Joint Rama-Kurti press conference in Pristina

Remarks by Prime Minister Edi Rama and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti at joint press conference in Pristina:

 

PM Albin Kurti: Dear journalists, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very honored and happy to welcome the Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania, Mr. Edi Rama, and his new cabinet members at the start of the new term in office, about which I would like to once again congratulate and wish him every success and achievements.

We have taken over the office as heads of our governments, the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Albania, at a very challenging time. Coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, its explosive Delta variant, economic recovery and consolidation of the democratic institutions are some of the challenges we face and we work together to overcome them. Kosovo and its citizens are extremely happy with Albania’s progress and the overall development of Albanians wherever they are. In the meantime, I and the government of the Republic of Kosovo remain fully committed to delivering on these achievements.

Apart from the challenges we face, our governments have the opportunity and the potential to deliver on a series of projects long-awaited by the citizens of both countries. We need to boost cooperation to ensure more justice, parity, development and welfare for the Albanian citizens on both sides of the border and throughout the region. The interaction between the two countries to remove the barriers that pose difficulties and obstacles between us is an imperative for the citizens and our economies. We will work together to build a more common market, services for the citizens, the capital and free movement of goods. If there are countries where this should be done as soon as possible, they are Kosovo and Albania, because not only do we know each other well, but we also fully trust each other.

We discussed all areas of good governance and we specifically agreed that coordination and cooperation in all areas is paramount. At today’s meeting we also discussed ways to advance the existing agreements between our two governments. Six joint government sessions have been held since 2014 and around 150 agreements, memorandums of understandings and protocols have been signed.

We also talked about the next joint meeting of our governments and we agreed that the two cabinets start preparations for the meeting so that we can hold it by the second half of November.

We also agreed on establishing a joint Coordinating Secretariat for our bilateral relations, a body that will be headed by Mr. Gentian Sala, who is a passport holder of both Albania and the Republic of Kosovo.

Welcome Prime Minister Edi Rama and I would now give you the floor.

PM Edi Rama: Hello everyone!

Honourable Prime Minister, dear Albin,

 I am very glad to visit Pristina right after the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, where final recognition of Kosovo was the top priority of our visit to New York and it will remain as such. Likewise, promoting recognition of Kosovo’s irreversible reality by everyone as a natural and formal completion of the chapter of former Yugoslavia’s disintegration will be one of Albania’s priorities as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

There is no doubt that first and foremost, Serbia must recognize this irreversible reality, and it is really unfortunate that instead of concrete progress in dialogue towards mutual recognition and final liberation from the burden of the past, we are witnessing today Serbia’s military theatrical manoeuvres on the border with the sovereign state of Kosovo.

Those manoeuvres do not actually protect the Serbs in the north of Kosovo, as the official Belgrade leadership claims, even with the support of some ghosts of generals of the defeated army on the battlefield, more than 20 years ago, who seem to have come out of the grave claiming to protect integrity and the security of Serbian citizens in Kosovo.

In fact, Serbian citizens in Kosovo live unthreatened by anyone and it is even said that the government of this country pays their electricity bills, which no one does anywhere, not only in the Balkans, but also worldwide.

Unfortunately, these manoeuvres only serve to revive the old shadow of the past, while also provoking a vandal nationalism of the arsonists of public institutions, whose only role in the first place, is to serve Serbian citizens, who aren’t victims of some kind of state-imposed repression or ethnic persecution – on the contrary, they are hostages to the constant stagnation of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

Imposing the reciprocity of temporary licence plates is not only an elementary norm of the legitimate right of the state of Kosovo, but it is also an agreement reached a long time ago between the two respective governments.

I would like to reiterate here today the position of the Republic of Albania, which I deem it clear, fair and remains unchanged since the very first moment, when this conflict unfolded:

Kosovo is in its own right and Serbia is not.

Serbia has no right to turn the issue of vehicle license plates for every-day use into a conflict, making mountains out of molehills, as if the Government of Kosovo announced some kind of war, when in fact all they asked for, was the implementation of a previously reciprocally arranged agreement.

