Prime Minister, again, by thanking you for your presence and by thanking your delegation for honouring us with your today’s visit, the floor is yours!

PM Avdullah Hoti: Thank you very much Prime Minister! First of all, I would like to thank you for the most recent visit to Pristina following the situation after the new developments. Of course, I believe we now have developed the needed institutional maturity to cope with such situations, yet your care and your immediate visit to Pristina following the recent developments, are very valuable.

I would like to thank you for the friendly, as well as brotherly welcome you extended our delegation in this first visit to a country following the Brussels visit last week.

You dwelled upon all issues we discussed together. Holding joint sessions of the governments of both countries is now a common practice in the cooperation between the two countries. I believe we should now move into more practical terms of our daily cooperation. You provided details of the areas of cooperation we need to further improve in the next joint meeting of our governments, but I would like to point out three major projects of strategic nature.

First, establishment of a customs office in the port of Durres for foreign goods entering Kosovo, a project I have personally worked on with the then finance minister.

Second, an energy project. We have complimentary energy systems, but we must take care to solve this problem by considering the construction of a hydropower plant in the territory of Albania to supply electricity to Kosovo.

And third, a major strategic project is the rail connection between the two capitals of both countries. It is an idea we have conceived previously, but it is time to work on the feasibility study of the project and I believe we will secure due funding to support this project later this year.

Thank you once again for the fraternal hospitality both for me and for the cabinet members.

Honorable Prime Minister Hoti, we are already clear about the position of Ambassador Grenell, who has stated he is preparing a new date for discussion in Washington. Are you ready to travel to Washington, this time without President Hashim Thaçi?

PM Rama, from this very hall, you have previously reiterated the repeated invitation to former PM Haradinaj and former PM Kurti later to join the Balkan Schengen summits. Did you renew such an invitation to PM Hoti today? Thank you!

PM Avdullah Hoti: Kosovo has legitimate constitutional institutions and they are ready to assume all their responsibilities. I am ready and I am coordination with Ambassador Grenell to set a date soon, when we will sit down together and kick-start the dialogue process that will be initially based on an economic agenda and then to move on to political issues of the dialogue, building on our principles for this process of mutual recognition and for normalization of relations between the two countries.

PM Edi Rama: In my view, three key words regarding the future of Kosovo and the future of Albanians strategic ambition in the region:

Fair international justice; indisputable institutional stability, and peace dialogue with eventual recognition.

I believe that if we manage at this difficult time for 1001 reasons and not just simply for the major reason of recent days, we remain focused, Albanian political factors and stakeholders in Kosovo, Albania and wherever they are share what is the reason to be divided on the topics of internal good governance with what is the reason to be united as Albanians on the topic of protecting the dignity and future of Kosovo internationally, these 3 key words can give us the possibility that sooner or later we will all be proud of successfully overcoming a difficult phase.

It is indispensable that we all together unequivocally support the need to get to the bottom of any claims and allegations of war crimes, but also unequivocally oppose any attempt or any kind of irresponsibility like the big character poster that undermines the dignity of the Liberation War and the dignity of the state of Kosovo itself and imbalances the relationship of justice with a war where Kosovo, unfortunately, must now be remembered loudly, because apparently someone forgets that Kosovo was the victim and was not the aggressor.

Just as I believe that institutional stability today goes far beyond the needs of day-to-day politics and far beyond normal divisions among political forces, given that Kosovo today faces an extraordinary international confrontation on two fronts;

On the front of defending the dignity of war and its existence as a democratic and sovereign state, built not on war crimes but on a liberation war and built not on the idea of obstructing justice, but on the readiness of all political forces to give way to justice, whenever necessary;

On the other hand, the responsibility of dealing with Serbia to succeed through peaceful means in an extremely challenging diplomatic battle and at least not to weaken itself, because the confrontation is not between each other, but the confrontation is with another state, an aggressor yesterday and a political rival today with whom one must coexist.

I have no reason to change my mind about the need for us to be together, Albania and Kosovo, also in the Balkan Schengen or the Regional Schengen, which is not an alternative to our membership with EU, but it is an opportunity to create a common space while we all make efforts to join EU to use untapped potential. When we talk about untapped potential, whoever opposes this initiative and rushes to portray it as an initiative related to Belgrade’s needs or interests, while I stand by the interests of the Albanians and our strategic interest. We have a tremendous untapped potential with Kosovo and the thing is how to tap this potential and lessons we should draw from the fact political will both from Tirana and Pristina has never been missing, but our accomplishments are not such that would allow us confidently declare we have succeeded in tapping this whole potential, with four main EU freedoms at the core of this cooperation: freedom of movement of people; freedom of movement of goods; of services and capital. But, for us, freedom of movement of people is somehow more important, more vital to the strategic ambition than it is for others, because it is not about a free movement of tourists who visit Prizren or who come to bath under the sun in Durrës, as would be the case with other countries. It is not about a free movement of day interests. It is about free movement within a family that has been separated for so long that it cannot accept living with a fence in the middle, when the will is to unite.

