Religious radicalism threatens Kosovo
The Pristina daily Zëri has kindly given permission for republication in English of this interview with Petrit Selimi, Deputy Foreign Minister of Kosovo:
With 2013 behind us, can you make a list of accomplishments and commitments that have not been completed and that are to be fulfilled this year?
I am happy with the work done during 2013. We started some interesting processes within my work portfolio in public diplomacy and these results were also recognized by the international community and partners of Kosovo diplomacy. Even in the field of interfaith dialogue as an element of public diplomacy as well as in the digital diplomacy we had a year with measurable results, receiving high praise from around the world. Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe development bank is also very important to the penetration of Kosovo’s multilateral diplomacy and its strategic objectives, although few commented on it. Recognitions of Kosovo’s statehood during 2013 are also important.
As regards the overall aspect of Kosovo, I believe that the dialogue and the agreement on normalization of relations and the local elections that were held successfully and also for the first time throughout the territory of the Republic of Kosovo, are among the most important results of the decade and the positive effects will be seen in the years to come. On the negative side, the failure of privatization of the PTK is regrettable and will have serious consequences on the image of Kosovo which aims to be a suitable territory for foreign investors.
How is the process of lobbying for recognition of the Republic of Kosovo proceeding and who could be the next state to recognize Kosovo, or, at least, which continent recognition could come next?
Minister Hoxhaj often says that “the geography of recognitions is global” and I believe that this will also be confirmed in future recognitions that are expected to come from three different continents. Next year, we expect to enter the territory of the comfortable majority of UN members that have recognized Kosovo.
A few days ago, the Foreign Minister has spoken out about the “Islam imported from the East” as a problem for Kosovo. During visits and conversations you have had in recent months with your counterparts around the world, journalists and various personalities, did you stress the radicalization of Islam as a problem for Kosovo?
Religious radicalism is problem number one and the greatest risk to the national interests in the long run. Corruption and organized crime present also great problems to all Balkan countries, but we have the additional element that is used as hostile propaganda against Kosovo – that supposedly we are a fertile territory for terrorism and religious radicalism.
I believe that those who speak today in absolutist terms about religion and who do not focus on diversity and tolerance – all of them add water to the mill of Serbian propaganda. Serbia, since the end of 1980s frightened Europe by claiming that Kosovo is part of the “green triangle” which also includes Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and part of Serbia. It is ironic that some Albanians become the biggest supporters of these theories.
Are these developments damaging the image of Kosovo as a secular state and which aspired to the West, not to the East?
They are not still very exposed, but if the actions of verbal hatred that are heard by some imams and so-called intellectuals escalate and turn into physical violence, then many European countries that have in their political landscape parties with rightist views, and antagonistic to political Islam, will simply refuse to approve further steps towards Kosovo’s European integration. Kosovans should never forget that EU membership necessitates the votes of MPs of the entire 28 EU states. We must be patient and tolerant and we must become masters of promoting peaceful agenda, dialogue and progress. There are some among us who ignore these risks, but it can turn into a boomerang.
Visa liberalization. It is already proved that the lack of free movement of citizens of Kosovo is emerging as a source of negative actions of our society, such as illegal border crossings, which has often lead to people losing their lives. How is this fact undermining Kosovo’s integration process?
Lack of free movement is one of the greatest sources of frustration for Kosovans. We have a disproportionally large diaspora which means that free movement is vital for us to keep in touch with family and friends. Inability to travel creates a gap between us and others in the Balkans and helps deepen the radical discourse, nationalist or religious-fascist. The Government of Kosovo has worked more than anything else in fulfilling the criteria and we hope that the political and technical evaluation will be fast enough as for the willingness of Kosovans to move freely.
In the rotating EU Council Summit, in March, do you think that Kosovo has any likelihood of getting any positive response regarding the visa liberalization process given the multiple criteria that are to be met?
We are approaching the months of March and I doubt that the final decision could come as soon. Minister Çitaku is working with her team, assisted by the competent ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to document the fulfilled criteria. For example, we have installed the visa system for citizens of third countries, with the assistance of Norway, three times faster than some neighboring states. Kosova was the last to receive the Roadmap list, which has been the longest, while Kosovo has worked hard to carry out its obligations successfully.
If in 2013 the desire was to reach 100 recognitions, which will be the greatest success of your ministry this year?
I believe that the application for membership in the Council of Europe and some UN agencies may present positive development. Recognition by any EU country from the famous Quint is also crucial. We have been very focused in these areas in the last two years, especially with the public diplomacy tools.
Kosovan artists and sportsmen are excelling increasingly in Europe. What is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs doing to use their names to influence the various lobbying circles? Do you communicate with these artists and athletes and can we expect organization of a special event with them?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the British Embassy, the Norwegian Embassy and the British Council has paid more than 500 plane tickets for artists, athletes and various activists who excelled during the past two years. From the Venice Biennale to various concerts, exhibitions, presentation, etc, have been in the focus of our assistance, in coordination with the Ministry of Culture.