On the other hand, I would like to avail myself of this opportunity and amicably reiterate our position that this issue has been already presented and none of Kosovo’s international friends and partners questions the indispensability of consolidating the reciprocity regime on the use of temporary license plates, but caution should be shown when it comes to deploying special forces units in that area, driven from the need to make sure that security and public order is not compromised at the moment when this problem is presented, so that it doesn’t become a problem between Kosovo itself and the international friends and partners.

The Albanian government is fully convinced that the problem should now be resolved through dialogue and I strongly believe there is the potential for this to happen, by avoiding escalation of the conflict to the point where demonstration of military uniforms gives way to demonstration of the power of reason and arguments in diplomatic grounds.

Of course, here too, we need to put it very clearly that it is up to the government and the Prime Minister of Kosovo to decide how would they further treat in strategic terms these quite fragile situation, but what I can state is that this is also a good chance to demonstrate once again readiness for equal dialogue and take dialogue to a whole new level, also through the support from Kosovo’s strategic partners and friends, who persistently demand for the military forces to be replaced with diplomatic forces.

Today, together we presented up for discussion a series of important topics on the start of cooperation between our two governments. This means that the two states are committed to deepening cooperation and boost the convergence between the two countries. I can state that we are really motivated, fully and jointly committed, which was obviously expressed in the meeting we just concluded, to taking the bilateral ties to a whole new level and fully implementing all the agreements we have already signed as an expression of the good will, and addressing other issues of mutual interest.

The Premier just announced that today we also agreed on appointing a key person as a coordinator of all this joint effort, who will directly contact our respective offices and who is a passport holder of both countries, a symbolically important detail, and who enjoys full trust of both of us. I am convinced the coordinator will prevent bureaucracy from doing what it is used to always doing, turning the good will commitments into endless processes.

I and the accompanying Albanian government delegation are here today and this is the first official visit abroad after formation of the new cabinet, precisely to confirm our full commitment and readiness so that the relationship between our two governments is an embodiment of the indispensability to bring these two Albanian states as closer as possible and provide our citizens on both sides of the border the opportunity to experience concrete implementation of all these commitments in their daily lives.

The Premier took stock of our relations. We agreed to hold a joint session of both governments in Durres by the last week of November. In the meantime, we will intensely work to screen all the agreements and dot the i’s on all decisions of the upcoming joint government meeting.

We also discussed something I think is worth highlighting here. The decade we have just entered finds Albanians in the region stronger and with a greater chance than ever before to unfold their potential. Albania enjoys a position it has never had before. Albania has just successfully completed its OSCE Chairmanship, it has become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, something totally unimaginable just a few years ago; the new and essential position of the Albanians in North Macedonia, not only as a factor of development and stability, but also as a promoter of this development and stability; as well as the essential role of Albanians in Montenegro, are all reasons for us to feel committed and motivated to fully unleash this potential.

We are absolutely aware of the difficulties along the process of integration into the European Union. Albania should hold the first Intergovernmental Conference on the accession negotiations with the European Union. Kosovo should receive the European Council’s approval on visa liberalisation. Both countries have done their homework for a while so they deserve these two positive decisions. However, will these decisions, either one or both will be made within this year when this is going to happen depends neither on Albania, nor on Kosovo, but it hinges on the situation within the EU, with all 27 member states having to agree unanimously, but with all facing internal issues and deadlines and therefore preventing the EU for years now to behave like a united single force that delivers on its pledges and word.

How many times Kosovo was told that the right decision would be made and the visa liberalisation would be finalized once the country delivers on all its homework and fulfils all the requirements?

Another condition was even introduced, the infamous condition on setting the demarcation border with Montenegro, although it had nothing to do with the visa liberalisation. The demarcation line was resolved, but the visa regime has yet to be liberalised.

However, neither Albania, nor Kosovo have no other choice, but continue deliver on the modernizing reforms, the efforts to integrate into the universe of the values and standards characterizing the united European family, not because this is what Brussels, Paris, or Berlin are imposing on us, but because this is the path towards fulfilling the will of our National Renaissance figures and this now the path to the future of our children.

Again, thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister, also for the sunny day you chose to welcome us under optimal conditions.