Wasting time, wasting months and years for internal electoral interests or because of the fear that if you enter this process, then the “true patriots” will speak up and point the finger at you as a traitor, it is not to really work for the future. So, in that sense, I believe it is simply a matter of political will and a matter of refusing to fall into the trap of conspiracy theories and ordinary accusations.

Patriotism is not about isolating yourself or barricading. It is not patriotism today to say one thing and do another when the opportunity arises to do what you have said. Today, patriotism is to overcome all the barricades that have been built and maintained here and there by those with one thing in mind, the power, we need to be very clear about it, nothing else.

PM Hoti, is there any plan to expand the governing coalition by including the Democratic Party of Kosovo if the indictment is confirmed and President Thaçi resigns?

PM Avdullah Hoti: You always know my approach to addressing such issues. I never answer a question hypothetically. The government is totally stable. The President has a full mandate. If certain circumstances are created, we will sit and find the best possible solution for the country.

My first question goes to you PM Rama; the media is reporting about a statement by President Vucic, who has stated he would not recognize Kosovo’s independence. He has also said he sees no possible solution and that Serbia is negotiating with the West and not with Albanians. Do you have any comments on this statement?

I have also a question for the Kosovo PM; do you think your government is vulnerable in the wake of the most recent developments in Kosovo, given that your cabinet enjoys also the support of the Serbian party in parliament and will the dialogue process continue with Brussels or Washington?

PM Edi Rama: My answer is pretty simple. As always, President Vucic is the president of Serbia, defends the interests of Serbia, from his point of view, of course and can say that he would not negotiate with the Albanians, he would negotiate with the West, but there is no chance for him to negotiate with the West on the Albanians. But what I read through these lines that I heard from you and I want to say openly, that there is no time and it is not the moment to pretend it is the misfortune that has often befallen us in our history, in certain moments we had to be one and negotiate with others, we have missed out on historical cases and we have screwed up in certain cases because we cannot negotiate with each other. So if we come as one, the president of Serbia can go to the west, to the east, in the end will sit down with us. He will sit down with the legitimate authorities of the sovereign state of Kosovo which he recognizes it or not, is sovereign and inviolable in its sovereignty and, of course, we in Tirana that will vehemently support the leadership of Pristina, and of course with us here in Tirana, who will definitely support Pristina’s authorities and leadership. Yet, this includes a big “but”. There are two options in the face of such provocative remarks and statements; one is barricading and the other the path of dealing with the rival.

Barricading is to our detriment, not to Serbia’s detriment. Face-to-face and direct confrontation through peaceful means is our challenge. The wiser one is set to win and whoever manages to show the strength of mind and vision for peace will win. One cannot win who plays the role of the strongman via Facebook and by issuing divisive statements and plays the strongman by taking advantage of internal emotions and conjunctures to boast as a great patriot in the eyes of the people or as a great flag bearer, who is saving the homeland from traitors and from agents. Very simple!

PM Avdullah Hoti: As to the dialogue, it should be clear to everyone that the dialogue takes place between Kosovo and Serbia. Of course, it is a dialogue to normalize issues which are important to the citizens’ lives, but it could also trivial, because we have been dialoguing for 9 years now since we have engaged in dialogue on normalization of trade relations, movement of citizens, recognition of diplomas, the Cadastre and now we are in dialogue over mutual recognition, which is the first point on possible agreement” between the two countries. So, it is a dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia supported by the EU and the U.S. During this time I have heard that the U.S. and the EU are in competition with each other on this process. I see the role of them both as complementary in the process of dialogue.

A question for you Mr. Prime Minister Rama; Earlier, PM Hoti answered the question about inclusion of all political parties in Kosovo’s government. You paid a two-day official visit to Kosovo earlier this week. Among other things, you appealed for unity and unification of the entire political spectrum. Have you suggested PM Hoti today or during your visit to Pristina, as well as to the DPK leader to join the government, especially in case President Thaçi resigns after some months?

PM Edi Rama: I know there are politicians and leaders who would have wished to govern the whole Balkans, when their only responsibility is to lead their own parties in the efforts to assume power and govern the country. I am not one of them. I have no right whatsoever and of course I definitely take over the responsibility to tell friends, my brothers and colleagues in Kosovo what they should do in delivering and fulfilling their obligations and responsibilities in governing the country’s political life. First of all, this is because I don’t think I am that smart to recommend from Tirana how Kosovo should be governed, even though I have to acknowledge that in the Albanian space there are highly intelligent and wise individuals, who could even govern the world. It is absolutely their right and responsibility.

It is in their right to decide whether to expand or shrink the governing coalition, or whether they decide to do something else. It is neither my duty, nor my right to advise Kosovo leaders about this, let alone make comments about this issue. I have commented and I can comment on certain actions and decisions by leaders in Kosovo when it comes to the relations between Albania and Kosovo, or to the strategic interests of Albanians in terms of dealing with Serbia in this cold diplomatic war in the international arena.