PM Albin Kurti: Thank you very much, Prime Minister Rama!

We can now take and provide answers to some of your questions.

–Mr. Prime Minister Rama, at the joint press conference with Chancellor Merkel, while commenting on the Open Balkans initiative, an issue remained unexplained, namely the one when you said that Kosovo is sitting idly and conspiring. What sorts of conspiracies were you talking about and did you discuss these conspiracies today?

PM Edi Rama: You don’t quote me correctly and, again, since you granted me this opportunity, I would like to say that I’ve received direct messages, also via the social networks in recent days, because of the situation created by Kosovo, and despite the diversity of the tone and connotations, the essence was: “Are you now convinced that Open Balkans cannot become a reality with Serbia?”

My answer is that I am now more convinced than before that Open Balkans is our path. And by the path, I mean our common path for our common good. According to me, there is a difference between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism means wishing others ill, patriotism means to wish yourself well. Of course we disagree with Albin on this issue and it is important for everyone to realize this is a disagreement of political nature and we should treat it as such. As you can see, as well as for what you can’t see, the health of our relations is not affected by the fact we have a disagreement of this nature. The foundation of our agreement is of a different nature, not a political one, but a national and fraternal one and it goes beyond any potential political disagreement. It is the foundation that defines the strategic character of our relationship for our national common interests and goals and the inalienability of a common dream to live everyday in an inseparable space, as Albanians and as Europeans.

That day will definitely come.

The day will definitely come when Albanians, as well as Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Bosnians will become an inseparable part of the united Europe. Just like there will definitely come a day when Serbia will recognize Kosovo and when the inevitable apology from Serbia for the unforgettable war crimes of Kosovo will not only come, but will seal the end of the difficult path to peace.

The question is not “whether this day will ever come?”, but “when will this day come and what we as Albanians can do together so that this day nears?”

In our attempt to find the right answer we may resort to different reasoning, but these reasoning are not and should in no way be a reason to question the love for our common homeland or our brotherhood and respect for one another. I don’t mean Albin by these words, because I am speaking openly, and we don’t mind this at all, but I am addressing all of those who read the ties among Albanians through the spectacles of prejudices.

I am here very honoured and grateful for the hospitality of the Prime Minister and my friend Albin Kurti, precisely because I have never distinguished between the love for Albania and Kosovo, and I have never seen patriotism neither as outrage, nor as an anger, or division, but as a common effort to do our best for the future generation. It is as simple as that.

-A question for you Mr. Prime Minister [Edi Rama]. Have you had any discussion with President Vucic about what is happening in the north of Kosovo, I mean is there any attempt to mediate?

The next question goes to Mr. Kurti. Which is Kosovo’s next step following the tense situation in the north, taking also notice of an ultimatum issued by Serbia, calling for NATO’s intervention within next 24 hours?

PM Edi Rama: I haven’t had any talk with President Vucic or my “brother Vucic” as my social network friends often prefer to call him, because there is nothing to mediate. This is a situation with Kosovo being in its own right and that’s all. This is crystal clear. We are absolutely on Kosovo’s side, just like it is the entire international community and, as I said, reading deployment of the Special Forces as a reason to stage theatre plays featuring helicopters and airplanes in Serbia, is most wrongful reading. Imagine just for a moment, and let my “brother” imagine that if, God forbid, something that would challenge the state’s stability was to happen.

Of course, it is up to the Prime Minister on my side and the government of Kosovo to make the right decisions, so that the current situation actually helps the effort to take the dialogue forward and it doesn’t freeze the conflict. I have publicly stated and I repeat we shouldn’t forget what happened with the 100% tariff imposed earlier. I supported the initiative as a right outcry to present a right problem, namely Serbia’s disrespect for a number of relevant agreements, but that very tariff became a rope on Kosovo’s feet, because it degraded from a move to present a problem into a much bigger and serious problem. This should be avoided at any cost and I am convinced that Albin and all the colleagues here are visionary and mature enough to shun such a thing. There is nothing to be mediated here. This is very simple. I would like to reiterate that setting the institutions there on fire actually does not provoke Kosovo’s legitimate security forces. The fires there are actually provoked by the acrobatic flights of the aircraft and helicopters and hostage taking of Kosovo’s Serb citizens amid the conditions when the dialogue process is not progressing properly.