Question for you Mr. Rama; Will Albania support a future Kosovo initiative to file an indictment against Serbia with an international court? Second question; have you ever discussed the issue of Specialist Court at the many meetings you have had with the President of Serbia??

Question for Mr. Hoti; would you travel to Washington or Brussels without participation of President Thaçi and do you prefer that Mr. Thaçi is part of the meetings. Second question; on July, the Organization of the Kosovo Liberation Army Veterans has announced it will stage a protest, calling for the revocation of the law on specialist courts and the specialists prosecutor’s office. Would you support such protest and do you support any idea about abrogation of the law in question?

PM Edi Rama: We are a single nation, we are a single family, yet we live in two different countries and homes. As far as I know, a country cannot file an indictment against another country. In any case, I believe what happened to the President of Kosovo and the Speaker of the Assembly of Kosovo cannot be confronted by pretending to intensify the war with Serbia. On the contrary, I believe that pretending as if the war with Serbia is becoming more intense, by barricading itself and by resorting to issuing big character posters in reaction to what has happened, it just weakens Kosovo’s position and strengthens Serbia’s position.

Sometimes, in such situations, the opponent’s biggest allies, be it intentionally or unintentionally, are those who pretend to fight the opponent harder, because when an inevitable process is there it cannot be avoided. And not only because you don’t choose your neighbor, because he is right there, and not only because when you choose to lay down your arms when dealing with your neighbour, you have to do your best to make peace, and not for the neighbor, but for your posterity, but also because in a process like this one should make the following question today:

What would we expect?

In recent years, Albanians have never been better in their entire history, which is the truth. We have two states, we are a sui generis.

But, on the other hand, the more the peace challenge complicates the more the government’s challenge complicates. We have seen old instincts and methods prevailing mainly over the past few years, which in our history have always triggered disputes and divisions among us, even when it comes to the great national interest, or a strategic interest. There is no problem to be divided and engage in disputes over electoral reform, to be divided and quarrel over the good management or mismanagement of the pandemic, to be divided or to quarrel over a thousand and one things, about boards, but we cannot be divided and we cannot quarrel over strategic interest. An essential part of the strategic interest is the dialogue process to gain final recognition.

What do we expect? Do we expect Serbian President to state he would recognize Kosovo, or do we expect the President of Serbia to say he felt sorry why we failed to speak with one voice? Don’t expect these to happen! They won’t happen until they do. Never! Because the process is on and this is a diplomatic war.

It is a chess game, not boxing.

And it is very easy for us to fall into very banal traps, like the one about a supposed group allegedly involved in a secret deal to divide Kosovo and another group that is committed to defending Kosovo, no longer from external but from the internal enemy. And internal enemies were found both in Pristina and Tirana, and a whole story was made up that, unfortunately, many tend to believe, while this is the biggest possible mockery to be done at Kosovo by those who are supposedly defending Kosovo from this deal. This is the biggest mockery to be done at the people of Kosovo, but above all with the children of Kosovo, because it is very simple: How could be Kosovo divided secretly?!

If there was a premise or a possibility for a group of people led by Hashim Thaçi be committed to secretly dividing Kosovo, and if we were to consider this as something that could happen in reality, where would they take the divided Kosovo to? Would they take it to their home? Would they hide it in the woods, or put him in the trunk of the car?

Such an alleged deal would have been forwarded to the Assembly of Kosovo where whole people of Kosovo would have seen it and a referendum should have been held to adopt it.

How was this supposed to happen!

But, the conspiracy theories and the ambiguous language have done a lot of harm to us throughout history. It could cause a greater damage today, when we face two major issues simultaneously, which are now closely linked to each other;

The necessity that international justice is not distorted by turning into a national injustice and that in this process of justice to return to the focus of the whole world, once again, that in these 21 years, Kosovo has remained strict with all commitments for justice, while one cannot say the same has happened with Serbia.

On the other hand, dialogue. Which party would be the most interested one for the dialogue not to take place? It is pretty simple, Serbia!

Which party would be more interested for the conflict not to be resolved? Serbia!

Which party would be more interested so that Kosovo remains half recognized in a process with one foot in and one foot out of the international community? Serbia!

So, whoever incites and promotes disruption of the dialogue process, the conspiracy theories and an alleged world war with Serbia via Facebook, he simply and only does as a saying has it: “he feeds on the family bread and prays for the neighbour.” You know very well what I am talking about. These are my words.

PM Avdullah Hoti: I would like to answer the questions raised here. As I have already stated, there is no alternative to dialogue. PM Rama provided an excellent explanation why there could be alternative to dialogue. Therefore, whenever I will be invited to Washington and Brussels, I will go and represent the state of Kosovo. The right to protest is an elementary right, but in the meantime, as we have already shown political and institutional culture to respect the international obligations, we will adopt same conduct this time, because when law enforcement agencies raise an issue, it is not appropriate to take actions to obstruct the judiciary. Thank you.

Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama: Thank you everyone!