Therefore, it is very simple. We support dialogue 100% and I am convinced that dialogue is the only way. Could you please tell me what the Russian Ambassador is seeking out there?

Do you imagine the U.S. Ambassador heading to the border and seeing what the special forces are doing. Of course this is certainly theatrical, but a dangerous one, because it is actually the fire match, unfortunately starting the fire and setting the institutions, the vehicles registration offices there on fire.

PM Albin Kurti: Today morning I received the KFOR Commander Major General Franco Federici and, together with the Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla, we are constantly contacting all international institutions in Kosovo and their diplomatic missions, as well as their security mechanisms.

Kosovo’s special police unit are not deployed in Bernjak and Jarinje border crossing points for us to rub hands with glee or take pleasure in this situation. The police are on duty there and their mission and responsibility is to defend the country’s border and the border police members. We have received sufficient evidence showing that our border police members and their facilities at Bernjak and Jarinje border crossings would have been under serious threat should no Kosovo special police unit were not to be deployed there.

The main roads leading to Jarinje and Bernjak have been blocked not only by setting up barricades with trucks and people, but also bulldozers. The bulldozers have been actually sent there not to block any road, but to launch attacks if the border police members were left on their own.

More than 10,000 vehicles arriving from Serbia have received the temporary licence plates of the Republic of Kosovo. No incidents have been reported in none of the border crossing points. No incidents and violence have been reported in the areas where the police are deployed. The vehicles registration centre in Zubin Potok was burned down. An attempt was made to do the same in Zveçan , but two hand grenades failed to explode fortunately. Violence has another address, an absolutely not the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo and its personnel. Kosovo Police are very professional, correct, and very courageous and I am very grateful for their commitment and the work they have done.

We have proposed that temporary licence plates issued by the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia to be ultimately removed.

And trust me, it is really harder for Albanians to have Serbia’s license plates on their cars, as that plate contains for S (in Cyrillic alphabet), like the ones you have previously found in the destroyed homes during the war, and even scratched on the chest of Albanians with knives, than for Serbian citizens who wouldn’t stand the view of Kosovo map in Serbia. We have proposed for the temporary licence plates to be removed, so that they and Kosovo citizens can freely move and drive and so that the free movement of people, goods, services and capital is facilitated and without any delay. So, I reiterate Kosovo’s special police unit are not deployed there to demonstrate force, but to defend border crossing points and oir border police members.

This is the only goal of the special unit, who are deployed on the border with Serbia for a week now. You might have noticed I haven’t been meeting with the Defence Minister in recent days, because it is not a matter of the Ministry of Defence, but only a matter of the Ministry of Interior. Unfortunately, Serbia sends its Defend Minister to Kosovo border.

Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla is the only cabined member being politically involved, together with me, in this issue. For us this is a matter of the rule of law, it is a matter of enforcing the government decision, and it is a matter of defending peace, security and stability that discriminates nobody. This is not a decision against Kosovo’s Serbs and none of them has complained against the government of the Republic of Kosovo regarding the special unit. Indeed, those who have blocked the road, have actually blocked their own selves, they have also blocked Serbian citizens, because many of them use that road to drive to Serbia, but they are now being prevented from doing so because of the barricades. We are here to serve everyone, without privileging or discriminating anyone, and we are here to ensure the rights of the citizens regardless of national ethnicity.

-Mr. Prime Minister [Albin Kurti], what did you concretely discussed at meeting with the KFOR Commander, and which are the expected actions, taking notice that there are reports suggesting that KFOR will intervene in northern Kosovo today, following an ultimatum that Vucic has issued to Stoltenberg? Would you also please further clarify the statement that you have agreed with NATO Secretary General to calm situation in the country’s north?

-For PM Rama. Now I would like to call you as Kosovo’s big brother, but do you understand your little brother, now after Serbia’s threats, why he is refusing to join the Open Balkans initiative?

PM Albin Kurti: With General Federici, the KFOR Commander, we discussed the security situation, since we have already deployed police there and it is them who assess the situation on the ground. So, the decisions we make are not purely political ones. Their self-restraint is also really professional. I in my capacity as the Prime Minister of Kosovo and the Minister of Interior do not make any decision without first receiving an assessment of the circumstances on the ground from the Kosovo police. We exchange information with KFOR, because we are more present than KFOR there.

I haven’t been informed over any KFOR intervention. I had talks with the NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, and the Vice President of the European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr. Borrell.

We are open to talks. We have been ready to travel to Brussels as soon as they called for talks on Monday, September 20. Talks have been turned down by Belgrade, but we are still ready and we will travel to Brussels any time the meeting is arranged. Meanwhile, KFOR Commander has also been in contact with the heads of the communes in north of Iber river and he, too, is interested that the situation deescalates despite the incitement from our northern neighbour and it is in this way we can restore peace and full security. Communication, contacts and cooperation take place not only on daily basis, but sometimes every hour, and that’s why I invite all citizens to remain calm and show patience, because the institutions are doing their work without any deficiency or failure.

PM Edi Rama: Since you called me a big brother, it is true I happen to be the older brother in the house and in my capacity as the older brother, in the process I have learned that there is always a problem when dealing with the younger brother. When the younger brother faces a problem, he tells the older brother to help and support him, but when you ask the younger brother to heed your advice, he refuses to do so. This is a big deal, my younger brother. Let’s focus on the issue.

I don’t pretend to be the older brother here, let alone Albin’s older brother, who, although younger, would never accept to be named as my younger brother. This is a long-time debate between us, and not a matter of brotherhood, but it is a matter of philosophical debates, but, again, today I am more convinced, and I am saying it really frankly, that the Open Balkans initiative is the only strategic direction so that we don’t cyclically stuck into the mud of the past and instead fully take advantage of our potential as Albanians, as well as a region.

Reproducing history is a well-known Balkan industry, which will now give way to reproduction of welfare and peace. Of course, all this can’t be complete without Kosovo’s final recognition. There is no doubt about that. I already stated it earlier, but I would reiterate putting it differently. A space where the four freedoms of the EU are implemented in an open Balkans, the freedom of movement of people, capital, goods and services, would be a space with an increasingly smaller room for tensions and artifices of this kind, which derive from the past and of course such a climate would relax by doing doable things with your neighbours and, according to me, it is in this way that the dialogue could become successful.

Open Balkans is nothing but taking ownership of the Berlin Process and speeding it up, without having to wait for us to be called and gather once a year in various capitals and without waiting for the agendas to be compiled by others, but instead by taking these necessary initiatives forward. So, I do of course understand that Kosovo’s wound is still fresh and history is very recent, but courage should also be very strong to look further forward, because Kosovo has won the war. The war is over. The airplanes and helicopters flying over there are just a propaganda food for Serbia internally, but they are unable to do anything against Kosovo. The point is that we shouldn’t waste time for the future, should not waste time for peace. You can’t choose your brother and your neighbour.

With your brother you are bound by blood, the family, the past and the future, while your neighbour just happen to be there and no matter what he is there. My grandmother used to say: there could be no happy hope, without a satisfied neighbour.” Therefore, we need to make every effort and there could be effort to replace, eclipse or alienate the Open Balkans initiative and the effort to win also the diplomatic battle for Kosovo’s recognition. On the contrary, they are two things that go hand in hand.

PM Albin Kurti: Allow me to share another important announcement with you. At our one hour and a half meeting, attended by almost half of PM Rama’s cabinet and my cabinet, the cabinet members were the ones to discuss more than we did and talks focused on various development projects. For an hour and a half, nobody mentioned either the Open Balkans initiative or Serbia, but only Kosovo and Albania, therefore one should not perceive our meetings as ones where the international politics is discussed only. We have so much to do in terms of economics, finance, trade, and infrastructure and so on, but of course we answer for the sake of correctness and decency every question you ask.

PM Edi Rama: This would confuse things, because they would say “these two didn’t talk to each other at all, but only the cabinet members, because the two do not speak with each other,” but facts actually speak for themselves.